PFA launch mentor scheme as part of five-year plan to boost the number of Asians in football

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The conspicuous absence of Asian players from the football pyramid has long been a thorn in the side of campaigners. It has been highlighted again, and again, and again… and again, having been acknowledged by the FA as far back as 1996

Nearly three decades on, and the situation is yet to find an appropriate remedy.

The numbers don't lie...

In the 2019/20 season, only eight players of Asian descent made first team appearances across the Premier League and the entire Football League. Teamtalk highlight that since the top flight's rebrand, only five British-Asians have played since the launch of the Premier League three decades ago: Jimmy Carter, Neil Taylor, Hamza Choudhury, Zesh Rehman and Michael Chopra.

Crucially, it’s an issue which persists throughout the football pyramid. Dr. Daniel Kilvington, the author of ‘British Asian, Exclusion and the Football Industry’, noted that there were approximately 3,700 footballers playing across England and Wales, of which 0.25% are British-Asian. In addition, there are currently only 15 players of Asian descent under professional contract in the whole of the UK. While this represents the highest total there has ever been, the wider analysis of the numbers illustrates the scale of the problem across all levels.

 

Turning to a new Initiative

The PFAs launch of the Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS) represents a five-year strategy to increase Asian players within the game. The pilot version of the scheme had been going since the start of last season, and it is hoped that the peer-to-peer initiative will allow for elite level players to support the next generation of Asian hopefuls looking to find their way through the game. 

The players’ union has also established a network of young players and their families across the academy system’s different phases. The players have been accessing a weekly virtual meeting since the start of January 2021, where the scholars receiving mentoring, in turn, have become the mentors, sharing their academy experiences with their younger peers.

This multi-level approach allows players to receive mentoring at all levels and provide vital representative inspiration for the next generation of budding Asian footballers.”

The PFA, on the launch of the Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS)

The player-led approach allows for a degree of authenticity to the scheme and may very well allay some fears (should there be any) that this is merely a tick-box exercise. By directly linking with senior pros like Aston Villa’s Neil Taylor and Stoke City’s Danny Batth, young players can draw on their experience of navigating some of the same struggles they will likely have encountered in the game. There’s also the value-added aspect of the mentorship process providing Asian youth with a tangible target to aim for.

On a general level, having targets to aim at the development stage of any profession can prove important in helping young people visualise their aspirations and helping to double down on engagement, which is one of the reasons why representation within most fields is so important. 

The PFA add that their long-term objectives include:

  • Engaging player care staff at football academies to refer young Asian players to the scheme and educating club staff around important cultural considerations.

  • Including Asian coaches in the scheme, and encouraging more players to pursue their coaching qualifications.

  • Supporting Asian players in the Women’s Super League.

  • Celebrating the achievements of Asian players across football.

  • Identifying and supporting club community organisations working to increase Asian participation and inclusion.

  • Working with other stakeholders in the game to have a more collaborative approach and embed Asian inclusion across the game.

The long term objectives of the programme are crucial in the ultimate goal of the scheme being fulfilled. While mentorship is fantastic and will undoubtedly be a force for good for Asian players coming through, it does not address the wider structural biases which have been laid out extensively (by professionals and experts) and continue to see Asian players let down by the footballing authorities. 

Leading players within the scheme such as Neil Taylor believe that it represents an important step in the right direction.

It’s what’s needed from the bottom going up. The mentoring is the bare minimum we can do for the upcoming players as we’ve had a career in the game. Less than 1% make it right to the top and it’s important we instil the right mentality to the players from a young age. I’ve been talking to the scholars, academy players and their parents on this programme about the player pathways and some of the potential pitfalls they may face along the way. If we are to make a mark, and send the right messages to those who want to take up football as a career, this is a step in the right direction and it hasn’t been done before”.

Neil Taylor

The PFA Inclusion Executive, Riz Rehman, hopes that the scheme provides players with the support needed to navigate the academy process. Rehman, who played for Brentford in his playing days, also hopes this can be the start of a wider change in a narrative that will see the achievements of Asian players recognised. 

Historically, Asian players and their parents/guardians have not had the networks in the game to help them navigate the academy system. Connecting them to those who have lived their experiences will ultimately give them the confidence to believe that it is possible for their son/daughter to have a professional playing career’.

Throughout their careers, the senior players involved in our AIMS initiative have frequently been asked by [the] media to comment on the under-representation of Asian players in football but have never been offered the opportunity to actively get involved and make a change.

For the last 25 years we’ve heard the same lazy stereotypes labelled against Asian players, but no one talks about the positive contribution these players have made to the game, or their achievements. The narrative needs to change and this is a start. Connecting these players together and having a player-led approach through a peer-to-peer nature can only be of benefit to all involved."

Riz Rehman, The PFA Inclusion Executive

Mayowa Ayodele

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A call to action...

For 24 years OBV have fought to ensure black and minority ethnic participation and representation in civic society. Efforts in continuing to do so though, relies on your help. That way we can continue this fight for greater race equality. What would give us a tremendous boost is if today, you made that small donation yourselves, but even more importantly if you encouraged others to do likewise.

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