The lack of diversity in the English Premier League is pretty apparent when it comes to Asian representation in the sport. It’s been an issue that has been overlooked for years and still continues to be. Of course, there are a notable few such as Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, Neil Taylor of Aston Villa and former Fulham and Bradford City defender Zesh Rehman. Overall though, the number is low. Let’s look at three reasons why this is the case.
Lack of Role Models
Younger Asian players struggle to picture themselves playing the game professionally because there are not many Asian players, coaches, or trainers at such a high level. This, therefore, distances the younger players from the game and results in a continuous deficit of pro-Asian players. With more involvement of British Asian players in soccer, comes more connections and education.
If soccer becomes more popular among Asians, then these players will have more opportunities to enter the game at a more advanced play. If a young Asian boy loves the game, is good at the game, and wants to pursue the game but no other Asians in his town play nor does he see many Asian pro players on television, then most likely he’s not going to carry out his dream.
It’s no secret that racism has been present throughout soccer history. We all remember Barcelona’s, Dani Alves. In a 2014 match against Villarreal, a Villarreal fan threw a banana onto the field. Alves responded by calmly eating the banana and then continuing on with the game. Fear of racial abuse is a genuine reality for many minority players, including Asians. Whether it be in the locker room or on the field, many Asian players are nervous to place themselves in situations like these where they could be victims of racism.
Stereotypes and Cultural Differences
With the stereotype that Asians do not play soccer, many Asian players have stories where coaches have told them to try other sports such as cricket. There have been cases where soccer coaches have refused to watch or recruit Asian players under the assumption that they are physically weaker. For those players who do play professionally, there are distinct cultural differences. For example, in terms of socializing with the team, drinking is most likely involved, and for a Muslim player, this creates a barrier. He has to respect his culture while maintaining respect from his teammates.
Currently, Kashif Siddiqi is hoping to change the way Asians are perceived in soccer. The former Northampton Town defender set up the Kashif Siddiqi Foundation with the sole mission to extend soccer to underrepresented communities. He also started the Altus League which is comprised of youth teams primarily from East London and Bradford. With over 70 teenagers involved, Siddiqi is looking to establish a movement in which Asian players will be given equal opportunity to enter the sport.