May is Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage (AAPI) Month and the Premier League is focusing on how it can continue to work alongside communities from South Asia as its popularity around the world continues to grow.
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To celebrate AAPI Month in May, we are focusing on the impact Asian players have had in the Premier League and the new initiative the league has started to help support and develop more talent from AAPI communities, particular from British South Asian communities.
Our partners in the UK at Sky Sports have a page focusing on soccer news and stories from the South Asian community in the UK.
Below are more details on the players from Asia who have already had an impact in the Premier League, plus the plans the PL has put in place to make sure many more follow in their footsteps in the future.
Celebrating the PL’s Asian stars who are leading the way
Tottenham forward Heung-min Son is the main man when it comes to Asian players having success in the Premier League and the list of superstars is plentiful if you think of Park-Ji sung, Shinji Okazaki, Maya Yoshida and Ki Sung-yueng as there have been so many stars from China, Japan and South Korea who have starred in the PL too.
But when it comes to players from South Asia there has been a lack of opportunities for young players, particularly players from the British South Asian community.
Current estimations from the UK government state that well over 5 million Asian people call the UK home. That is well over seven percent of the population but just a handful of players from British South Asian backgrounds are in the professional game.
Leicester City academy product and England U21 midfielder Hamza Choudhury is of South Asian heritage (his mother hails from Bangladesh and his father from Grenada) and he has spoken to the BBC about his trips back to Bangladesh as a youngster.
“A few of my childhood memories are of Bangladesh. Being there, just being able to do what you want,” Choudhury said. “You see kids walking around at 10 o’clock at night, not a care in the world… freedom and completely safe.
“People were definitely surprised that I could speak Bengali. I had a little afro when I was a kid, so all the kids used to find me quite interesting and run around after me. We used to go there every other year while we were growing up for two to three weeks – it was nice. Very special.
“It’s my heritage and my culture, so it’s nice. It’s really nice going back. I think it also humbles you as a kid and it shows you different parts of the world because when you grow up in England you can live in a bit of a bubble. To go there opens your eyes to see what kinds of struggles people actually go through, so it is humbling.”
The likes of Neil Taylor (Swansea, Aston Villa) and Michael Chopra (Newcastle) have also flown the flag for British South Asian communities in the Premier League in the past but there is a plan for many others to follow in their path.
Right now Manchester United and Iraq national team midfielder Zidane Iqbal, 19, is creating a name for himself at Old Trafford.
In December 2021 he became the first British-born South Asian player to make a first team appearance for Manchester United and it is hoped he’s the first of many more British-born Asian players to break through.
Premier League commits to improving pathway for South Asian players
As for the Premier League itself, it is committed to helping young players find a pathway into clubs.
“The Premier League has launched the South Asian Action Plan alongside Kick It Out, to help address the underrepresentation of British South Asian players within the Academy system. The new initiative will support one of the key commitments of the League’s ongoing No Room For Racism Action Plan, to enhance player pathways and help diversify the workforce within the professional game.
“The South Asian Action Plan (SAAP) will have an initial focus on players entering the Academy system in the Under-9 to Under-11 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.
🗣️ “This is a generational opportunity to create change and inspire the next generation.”
Yesterday, we launched the South Asian Action Plan alongside @premierleague, to improve the representation of British South Asian players in the Academy system.
— Kick It Out (@kickitout) April 28, 2022
“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. 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,” said Neil Saunders, Director of Football at the Premier League.
The Premier League added: “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.”
England national team leading the charge
As for the England national team, its head coach Gareth Southgate previously told the FA (in this video) that the Three Lions are looking at ways they can help support the South Asian community and the young players within it.
“We should be looking at how we scout,” Southgate said “Historically, there has been a sort of unconscious bias, maybe the perception that some Asian players were not as athletic, they weren’t as strong [as other players]. That is such a ridiculous generalization.
“In a lot of communities now, football is being played, in all sorts of variety of areas, so, I think [in terms of] scouting the Asian community, we’ve got to be creative in getting into the places where some of these kids might be playing. And encouraging them into broader leagues where they can be assessed more easily against other players, and then making that step into the academy system.”