Why are there so few British Asians in football?

Aston Villa's Neil Taylor has an Asian background and has been with the Villains' first-team since 2017 (credit: Wikimedia Commons / Steindy)

Out of more than 3,000 professional football players in Britain, only 0.3 percent of them are of Asian or British Asian heritage and that is a concerningly low number.

For a community so engaged in football, the lack of representation of British Asians in the professional game has been a major talking point over the past few years.

A lack of role models at the top level and increased issues surrounding equality and diversity in the game may put more people off.

Baljit Rihal, the CEO of Inventive Sports, an agency which works with British Asian footballers and cricketers, looks at what has changed in that regard in recent times.

“There’s been a lot of noise about this. There’s been a lot of increased media attention, primarily around the Black Lives Matter movement. That provokes the discussion: why aren’t there any black managers or why isn’t there a significant number of black managers?”

Rihal continues: “And then that moves to the Asians in football perspective as well. I think the increased awareness, the increased discussion has helped.”

Over the course of time, the way football scouts have worked and operated has changed too and that has trickled down and given a greater chance to players of different backgrounds.

“I think with the generations of scouts now changing and evolving, there are more scouts that have perhaps played with Asians as they were growing up,” Rihal says.

“They understand who these guys are and may not have the same in-built stereotypes as, perhaps, their predecessors.”

Having so few role models to look up to also makes things difficult and provides a small reason as to why there are so few British Asians at the top tiers of the game.

Recent times have seen players like Hamza Choudhury at Leicester City and Yan Dhanda at Swansea City make their breakthroughs, but the number of players is still low.

Rihal explains why more players are getting a chance now and what’s encouraged more aspiring footballers to consider football as a viable career path.

“It is a slowly-changing thing; the world is becoming a smaller place. You see a variety of diversities in the Premier League anyway.

“You got people like Mohamed Salah who’s got an Asian-sounding name, even though he is African. So things like that matter.

He adds: “Plus, the other thing is that there are more Asians who are now engaged with football.

“They’re more comfortable to go to the grounds whereas before they may have faced racist abuse. So I think things have changed from that perspective; perceptions have changed.”

From an Asian perspective, families and society have often been reluctant to allow their children into playing sport professionally.

There are thousands of footballers from all backgrounds that aim to breakthrough every year, but only few of them make it, raising doubts in the minds of many.

However, with perceptions changing and parents understanding how important and valuable sport can be, more parents from an Asian origin are keen to give their kids a chance to make football a living.

“We now have second or third generation Asians now who are now encouraging their kids into the game whereas perhaps, their parents may not have done the same when they were growing up,” Rihal argues.

“Now, parents are thinking ‘if my boy or girl shows a bit of promise, then I will do all I can to give them the right pathway.”

Diversity is important: it encourages the exchanging of ideas, ideology, resources and empathy and encouraging that in sport can only do more good than harm.