With UK celebrating the South Asian Heritage month, England Manager Gareth Southgate in a FA video series said more should be done to scout for British Asian talents in football and provide them with the opportunities to prosper in the sport. But are parents from the community ready for their children to pursue sports as their full-time career?

- Rupali Shinde Wednesday 04th August 2021 10:35 EDT

"In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist". This quote by American Political Activist, Angela Davis highlighted the need to stand against those who believe and nurture racism. 

At Euro 2020 finals when England lost on penalties to Italy at Wembley Stadium, racist comments were aimed at footballers from the ethnic community viz. Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho. This was shocking, degrading and demeaning.

England's Football Association expressed their anger via Twitter. 

"We're disgusted that some of our squad –- who have given everything for the shirt this summer –- have been subjected to discriminatory abuse online after tonight's game. We stand with our players," the FA tweeted. England manager Gareth Southgate too condemned the incident. 

With UK celebrating South Asian Heritage month, pointing at the incredible contributions of the largest diaspora in the UK, Mr Southgate featured alongside Swansea's Yan Dhanda and West Ham Women's Maz Pacheco in a FA video series, talking about how football must revisit its approach to scout and create opportunities for British South Asian talent to prosper in the sport.

Therefore, FA aiming to increase British Asian (including South Asian) participation in football across the country, hoping to bring ‘opportunities to communities’, updated their inclusion strategy and to support it, Watford Women footballer Rosie Kmita, Mansfield Town footballer Mal Benning, Aldershot Town Assistant Manager Anwar Uddin, presenter Seema Jaswal and FA’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Programmes, Dal Darroch, came together and discussed the continued importance of increasing Asian participation and inclusion in English football at a roundtable. 

Speaking about the strategy, Dal Darroch, FA’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Programmes said, "We know that Asian communities are the most under-represented ethnic minority group in many areas of the game, and we are passionate about and dedicated to ensuring our game is for all. We’re proud of the progress made so far, but there is more to be done and we will continue to work closely with Asian communities and our stakeholders so that we can strive to make our game truly inclusive." 

Though the British Asian communities form the largest ethnic minority groups in the UK, within grassroots football, male and female Asian participation (aged 16+) is now at 10.7% and 13.5% respectively, according to FA. But the number of professional players of Asian heritage is significantly lower, meaning tackling Asian underrepresentation at all levels of the game remains a key priority for the FA.



Structural racism stunting growth of community?


Southall has a large number of Asians living in the area, but not many play football. Racism and discrimination are one of the few reasons why South Asian parents don't allow their children to take up sports as a full-time career. 

To change this narrative and to bring in positivity, Southall FC, which recently celebrated 150th year anniversary as one of the oldest clubs in the country has started a petition #BringSouthallHome to bring the community together. They are urging Asians to come forward and play football, irrespective of race and caste.

"At Southall FC we decided to launch our #BringSouthallHome petition a few months back following the Covid pandemic and the effect it had on our predominantly South Asian Community. Southall FC lost its stadium in 1992 and have not been home with our community since. Southall FC has progressed the careers of great talent over the years such as Les Ferdinand MBE, Alan Devonshire, Justin Fashanu and many more. In the worst of times the power of football was made clear during the Euro’s which brought the nation together. We represent a community that has been forgotten. Whilst we as a club, have tried over the years to Bring Southall Home, under new management we have made great strides in making this dream become a reality, and hope to provide a chance for young players to achieve their dreams", said Aatish Sharma, Chief Executive, Southall FC club

Aatish expressed a concern over lack of facilities provided to British Asians. However, he hopes that with community's support, they will return to the area to further encourage participation at all levels. He believes that the community will certainly bring a real change to the sport. 

"I hope to see more South Asian footballers achieve their goals, but without the facilities to train, exercise, learn and flourish this task becomes even more difficult. In the past, many have said we need to encourage South Asian participation but not enough has been done to address this. The obvious answer in promoting South Asian talent is to have the facilities needed in areas that are predominantly of South Asian backgrounds", expressed Aatish. 

Aatish believes that football is one such sport which has no boundary, and no player is defined by his religion or ethnic background.

He said that their campaign received good response and they are encouraging more people to sign up the petition to demonstrate the need for sports and health facilities for their community. Their next step will be to further discuss plans to Bring Southall Home with Ealing Council to return the great club; Southall FC back home with the people. 

Football and risk of dementia


The landmark, University of Glasgow-led research into lifelong health outcomes in former professional footballers, the FIELD study, has revealed further major insights into the link between football and risk of dementia. 

In findings published on Tuesday in the journal JAMA Neurology, researchers report that risk of neurodegenerative disease in former professional footballers varies by player position and career length, but not by playing era.

These results add to the ground-breaking observations from the 2019 FIELD study publication, which found that former professional footballers had an approximately three-and-a-half-fold higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected. The results show that, for goalkeepers, neurodegenerative disease risk was similar to general population levels. In contrast, neurodegenerative disease risk for outfield players was almost 4 times higher than expected and varied by player position with risk highest among defenders, at around 5-fold higher than expected. 

Despite changes in football technology and head injury management over the decades, there is no evidence neurodegenerative disease risk changed for the population of footballers included in this study, whose careers spanned from around 1930 to the late 1990s.

Cultural, inter-generational and economic factors contribute to Asian parents’ reluctance


Amidst fears of racism and dementia, what keeps Asian parents sending children to take up sport as a career? 

Biologist and vocalist Atrayee Bandyopadhyay, and a mother, believes that cultural, inter-generational and economic factors contribute to Asian parents’ reluctance to allow their kids to pursue sports as a full-time career. 

"Sports is considered as an impediment to academic success (often called a “distraction”) in most Asian families and parents have a sort of compulsive anxiety resulting from fear that invested efforts may or may not translate into future success. But academics is almost a guaranteed path to economic stability. Lack of encouragement to play outdoors leads to poor fitness issues as well," said Atrayee.

However, she and her husband encourage their son (who is into swimming) and will be very happy if their son takes up any sport as a full-time career! They believe sports is a wholesome lifestyle choice and it has a positive impact on both physical and mental health in the long run.

Another parent Anirban Mukhopadhyay said that racism was never been a deciding factor for him. He said that if his son would have had the required talent, he would have wanted his son to take up sports. Speaking on racism, he said when someone faces a racism, he or she should fight it and stand against it. 

Anirban who is also a director of non-profit organisation Heritage Bengal Gobal, is doing his bit to bring people together. A FA accredited football tournament will take place on 15 August, where people of all communities are welcome to play.

"Our main objective is to keep people healthy and fit. We have been taking practice sessions on weekends since May. We told people, that if they don't come for practice, they will not be allowed to play football. Match will be played between 6 teams, out of which 3 will be from East Bengal and 3 from Mohun Bagan. 

Avimanyu Sengupta who is IT Director at HM Revenue & Customs and Shreyoshee Sengupta, who is a lead Business Relationship Manger at HM Revenue & Customs, think that racism and discrimination is not the only reason why the community of British Asians don’t see many British Asian kids having a full-time sports career. However, recent events do have a deep impact on one's mind and definitely a key factor to that prevents many from taking up sports as a full-time career option.

"I think the core problem is the unconscious bias that people have towards Asian origin children that either they are not as athletic as other communities; and that they are very focused at education often at the expense of sports taking a backseat most of the time," said Shreyoshee.

Both believe that some of the biases stated are often true but if no concerted collaborative effort is made to bring more diverse players onboard, then British Asian kids will always remain underrepresented in sports at a national level. Instead of a one size fits all approach based on stereotypical assumptions, it is vital to understand what the differing motivations and constraints are there currently for the British Asian kids when it comes to choosing sports as a career. 

They feel that this could be done quite early on at school, working in partnership with a variety of organisations who capture and understand the specific needs of the targeted audience (British Asian or from ethnic minority background)to provide more opportunities that encourage them to take up sports as a full-time career.

"The more the opportunities are broadened, the engagement with the wider communities increases, then more and more parents will get the assurance and feel confident in helping kids choose sports as a full-time career option. For the nation, this will lead to greater talent pool and further our chances of winning at the national level," said Avimanyu. 

Speaking on British Asian parents’ unwillingness to allow their children to take up sports as a main career, Aatish said, "We urge parents not to discourage their children taking up sports as a career, as in the modern era the opportunities in all sports are far greater than what happens on the pitch alone."

In the past Southall has seen ugly riots where people have lost their lives. To bring children from diverse backgrounds together and to spread information on race equality, Southall FC since the end of lockdown is working with local grassroots clubs, academies and seeking to launch football camps to promote a fairer and equal game. They hope that this can establish a clear pathway for young players from diverse backgrounds achieve their dreams.

"We hope our efforts are fruitful in bringing Southall home so we can deliver the coaching and facilities required to help our community in football and in life," said Aatish. 

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