World Football Forum - 2017

Asian Football Forum

Asian Soccer / August 16, 2023

Simon Johnson
Director of Corporate Affairs at the Football Association

There is no question that football has come a long way in recent times in involving ethnic minorities in the game. There is still much work to do, particularly in bringing more people from the Asian communities into the sport, but it is important to recognise that we now have the principles of achieving genuine equality and diversity embedded in our thinking and in our strategy.

They are at the top of our wish list and are supported at the highest levels of each organisation. The Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League have policies and action plans in place. The work is already underway.

Many youngsters from Asian communities want to play professional football and we are working hard together to achieve that goal. Premiership clubs have been meeting with people who run Asian teams and leagues, working on developing better links between community departments, academies and amateur teams, and working hard to win the trust of local Asian communities.

We want to create more and better coaches from these communities. We want clear pathways for the most talented to progress. When the clubs are scouting for players we want to ensure that they are doing so in such a way that equips them to find the very best talent.

Only last week it was announced that an abandoned playing field in Huddersfield is set to become a beacon for integrated community sport, following a £600, 000 grant from the Football Foundation. The grant will allow the Sikh Youth Sports Foundation to restore the Warrenside Sports complex, building a new changing pavilion and seven new pitches for hundreds of young players to use every week.

Earlier this season, the FA chief executive Brian Barwick watched Ware Town against Sporting Bengal in the Extra-Preliminary Round of the FA Cup. Sporting Bengal are one of the first two all-Asian teams to enter the competition this year, the other being London APSA.

The Bangladesh Football Association UK and Sporting Bengal United have been honoured for their contribution to football and I was present at the awards. Since their formation in 1996, they have successfully challenged the under-representation of Asian youths in mainstream British sport. They have progressed so far in a short space of time and managed to represent so much of what we want to do under our Football For All banner.

The FA will host its third Football For All conference on Thursday, December 1 at Walsall FC. Among the issues on the agenda is the development of Asian involvement and a workshop will focus on how we can best identify and develop talented players from black and minority ethnic communities and enroll them in academies and centres of excellence.

The feedback from Asian communities has been positive and our initiatives have been welcomed but so far we've only scratched the surface. We can be proud of our work in some places but we have much to do to ensure true representation in areas such as participation, referees, administrators and in the running of the game.

Jas Bains
Chair of the National Asians in Football Forum

Ten years ago I was involved in launching an ironically named study, Asians Can't Play Football. The report documented the absence of Asian players in the game and charted the frustrations and aspirations of a community that seemed to be largely alienated by a sport that meant so much to them. The media's focus was on the complete lack of Asian professionals in the sport. But for many of us the substance lay in the sections that set out the structural changes needed to address institutional barriers to Asian involvement at the highest levels, on and off the pitch.

A generation on, and I recently joined colleagues on the National Asians in Football Forum to take another look at the issue and found the sport had dramatically changed. We now have a greater awareness of the role the game plays as a positive force; a minority of clubs are far more inclusive and are developing solid equalities work; youth development practices are better; and intensive campaigning on issues of exclusion has led to the governing bodies developing a softer approach.

But the problems remain. Change in the active fan base has been painfully slow and seems to be a low priority for most clubs. There are more Asian football fans than ever before, but the numbers of visible ethnic minorities across the game remains stubbornly low. Opportunities inside clubs and governing bodies remain closed to those from a minority background. The numbers of blacks and Asians employed are unrepresentative of the demographics of our towns and cities and recruitment practices are often outdated.