The Premier League says it recognizes players of South Asian descent are “significantly under-represented” in English football as it seeks to end decades of lost talent.
A new initiative known as the South Asia Action Plan, created by the Premier League in conjunction with Kick it Out, aims to better identify talent among boys of South Asian descent at age of the “foundation phase”, between eight and 12 years old, and to increase the number of players within the academy system.
“We have an accurate record of the ethnic makeup of our young players and we absolutely see that boys of South Asian descent are significantly under-represented,” said Premier League director of football Neil Saunders. “We believe this should not be the case and are committed to addressing this issue. We recognize this won’t happen overnight, but we are committed to a long-term plan.
The scheme, launched this week at a gathering in Birmingham of 100 coaches and officials from 35 clubs across England, aims to improve the number of players of South Asian descent in the professional and non-league game over the long term. , hoping to echo the development of young English talent more broadly as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
Saunders has been instrumental in the success of the EPPP, which has developed a generation of English talent – from Reece James to Phil Foden – who compete at the top. Players of South Asian descent have not benefited from this change, with only 16 players active in English professional play. The work of individuals across the country, including Riz Rehman of the Professional Footballers’ Association whose Asian inclusion mentorship scheme has built a network for aspiring professionals, has sparked a change that Saunders believes the Premier League can speed up.
“There’s already a lot of good work going on and it’s about how we capture some of it and work with others to complete it,” Saunders said. “We believe we can play a very important role in accelerating this change and in making it clear to Asian communities that football is for you and our academies are for you.
“We know from data that young Asian boys, and we are talking about boys here, love football. They play football locally, they watch the Premier League and this hopefully is an explicit statement of our commitment to welcoming them and providing them with better avenues to thrive in our environment.
Kick it Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari said the program marked “acceptance” of the need for action. “We cannot change what happened yesterday; all we can do is focus on what we can do now,” he said. “It’s a bit like a 12-step recovery program: the first step is acceptance. People and clubs are signing up to say we understand there is a challenge, but also an opportunity here, as these are the flip sides of a coin.
The Premier League must work with academies to better engage young prospects and two talent identification events will take place in Leicester and London in May and June. Further training and the recruitment of coaches will also take place, but no criteria are set to judge the success of the programme.
Bhandari said now is not the time for hard targets. “I worked on the diversity code for football leaders [launched by the FA 18 months ago] and it was about setting goals because the time was right for them. First we have to get a different level of commitment here and bring people on this journey.