Dr Dan Kilvington, Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Leeds Beckett, has spent 10 years researching the exclusion of British Asians from participating in football, from coaching to scouting, refereeing, fandom and administration, at all levels.
Dr Kilvington explained: “Only ten British Asian professional footballers are competing in England out of approximately 4,000 despite there being a population of 3.6 million in England and Wales. Just six British Asian footballers between the ages of 16 to 18 years old were attached to the 72 Football League academies in 2009 out of over 1,300 players. There is only one British Asian coach out of the 522 senior football coaches in England. These ﬁgures speak volumes.
“My research has found that football is popularly played, watched and loved by Asian groups however, in the last two decades, the number of British Asians with professional contracts has averaged between ﬁve and ten players while black players make up approximately a quarter of the professional English game. My research has therefore been tackling the question, how do we challenge the British Asian football exclusion?”
In his research, entitled Two decades and little change: British Asians, football and calls for action, and published in Soccer & Society journal, Dr Kilvington analyses the history of the role and importance of football in the Indian subcontinent and South Asian communities, before exploring 20 years of existing research around the barriers preventing the inclusion of British Asians in football. Finally, he presents his own research revealing the most pressing barriers affecting British Asian football communities and his six recommendations for challenging and combatting these barriers.
The three main barriers highlighted in the research are:
- Overt racism which continues to exist at grassroots level, making football a hostile place for some British Asian players – especially in the North and Midlands.
- Less obvious racist practices in the initial talent identification process which ignore British Asian football talent – the research found that football scouts and other gatekeepers tend to avoid predominantly British Asian environments.
- The lack of opportunity at grassroots youth level within predominantly British Asian environments – especially in West Yorkshire. While dozens of clubs, with a wide variety of age ranges, exist within ‘whiter’ or more rural areas of West Yorkshire, spaces which are predominantly British Asian tend to offer very few football opportunities for young people.
Dr Kilvington interviewed 75 British Asians involved in football as players, managers, coaches, scouts, fans, campaign group leaders and more, over the course of the last 10 years. He has also analysed some of the most high-profile and contemporary British Asian football inclusion programmes, including the Football Association (FA)’s Bringing Opportunities to the Communities plan and Chelsea FC’s Asian Star, and campaign groups, including Kick it Out.
The research has resulted in the development of six key recommendations for bringing about change and increasing the visibility of British Asians in football:
- Anti-racism needs to be enforced within football at all levels. At grassroots level, players, managers and fans should be better protected against verbal abuse. Kick It Out’s reporting app plays a signiﬁcant role and support, guidance and a clear complaints procedure should be easily identiﬁable and visibly marketed. Referees must also adopt and enforce a standard tariff and penalty for hate-speech.
- Racism also exists within recruitment and a regular equality and diversity workshop would help challenge this. The FA should fund and facilitate an event for all relevant academy personnel and members of football in the community programmes.
- More grassroots opportunities should be established to tackle the lack of predominantly British Asian environments, especially in the North.
- Role models must be identified and highlighted.
- British Asian coaches and scouts must be created and developed.
- Short-term events, such as Asian Star which offers children of Asian heritage between the ages of eight and 12 the chance to win a year-long placement with the Chelsea FC Foundation Elite Training Centre, should be held across the country.
Dr Kilvington added: “British Asian groups do not want ‘special’ pathways into the game. Instead, participants involved in my research want to enter football through the mainstream door, not a ‘special’ door. Therefore, my recommendations are not exclusive to just British Asian communities and could be implemented to aid inclusion for all excluded groups.”