The Premier League has launched the South Asian Action Plan alongside Kick It Out, to help address the under-representation of British South Asian footballers within the Academy system.
British South Asians are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country yet the community has been massively under-represented in the professional game for decades, with Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari describing it to Sky Sports News as the biggest statistical anomaly in football.
Latest PFA figures indicate just 0.45 per cent of professional footballers across England’s top four divisions are from a South Asian background, with just four players on full-time deals in the Premier League – Hamza Choudhury (Leicester), Zidane Iqbal (Manchester United), Arjan Raikhy (Aston Villa) and Kam Kandola (Wolves).
The South Asian Action Plan (SAAP) will have an initial focus on players entering the Academy system in the U9 to U11 age groups, when most boys join a club. This will include analysis and research to better understand what the current barriers to entry are for South Asian players.
Alongside this, increasing South Asian representation within the academy workforce will be a key component of the action taken, as well as providing equality, diversity and inclusion education sessions for existing Talent ID and recruitment professionals.
Neil Saunders, director of football at the Premier League, said: “The South Asian Action Plan is a long-term project which will enable us to look at and improve the diversity of everyone within the Academy system, both on and off the pitch.
“The partnership with Kick It Out will provide us with independent diversity and inclusion expertise and enable us to further enhance connections between the Premier League and South Asian communities.”
The plan was launched with a talent identification event at Aston Villa’s stadium, Villa Park, compered by trailblazing Hindu-Punjabi football TV host Manish Bhasin. More than 80 Academy staff, including Academy managers, recruitment leads and heads of equality, diversity and inclusion, joined a day of workshops and panel sessions.
Emerging Talent Football Festivals
South Asian Emerging Talent football festivals will take place in London and at Leicester City’s training ground towards the end of May to continue action in this space, the Premier League said.
The events are designed to offer the opportunity to boys aged between eight and 12 from grassroots clubs the opportunity to showcase their talents and participate in matches in front of Academy staff in a Premier League environment.
Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out chair, said: “The South Asian Action Plan is a crucial step forward to build on recent successes and develop sustainable pathways into the game for South Asian players.
“Representation of South Asians on the pitch in elite football is a statistical anomaly. Currently, it reflects neither the population nor the popularity of football amongst the British South Asian community. We love the game as fans and want to be seen more on the pitch.
“This is a generational opportunity to create change and inspire the next generation. We look forward to working with the Premier League and our other partners across the game to deliver it.”
The Premier League has also pledged to support and amplify other football stakeholders’ work in this space.
Sky Sports is one of the biggest stakeholders in this space, and has built on and gone further in its unprecedented commitment to raising the profile of British South Asians in Football by partnering with the country’s largest sports race equality charity, Sporting Equals, to support and inspire more opportunities, particularly in the women’s game.
Bees coach Ryan: Kaur can go far in the game
London Bees academy midfielder Roop Kaur has the potential to go far in the women’s game, according to head coach John Ryan.
Former QPR player Kaur impressed Hertfordshire-based talent developer Ryan at London Bees academy trials last year, and has since become a mainstay in the heart of midfield for the club’s U16s side.
Middlesex Centre of Excellence graduate Kaur won the Capital Girls County with Ruislip Rangers, which was a first for the club, also earning Middlesex County honours in a 4-3 win against MK Dons.
“Roop’s made really good progress since she’s come in,” Ryan told Sky Sports News.
“She’s really matured in her game and developed her tactical understanding. We’re really happy with her.
“She excels in her ball manipulation and has high technical ability. She can always be trusted with the ball at her feet. She absolutely has the potential to go further in the game.”
Ryan took on talented young coach Elliott Jealous to assist him this season. Jealous said Ryan’s high standards and commitment to creating an inclusive environment is what sets him apart from other coaches in the girls’ game.
“Diverse backgrounds and diverse thinking and diverse backgrounds are so important in life and within football,” added Jealous. “That’s certainly what we try to offer here [at London Bees].
“But when it comes down to it, it’s all about the player’s ability and nothing else. And Roop is a fantastic player with a lot of potential, and she’s great to have around.”
Kaur and Birmingham City duo on the rise
Kaur is part of the best crop of South Asian female elite-potential football talent this country has ever seen and is five months younger than Birmingham City starlet Layla Banaras, who is also making huge strides in the women’s game.
Tough-tackling Banaras captains the U16s side and has stepped up to represent the Development Squad on several occasions this season.
Banaras played the whole 90 minutes as the youngest player on the pitch, aged just 16 years and 25 days, in last month’s FA WSL U21 Academy Cup final against Manchester United at St George’s Park, increasing the clamour for the versatile wing-back to earn an England youth call-up.
Sky Sports worked with Birmingham City to help support Banaras launch her Ramadan meal planner and nutrition guide ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month last year, with the teenager since going on to feature in campaigns for the Football Association and sportswear brand Under Armour.
Meanwhile, Banaras’ team-mate Riya Mannu and her family will attend the FA’s ‘Football Celebrates Vaisakhi’ event at Sporting Khalsa this weekend as guests of the Sky Sports and Sporting Equals partnership.
Sky Sports News revealed last year that West Midlands side Sporting Khalsa were going to become the first team borne out of Britain’s South Asian community to play at Step 4 of the Non-League System (eighth tier of English football).
Sporting Khalsa, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary season, enjoyed a fine maiden campaign in the Northern Premier League Midlands Division, finishing eighth, with a Walsall Senior Cup final against Rushall Olympic at the Bescot Stadium coming up on May 12.
Fleet-footed forward Mannu joins Aston Villa midfielder Arjan Raikhy and Wolves defender Kam Kandola at the free event, which is co-hosted by trailblazing twins Amar and Arjun Singh Purewal, and features coaching sessions, a Q&A, Indian drummers, and a celebrity football match.
Sunderland Sikh-Punjabis Amar and Arjun made FA Cup history as teenagers back in 2008 when they became the first twins ever to score in the same FA Cup tie, with both netting for Bishop Auckland in a 3-2 Extra Preliminary Round win over Darlington RA.
Just under a year ago, Sky Sports News revealed Amar and Arjun Singh Purewal would be making history as the first British South Asian brothers to line up against each other under the arch in a Wembley Cup final when Hebburn Town took on Consett in the FA Vase.
“To play at Wembley, win, and to go home with the trophy is an absolute dream come true. It’s been one of the best weeks of my life,” Amar told Sky Sports News.
“It’s a little bittersweet because I’m gutted for my brother, but I’m proud to score at Wembley. Not many South Asians, let alone Sikh boys have done that. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
The ‘Football Celebrates Vaisakhi’ event is part of the FA’s ‘Faith and Football’ series.
British South Asians in Football
For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital platforms.