Football must do more for better representation of British Asians says survey

By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
·3-min read

Less than a third of people surveyed in a national poll believe the football industry is doing enough to ensure better representation of British Asians within the professional game.

The Savanta survey of over 2,000 people comes in the wake of Greg Clarke’s resignation as Football Association chairman after he said, amongst other things, that South Asians have “different career interests” than people from an Afro-Caribbean background.

The research found 29.1 per cent believed the industry was doing enough to bring more British Asian people into the sport at professional level. Among those within the survey group who identified as a football fan, 46 per cent said the game needed to do more to improve British Asian representation.

Kick It Out's executive chair Sanjay Bhandari says there is a need to tackle unconscious bias towards players of Asian ethnicity
Kick It Out’s executive chair Sanjay Bhandari says there is a need to tackle unconscious bias towards players of Asian ethnicity (Bradley Collyer/PA)

British Asians account for just 10 of around 4,000 professional footballers in the game – just 0.25 per cent compared to the seven per cent proportion of British Asians in the general population.

The Savanta poll was commissioned by sports and entertainment business Beyond Entertainment and the Football Supporters’ Association, and a second FSA survey exclusively of 500 football fans – almost 90 per cent of whom said they regularly attended matches – also produced some interesting findings.

Sixty four per cent of the overall FSA survey group felt the small number of British Asians playing professionally “shamed” football.

Of those within that group who identified as being British Asian – around one-fifth – 71 per cent feel the game is better structured to support the development of white and black players rather than people from their community.

However, a similar number from that group – 72 per cent – also feel the British Asian community needs to do more to get its youngsters involved in the game.

Kick It Out’s executive chair 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.

Greg Clarke, pictured, resigned from the FA over offensive remarks he made during a DCMS evidence session
Greg Clarke, pictured, resigned from the FA over offensive remarks he made during a DCMS evidence session (PA Video)

“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.

“When we look at the recent comments made by Greg Clarke, who used lazy racist stereotypes about South Asians and their supposed career preferences, that is also similar to what I have heard from individuals working at club academy level.

“That kind of attitude doesn’t create a positive culture, and could certainly contribute to the fact that South Asians are the most under-represented ethnic minority on the football pitch. My experience as a South Asian is that we do not have different career aspirations, but we have different outcomes.”

Seventy-two per cent of the overall 500-strong fans’ group said they would be proud to see a British Asian captain England, but just 15 per cent think that will happen by 2050.

In the Savanta group, just 13 per cent felt racism towards British Asians was treated seriously enough by the football industry.

Maziar Kouhyar, who played for Walsall between 2016 and 2019, says he was called a terrorist by a team-mate during training, alongside other abuse which was dressed up as ‘banter’.