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Saturday, April 20, 2024

New Football centre launched in Bradford to bridge representation gap but will it do enough for South Asian players?

The Mesut Ozil Centre has recently launched in Bradford to help grassroots South Asian players become professional stars, but what does the figures say about South Asian footballers in the city now?

Last week Football for Peace (FfP), a sports movement backed by the United Nations to build communities and promote understanding around the world, launched a new initiative backed by German footballer, Mesut Ozil, to increase diversity within football.

The Mesut Ozil Centre in partnership with Bradford AFC, the University of Bradford, and the Football Association (FA) aims to increase the number of professional South Asian players within the sport starting at grassroots level.

The centre will run football and life skill sessions at the Bantams’ training ground and will provide opportunities for South Asian players to help them showcase the power of the game in all its forms to contribute positively to issues of inclusion, inequality, and discrimination.

Footballer Kash Siddiqi is the co-founder of Football for Peace.

The Mesut Ozil Centre will also be working closely with Ikram Butt, who is a former Rugby League player and the local coordinator for Football for Peace.


The centre will also provide workshops for parents to help build the relationship between South Asians and the football community. This will be done by inviting grassroots teams to access these services, although there is no guarantee that the young people will be scouted and invited to play for Bradford AFC, or any other semi-professional team, at the end of the season.

In a glossy event at the University of Bradford on Wednesday 6 October, the centre was officially launched with Kashif Siddiqi, 35, pro-footballer for Pakistan and co-founder of FfP, Dr Erkut Sogut, sports lawyer and football agent of Mesut Ozil, Davide Longo, Bradford AFC commercial director, and Dal Darroch, head of diversity at the FA were in attendance.

Kash Siddiqi said: “launching our inaugural centre is such a humbling experience for me. We will be bringing this initiative to places like London and Birmingham but for me, we must launch it here in the North, in Bradford, where there is a diverse population.

“Football has given me so much and working with Mesut we want to create a platform that will provide a framework inside the football pyramid between professional clubs and our community.

The hope is that more South Asian players in professional football will emerge.

“Whilst it is important to see greater representation in professional sport, it is also vital to recognise the power football can have on communities.


“Our ongoing engagement with young people and communities also seeks to contribute to reducing the devastating effects of Covid-19 which has also led to reducing the amount of sports participation, especially the South Asian community are engaging.”

The Bradford Centre is the first of a nationwide initiative, with other FfP Centres will also be co-branded with professional players and clubs promoting opportunities for members of ethnically diverse communities. Other cities set to launch Ffp Centres in upcoming months include North London, East London, Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Oxford, and Liverpool.

Talking about why he put his name to the centre, the former Arsenal player, Mesut Ozil, 32, said: “I have always been surprised why the South Asian community are only allowed to be fans of the game. Why are we not seeing more players or managers breaking into professional football?

“I want to promote them, allow them to be successful both on and off the pitch. I am from an ethnically diverse background and understand the challenges. I hope the Football for Peace Mesut Ozil Centre will become the platform they need.”

In Britain, there are over three million South Asians and in Bradford, one in three are of South Asian heritage, but South Asian people only represent 0.25% of around 4,000 professional footballers.

The Mesut Ozil Centre will be run from the BANTAM grounds.

In contrast, the 2011 census reported that 7.5% of the population in England are of Asian heritage. BBC Sports calculate a ratio of footballers mirroring this would be 300 out of the current 4,000 players.

In October 2019 there were only 12 players of South Asian heritage across the Premier League and the English Football League. Of this, only four home-grown Asian footballers Neil Taylor, Michael Chopra, Hamza Choudhury and Zesh Rehman, have ever played a Premier League game.

Hamza Choudhury became the first British Asian footballer to score in the Europa League on 29 October 2020.

Michael Chopra who has played for Newcastle, Sunderland, and Cardiff as a striker, has spoken openly about the lack of South Asian footballers in the sport. Mr Chopra, whose father comes from the northern Indian state of Punjab, believes that the FA doesn’t do enough to encourage South Asian people to play the game.

At the launch, Bradford AFC commercial director, David Longo, boasted that 13% of the club’s players are South Asian, well over the national average, however, this number represents all players starting from the under 9s team to the under 19s team. At the adult, professional level, for both men and women, there are no South Asian players.

Kash Siddiqi and the vice chancellor of the University of Bradford, Shirley Congdon.

Speaking exclusively to Asian Standard, Mr Longo said he “doesn’t know the answer” as to why there is a lack of South Asian players at the top level, “that question isn’t for me to answer.

“I am the commercial director, of which I have only been in the post a couple of months, I look after the business side of things”, he said. He also added: “It is up to the scouts and coaches to pick the team.”

Research from Manchester Metropolitan University from 30 years ago found that British Bangladeshi boys play more football than white British boys, and that representation on the pitch is important for people “igniting self-belief” to go into professional football. Research also found that institutional insiders hold stereotypes and may perceive British South Asians to be a “gamble”.

Perhaps, it is the coupling of stereotypes and racism, as well as the current lack of representation, that disengages South Asian players to enter the game at a semi-professional or professional level.  It is troubling that a city that is so rich in culture and diversity does not already have South Asian talent playing on the first teams, making the new FfP initiative seem fruitless and like a tick-box exercise.

Dal Darroch is head of inclusion and diversity at the FA and spoke at the event.

Head of Diversity & Inclusion Programme at the FA, Dal Darroch, held his cards to his chest when discussing the reasons why there is a lack of South Asian players in football.

He said: “It is difficult to say the main reason why there is a lack of South Asian players in professional football.

“South Asian people excel in every industry we are in society, so you could argue that it is quite telling that there is less South Asian representation in professional football.

“There are many Asians that play in grassroots and recreational football, where it doesn’t translate is the under 16s to the semi-professional level, and that could be for a whole number of reasons – it could be cultural. As economic migrants three to four generations in, we think of economic wealth rather than sport, arts, and music, which will change over change.

When asked whether the reason why there is a lack of South Asian representation in professional football is that sports such as cricket and hockey dominate in South Asian culture, Mr Darroch replied: “As people who now the fourth generation of South Asian migrants, we can make our own decisions as to which sports, we like to play and watch.

“You could argue that there is a cricketing legacy within the community but there are also many people who love football and watch it every weekend at their homes or at clubs.”

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