FA plans to boost British Asian footballer ranks

British Asian Footballers

Later this year the Football Association, now under the stewardship of Greg Dyke, will publish plans centred around increasing the numbers of British Asian players and coaches in England.

The move will come as a breathe of fresh air, as long-overdue focus shifts to a community that despite representing around 7.5% of the national population (approximately 4.2m people) according to the 2011 census, has almost non-existent representation in the national game.

Indeed, at present, only eight players of British Asian heritage are on professional contracts across the country’s top four divisions, with just two in the Premier League, but the governing body hopes that new measures will help to address the situation.

Speaking to the BBC, FA inclusion projects coordinator Kevin Coleman said “there are some specific targets around Asians in football…(and) the fact that all the authorities came together is the first time that has happened in 150 years. That is a milestone that has really opened some doors.”

The authorities comprise the Premier League, PFA, LMA, Football League, Football Foundation and Referees Association, all of whom have signed up to the new plans which will look to facilitate a transition in attitude and perception, similar to that which has seen the emergence of black footballers in the country skyrocket since the late seventies.

Primary focus will be directed towards improving the provision and accessibility for Asians at the grassroots level of the game, with Coleman telling the broadcaster “increasing the number of Asian players at the bottom of the pyramid should logically increase the number at the top.

“For example, if we have more young people playing in development centres, you have more coaches and referees and you have more people working in the game, you should see players then go through to academies and then into the professional game”.

Though it is clear the plans will have a welcome place in the national governing body’s strategy going forward, it must similarly be acknowledged that the timing of their publication will be a welcome distraction for Dyke and associates at the FA. Following the announcement of the panel geared around improving the England national team, which was heavily criticized for a lack of ethnic diversity.

Though this is probably a coincidence, a stern realism must be applied when considering how long it could potentially take to reverse the trend of particpation barriers for British Asian community in football.

Previous strategies to engage this particular ethnic minority, have been unsuccessful, for reasons ranging from physical stereotyping among those in the game to a cultural preference for focus upon education as well as passions for different sports, like cricket.

Now however, it would appear that the FA is ready to get serious about tackling the issue once and for all. This attitude is reflected in the assertions of equality consultant and former West Brom player Brendon Batson, who said “Nobody can ever convince me that there aren’t talented Asian players out there.

“They just need somebody to tap into them and, hopefully, they will flourish.

“From talking to Asian players and people who run Asian clubs, one of the things that comes back is that parental influence has been very negative with regards to letting their youngsters participate in football.

“It takes a long time to get that sort of conveyor belt of talent to come through and now there seems to be a much more positive attitude from those who are influencing young Asian players and those who are involved in running Asian clubs.

“They are saying ‘look, this is a sport that we should be more involved in’, whereas before there was almost a morality issue about being involved in professional football.”

Though the process may be a slow one, it is likely to be aided by provisions that have already been devised by some clubs, including Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who for five years have run an annual Asian Star search which attracts around 350-400 youngsters.

One thing the FA will be keen to avoid however, is accusations of tokenism, but it would seem clubs are already wise to the prospect of this and will ultimately have the final say over the inclusion of young players in academies, be them Asian or otherwise.

And so it would seem that the barriers to participation for British Asians in football are finally being addressed, though lasting effects may take some time to be seen. The longest journey, however, starts with the smallest step.