"The figures show an increasing momentum for South Asian players"
Figures from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) have revealed that the number of South Asian men’s professional footballers in England and Wales has risen for the second year in a row.
During the 2023/24 season, there are 22 South Asian heritage professional players aged 17 or over in England’s top four leagues.
This is a 29% rise from 17 in 2022/23.
When the PFA began recording this data in 2021/22, there were 16.
PFA player inclusion executive Riz Rehman said:
“The data is encouraging.
“The figures show an increasing momentum for South Asian players and those seeking pathways within the game.
“Our primary focus will remain on the players as we build on the multiple successes of last year and push forward.”
In 2021, the PFA launched its Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS) in a bid to increase Asian representation in football.
AIMS delivers workshops to create a support network for Asian footballers and engages with clubs about cultural barriers.
The figures also show:
- South Asian heritage players are now in each of the top men’s professional leagues.
- A rise in the total number of South Asian heritage players at all levels of elite football in the 2022-23 season, rising to 134 from 119 in the previous year.
- The proportion of academies with at least one South Asian heritage player grew to 63% in the current season, up from 53% in the 2021/22 season.
- An increase in the number of league debuts by South Asian heritage footballers. Between 2018 and 2021, there were just two league debuts. There were six between 2022 and 2023.
Despite the increase, the overall percentage of South Asian footballers in England and Wales remains low.
In the UK, there are approximately 5,000 professional footballers. But less than one per cent are of South Asian heritage.
Data from the 2021 Census says those who identify as Asian, Asian British or Asian Welsh make up 9.3% of the overall UK population.
Mr Rehman said: “When we started this work we wanted to change the narrative from a negative one to a positive one.
“Too many times in the past players have been asked to talk about the lack of Asian players – no one has really concentrated on their achievements in the game.
“If we kept focusing on the numbers, nothing would happen.”
Mr Rehman said the PFA has focused on ensuring support networks for young Asian footballers, with mentors such as Norwich City’s Danny Batth and Shrewsbury Town’s Malvind Benning.
Sheffield United and England U19 international Sai Sachdev is being supported by the AIMS programme.
He said: “The PFA has taken an interest in all our journeys and the team has come to spend some time with me at the training ground, as well as with my family, which was appreciated.
“I’ve built friendships with other players and attended AIMS events, which have given me a good insight into the different industry pathways.”