“It needs some real action from the top to help ensure a level playing field for the Asian community.”
The FA have released a four-year plan to address ‘longstanding concerns’ over the under-representation of Asians in football.
Titled ‘Bringing Opportunities to Communities’, the 24-page document aims to tackle the issue affecting players, coaches and scouts in football from grassroots to professional level.
The strategy also sets out to proportionately represent Asians in areas such as participation, talent development, role models and developing talent ID offers.
DESIblitz caught up with Baljit Rihal, the Founder of Asian Football Awards and CEO Inventive Sports, to find out more about his views on FA’s new initiative.
1. What are your thoughts on the FA’s strategy for ‘Bringing Opportunities to Communities’?
“It is a positive step in the right direction to see that the FA has made an effort with this plan. They have been engaging with the Asian community through targeted focus groups over the past year and I am glad that some quality time has been spent on this initiative.
“The plan is well-structured and broken down into key areas of focus which shows that some thought has gone into this.
“However, I like many others, are wondering whether this is a just another tick box exercise. The ‘Asians in Football’ news story seems to be recycled time and time again – and then it gets forgotten.
“This time it needs some real action from the top to help ensure a level playing field for the Asian community.”
2. What are the main reasons that prevent British Asians making an impact in top flight football?
“For the vast majority of British Asians, football is their sport of choice. Grassroots clubs and recreational soccer centres have large percentages of Asians participating.
“These figures, although slowly improving, are not reflected at professional level.
“I believe it’s more about the lack of opportunity afforded to the Asian community by the football fraternity more than anything else.”
3. Do you think the Indian Super League can bridge the gap between ‘Asians can’t play football’ and ‘Asians can play Football’?
“There is no doubt that Asians can play football – the Indian Super League has now switched world’s attention on India.
“Clubs across the globe are eyeing commercial value more than anything else, but it at least helps to showcase the talents of Indian home-grown players.
“I’ve been speaking to many top Premiership clubs who have been interested in penetrating the Indian market. But what many of them seem to neglect is that the British Asian Football Community, on their doorstep, can help them connect.”
4. In light of the plans, what recommendations do you suggest to ensure action and real progress is made?
“The FA needs to invest time and money on this initiative in order for it to have some real chance of showing the results that are so badly needed.
“Kick It Out also needs to get heavily involved in this arena by focusing more effort in ensuring that the Asian community feel more included in their campaigns.
“As well as the players, the focus on Asian Coaches needs to be more concerted. Schemes which help coaches get qualification should also guarantee placements at professional clubs with a realistic chance of future employment.
“In order for this to happen, The FA, Premier League and Football League need to sign up to a committed programme that will help address the current imbalance in representation.
“Highlighting role models from the community is imperative to help future generations get more involved in the football industry.
“That’s what the Asian Football Awards have been doing since 2012. However, the support for this initiative hasn’t been fully embraced by football organisations in the way that it should.
“My hope is that with the release of this plan more support will be given to such projects which Asians have been running in isolation for far too long.”
As it stands, the Asian community are represented by only a handful of players across four professional leagues.
However, former Newcastle United striker, Michael Chopra is optimistic that the plans will eventually bear-fruit.
He said: “There is a huge appetite for football in south Asia and within the British Asian community. We’ve just got to take that enthusiasm and raw talent and start turning it into the finished product.
“I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time before we see the first British Asian football superstar and this plan could help make that happen.”
Perhaps the superstars of the future will entice young players to get more involved. For now, everyone will have to rely on schemes like ‘Bringing Opportunities to Communities’ to create a further debate on the issue and hopefully find an effective solution.
For anyone interested in FA’s new strategy to increase Asian Inclusion in Football, you can read the full document here.