Fan survey reveals 42% think racism towards British Asians in football is not treated seriously enough; 86% believe more role models within the professional game would increase their
on the pitch; 72% would feel proud to see a British Asian captain England
“The stereotypes that Asian youngsters are only good at cricket, or only good at IT… that needs to be broken.”
These are the words of Bournemouth’s Dinesh Gillela, who has been dealing with racism in football ever since the age of 10.
A new survey by the Football Supporters’ Association and Beyond Entertainment claims professional players from the British Asian community are barely in double digits, out of a total of 4,000 players across clubs in England.
In the same week that the FA chairman Greg Clarke was forced to resign over ‘unacceptable remarks’ to a Parliamentary hearing that included stereotypes of Asian communities, executive chair of Kick It OutSanjay Bhandari says a commitment to tackling the lack of British Asian players is long overdue.
“This has been a big stubborn problem for 40 years, and really the dial has hardly moved at all,” he said. “I’d say there are the big structural problems in English football in terms of systemic biases: One is the boardrooms being predominantly white and male; one is the absence of black coaches; and the third one is the absence of Asian players.”
On November 29, 1978, Viv Anderson broke through another racial barrier by becoming the first black player to represent the England senior team, but 42 years later not one British Asian player has represented the Three Lions at senior level, while only a handful having played in the Premier League.
“Ultimately the numbers don’t lie do they? So when we have an Asian player lining up for England and a pipeline of players below that we know that they’re going to make it,” Bhandari added.
“You remember when Viv Anderson made it, it was Viv Anderson or Laurie Cunningham, but there was always Cyrille Regis and a load of other players in the background. We don’t have that. Hamza Choudhury might make it but if he does, where is the next one, is that another 40 years?”
It’s not only stereotypes that are holding back young players from South Asian communities, with many having encountered overt racism during their careers.
Twenty-year-old Bournemouth defender Dinesh Gillela says that the worst abuse he had to suffer actually came from parents of the other children playing on a Sunday afternoon.
“The abuse I usually suffered was from the sidelines believe it or not, and it’s certain parents calling me names. As a young kid it was hard to take and I would hear it and I would look at a father and I’m thinking ‘you’re saying that to me’ and bearing in mind I’m only 10/11 years old, and I’m thinking ‘Wow.'”
He also feels his family heritage made it more difficult for him to get signed by an academy, an experience he shared with fellow South Asian players.
“When I was younger there were scouts that came – but very, very rarely. I feel like when they came to watch me they wouldn’t pick me up straight away, they’d pick up a couple of my team-mates and I’d be standing there, I’d be left, I’ll carry on playing but it was never a case of they’d come and then they’d select me.
“I felt like even speaking to other team-mates, as in other Asian football players in the academies, they feel like they had to have two, three, four chances but other players have had just the one chance and they’ve gone straight into the academy.”
Since turning professional, Gillela recognises a different form of racism, with ill-informed attitudes still prevalent right at the top of the game.
“The stereotypes that Asian youngsters are only good at cricket, or are only good IT, or are only good at maths, I feel like it’s a stereotype that needs to be broken and I feel like as long as there is pressure in the media to cover these topics, I feel like that will make a huge difference,” he said.
“Obviously we heard the Greg Clarke comment the other day… That sort of stuff needs to be eradicated and it’s a big part of what other people’s perception is of South Asian players.”
There is hope for the future that attitudes are ready to change, and 72 per cent of fans that responded to the survey said they’d be proud to see a British Asian captain England.
While Dinesh knows he is only just starting out on his professional footballing journey, he is aiming for the very top, and he doesn’t see playing for his country as an impossible dream.
“I hope my career goes to that level where I can try and get an international call-up. It all starts from the ground level but also from higher up, and with the FA chairman, it starts there.
“That’ll make a massive difference and to see that the whole country is behind ethnic minorities coming through and playing for their country. As long as everyone is in the same boat I feel like it could be sooner rather than later.”