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Where Are the Asian Football Stars?

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There are various elephants in the room with regards to football. Many things are lacking in moving the phenomenal game onto the next level. The lack of diversity is a huge problem, but whenever we talk about diversity in football we tend to speak only about black people and women. But what about the largest ethnic community in the UK - British Asians?

The statistics are worrying at best. Of the 4,500 players in the Football League (that includes scholars and academy players), only four are of South Asian decent. And in the richest league in the world, the Premier League, there are only three; Neil Taylor at Swansea and brothers Adil and Samir Nab at West Brom.

But Asians play cricket, not football you idiot. That's an understandable point, albeit an inaccurate one. Do you know that there are all Asian leagues and competitions in England? Yes, that's how many British Asians play football in this country - they can actually make up the numbers to form their own leagues. This was part of a backlash towards the sport that many British Asians felt was consciously excluding them and blocking pathways - racism if you like. The idea being that 'fine, if you don't want to sign, scout and play our kids, then we'll do it ourselves'. But that seems to have backfired. A distance has built up between Asian football community leaders and the clubs, the FA and scouting networks and with it comes a lack of understanding.

Overcoming culture barriers has been an issue too. The first generation of British Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshi immigrants who showed a flitting interested in football were quickly told, this sport isn't for you. The weather is too cold for you to play, you're too small, and in the more recent decades, you pray too much and the ladish culture of the sport isn't conducive to your religious values. Did football lose a whole generation of British Asians, because those same Asians bought into the stereotypes themselves? Possibly, but the leading figures in the Asian Community have had enough and feel the time is now for change.

But more significantly the FA have reached out to those communities to do their bit to raise the numbers of Asian participation in the game. Eight forums have been hosted up and down the country by the Football Association in an attempt to listen to community leaders and gain a better understanding of the complexity within Asian cultures and how best to facilitate better pathways for Asians in the game. The FA wants 10% of coaches and referees to be black or Asian by 2017 - it's currently 4%. For BAME (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic) coaches the target is the same. Last year there were about 30,000 FA licensed coaches, to put this into perspective.

Grassroots origination, the Zesh Redman Foundation have taken matters into their own hands, educating and coaching some of London's youngest and brightest Asian talent. Unlike many, their sessions are not exclusive to boys and girls of Asian heritage. ZRF also feels it's not just about getting more Asian players into football playing, but also as coaches, scouts, physio's and other areas of the administration.

Adil Nabi is set to make his debut this season with West Brom and the club have high hopes for the striker. But the 20-year old had something many of his Asian peers didn't - a driven parent, who was supportive of his ambition to be a professional footballer. Adil's Dad made huge sacrifices to ensure his son's passion and talent was fulfilled. Attending training with Adil and his two younger brothers at 6 and 7am was normal and even quitting his job to become a taxi driver so that he could be as flexible as possible. The role this generation's parents have to play in their children's progression in football is crucial. Riz Rehman a coach at the Zesh Rehman Foundation wants more Asian parents to take a more active role in putting in the time and effort white and black parents do in their children's early years. But he is now seeing a change in attitudes from British Asian parents and the identification of Football as a viable and credible career.

If Adil proves to be a success, the doors will no doubt be kicked down by further Asian talent. But the player is keen to stress that pathways and excuses are all well and good but ultimately it's down to the individual and how hungry they are to reach the top.

View Jordan's report on Channel 4, here.

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