A British Asian player says he was called a terrorist by a team-mate, but felt unable to speak out at the time for fear of being branded a “troublemaker”.
Maziar Kouhyar moved with his family to Birmingham as an infant seeking asylum from Afghanistan and signed professionally for Walsall in 2016.
Kouhyar says he holds the club in high regard for giving him a chance in the professional game, but alleges he was subjected to abuse from very early on in his time there.
“We were just training and one of the lads said something to me about being a terrorist,” Kouhyar told the PA news agency.
“I laughed it off, but he said it again. When he said it again, I commented back something like ‘you’re forcing the laughter now’ or ‘you’ve already tried once, don’t try it again’ – just something to make people laugh at him.
“He didn’t like that. We started pushing each other and the players split us up. A member of staff was there while all this happened, and heard it all and saw it all.
“So I expected I’d get called into the office maybe after training to see if I was alright, maybe the player would have some sanctions, but it never got mentioned again.
“I didn’t want to bring anything up. I was trying to get into the first team and get more minutes, so I didn’t want to cause any bad blood, any trouble that would stop me from playing, so I didn’t mention anything either, even though it was hurtful to me.
Calling me a terrorist was hurtful to me – my family fled from Afghanistan because of terrorists. Calling me that is a bit close to home.
“Calling me a terrorist was hurtful to me – my family fled from Afghanistan because of terrorists. Calling me that is a bit close to home.”
Kouhyar’s comments come as a new research from sports and entertainment business Beyond Entertainment and the Football Supporters’ Association is published.
A Savanta survey of more than 2,000 people found only 29.1 per cent believed the football industry was doing enough to bring more British Asian people into the sport at professional level.
Just 13 per cent felt racism towards British Asians was treated seriously enough by the football industry.
Greg Clarke’s comments about South Asians and their “career preferences” – highlighting how many worked in the Football Association’s IT department – caused outrage and he has since resigned as the governing body’s chairman.
Kouhyar, who said Clarke’s comments were “outdated” and hoped they would open the debate over British Asian participation in the game, recalled other comments which were directed at him during his time at the club.
“We’d go on the bus to Luton, which has got a large Asian community. They (his team-mates) would see an Asian family outside the bus and say ‘ah, look, there’s your auntie’. It’s on a coach so it’s in front of everyone.
“You have to take it on the chin. You don’t want to be the awkward one who can’t take a joke, which was how it got perceived back then.
“Now, with the Black Lives Matter movement pushing forward that kind of banter wouldn’t happen any more, people understand the implications of it. Back then, they just saw it as a joke, so I had to see it as a joke.
“I’ve never thought to speak out because I’ve always thought in my head ‘you’re going to be labelled a troublemaker’, but now seeing people like Raheem Sterling speak out about it, it’s given me the confidence to say, ‘if you’ve got a voice, you should tell your story’.”
Walsall said in a statement: “As a club we have always prided ourselves on being all inclusive.0.25The percentage of British Asians within professional football – 10 out of 4,000.Beyond Entertainment/PFA
“Should Maz have raised any of his concerns at the time with the hierarchy here at the club, they would have been taken very seriously and dealt with swiftly.
“We have a zero tolerance policy on discrimination of any kind and would not condone any such behaviour. Even though he has now left the club we would of course like to deal with his concerns if he is able to provide specific detail.
“He was a valuable member of the club from the age 15 where he progressed through the youth ranks to earn a professional contract before sadly rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in April 2019. Despite being out of contract in June, Maz completed his rehabilitation with the club before we parted ways in January 2020.
“Maz is one of a number of British Asian players who have followed a similar path with Walsall FC in recent years such as Netan Sansara, Malvind Benning and Jordon Sangha.”
Only 10 of the 4,000 professional players in England are from a British Asian background. Kouhyar, who has been without a club since leaving the Saddlers, believes an increase in the number of role models to aspire to could lead to exponential growth.
“If you’re going to do something you always look at someone else who’s already done it and follow their example, having more Asian players will create a domino effect,” he said.
Original article available here: https://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/sport/british-asian-player-called-terrorist-by-team-mate-but-felt-unable-to-speak-out/
Surveys by FSA and BE find half of UK football fans say more must be done to get British Asians playing professionally and tackle racism against them
- Of around 4,000 pro footballers in the UK only 10 are British Asian – making up just 0.25% compared to around 7% of the population
- 46% of football fans want football to do more to increase that number
- 42% think racism towards British Asians in football is not treated seriously enough
- 86% believe more role models within the professional game would increase the number of British Asian professional footballers
- 72% would feel proud to see a British Asian captain England – despite only 15% believing we will see that happen before 2050
- One former British Asian League One player tells how he regularly experienced racism from teammates and football isn’t welcoming to British Asian players
ALMOST half of football supporters think more needs to be done to increase the number of British Asians playing professionally, new research has found.
Of around 4,000 pro footballers in the UK, only 10 are British Asian – defined as people who are predominantly South Asian and live in the UK – which represents a tiny 0.25% of players compared to about 7% of the UK population.
One nationally representative survey found that 42% believe it is more likely British Asians can make it as a pro cricketer, with fewer than 10% of those asked suggesting it is easier for them to carve out a football career.
And it revealed just one-fifth of fans are content that those in charge of the national game treat racism towards British Asians seriously enough – with more than double that number claiming otherwise.
Meanwhile, a second survey of football fans – the overwhelming majority (88%) of whom regularly attend matches – has found:
- 64% think it “shames” football that there are such a small number of British Asians playing professionally
- 86% believe more role models within the professional game would increase British Asian participation in professional football
- 72% would feel proud to see a British Asian captain England – despite only 15% believing we will see that happen before 2050
- 71% of British Asians feel that football is better set up for White and Black British players to prosper – though a similar number (72%) also admits the British Asian community needs to do more to get its youngsters involved in the game
The research, jointly commissioned and released today (THURS NOV 11) by leading fan representative group the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) and Athlete Life Management company BE, comes just weeks after the Football Association announced a code requiring clubs to meet a recruitment diversity target of 15% in executive jobs and 25% in coaching roles.
While 53% of football fans say they support a rule that mandates clubs to interview coaches and executives from British Asian and other minority backgrounds, the findings suggest further action needs to be taken.
Executive Chair of Kick It Out Sanjay Bhandari said: “There are twice as many people of Asian heritage as people of Black heritage in the UK yet there are 100 times more Black pro players than Asian pro players. That’s a massive statistical anomaly.
“It is clear that football has a long-standing problem getting British Asian players into the game and it is getting worse. Football needs to address this.
“Black players have experienced similar challenges around limiting cultural stereotypes and myths, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Great progress has been made and many of those myths have been busted. We need to see the same changes with myths around Asian players, and clubs need processes that remove these unconscious biases from the system.”
Racism in the game is seen as a clear issue, the research shows. During five years at Walsall, Maziar Kouhyar – who in August 2016 became the first Afghan-born player to play professionally in the UK – says he regularly experienced racism passed off as ‘dressing-room banter’, including on one occasion being called a ‘terrorist’ by a team-mate.
Kouhyar said: “I endured years of low-level racism from teammates, as well as that one particularly serious incident, but this kind of behaviour is so ingrained in football over so many years that people probably don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
“It was horrible to experience but I didn’t want to complain in case I was branded a troublemaker – and I felt I had no choice but to just put up with it.”
Despite having previously been linked with a move to the Championship, Kouhyar was released last Spring after Walsall’s relegation to League Two.
Unable to even win a trial at part-time clubs, the 23-year-old former asylum seeker, who moved to the UK aged just one in 1998, left the game altogether and now sells cars for a living.
Kouhyar said: “It’s difficult to know whether being a British Asian hampered my career and if I’d still be playing if I wasn’t British Asian, but the fact there are so few British Asians in the game does seem to suggest football isn’t set up for us to fulfil our potential.
“I think this is due to various reasons. British Asians often come from poor, single-parent families who are unable to afford the money or time to take their children to training and didn’t even consider the idea that their children might be able to make a career in football. Also, I don’t think enough attention is paid by scouts to British Asians.
“Then, for those like me who do manage to turn professional, the dressing room culture isn’t particularly well suited to young men from British Asian families. The tiny number of British Asians playing professional football in the UK really does speak for itself. Something needs to be done to improve the situation.”
The research also examined the reasons why British Asians find it so hard to win careers as professional footballers.
Almost half (49%) of football fans polled pointed to cultural barriers and 37% suggested structural racism towards British Asians in the game remain a barrier to a successful career.
This chimes with former West Ham and Dagenham & Redbridge defender Anwar Uddin, whose father is from Bangladesh.
Now assistant manager at Aldershot and the Diversity and Campaigns Manager for the FSA, the 39-year-old said: “When I was a younger player, I felt uncomfortable at times in social settings which was a key part of team bonding as I always drank soft drinks.
“I thought it would make the situation worse and so at times I just wouldn’t go and make excuses. This can sometimes have players labelled as a loner or not good socially.
“If a coach has to make a decision on a player, apart from a trial what other information do they have to make a decision on that player? If you’re Asian that’s a factor, because you’re different.
“A coach may wonder, will they have to fast, will they be antisocial, or lean on many old-fashioned stereotypes. All these things may play into a decision.
“I hope people are open-minded and look at it positively or fairly moving forward as there is so much talent within the Asian community.”
While football supporters largely tended to view as myths the long-held views that British Asians were not physically or mentally strong enough to make a career in football (with just 13% suggesting those factors as reasons), and lacked ability or came from unsupportive families (both 18%), 47% think a lack of involvement of British Asians in coaching and scouting means British Asian players are overlooked and almost a quarter (22%) believe more British Asian FA registered representatives would help to increase the numbers of pro footballers of that heritage.
Razi Hassan, co-owner of BE, which has as one of its aims to get more British Asians playing professionally and is working with Kouhyar to find him a new club, said: “The survey illustrates that there are several factors associated with the underrepresentation of British Asians in football.
“It also shows that there are one or two core challenges that need to be overcome, and we are campaigning for this.
“However, as an organisation, we are determined to influence where we can, and to that end, we believe that a lack of professional representation and guidance from individuals that understand the cultural sensitivities and nuances of being British Asian and trying to make it as a professional footballer is a space that we can impact.”
Kouhyar added: “I know plenty of British Asian lads I grew up with who were as good technically, mentally and physically as anyone else and if given the chance and properly trained from a young age, I’m sure they could have made it as professionals.
“If they, and I, had been represented by people who understood what it takes for a British Asian to be successful in professional football and had been able to help us better navigate the system, it would definitely help.
“I don’t feel I was given a fair chance of success in the game, and while I have had some injuries, I will always wonder if it was also partly down to being British Asian, or not having a representative who understood my culture. I can’t help thinking that with this support I would still be playing professionally.
“But I still have plenty to give and I’d love to give a career in football another go. Hopefully BE, by working with clubs, scouts and the families of young British Asian footballers, can make that difference.”
Dr Stefan Lawrence, Senior Lecturer in Socio-cultural aspects of Sport and Leisure at Birmingham’s Newman University and one of the leading academics in the field of Asian participation in football, said he welcomed anything that improves the numbers of British Asians playing professional soccer, including the launch of BE.
He said: “The underrepresentation of male British Asian footballers in the pro game is one that has endured for a number of decades.
“Although welfare is now being taken more seriously by many professional clubs the issue is often that this work is believed to be the sole remit of a single officer or department, meaning expertise across all required areas of welfare is not always available in house.
“There is a definite need for welfare to be delivered in an increasingly bespoke way, to better reflect the unique needs of athletes.”
Uddin adds: “When I joined West Ham in 2001, I was asked why there was such a lack of British Asian players playing professionally. Sadly, 19 years later I am being asked the same questions, which is disappointing. It’s right to say there are problems.”