‘The FA have a LOT of bridges to rebuild’: Agent says Greg Clarke’s disgraceful comments will STOP talented British Asians from wanting a career in football, with only Hamza Choudhury and Neil Taylor playing in the Premier League
- Only four British Asians have played in the top-flight in the Premier League era, which spans almost 30 years, according to research conducted by The Times
- Greg Clarke’s words reinforce the barriers for players, says agent Baljit Rihal
- He tells Sportsmail stereotypes lead to scouts picking non-Asian players first
- Meanwhile grassroots football may be set back ‘decades’ by comments
Greg Clarke’s catastrophic comments to MPs have turned the clock back decades for those trying to encourage Asian youngsters to play the national sport,it is claimed.
Legions of volunteers and coaches across the country have battled to make football more accessible for years, but the number of British Asians playing at the highest level is disappointingly low.
Only two players currently feature in the Premier League, Neil Taylor, the Wales and Aston Villa defender, and Hamza Choudhury, the Leicester City midfielder, according to research by The Times.
Greg Clarke said being gay was a ‘life choice’ and used the term ‘coloured footballers’
In almost 30 years since the Premier League began, only four British Asians have made appearances in the top flight, the other two were Newcastle’s Michael Chopra and Zesh Rehman, who made three appearances for Fulham.
Clarke, 63, stepped down after an excruciating parliamentary appearance where he referred to ‘coloured footballers’, described being gay as a ‘life choice’ and said women players did not like the ball being kicked at them.
He also told MPs on the Department of Culture Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday, South Asians and Afro-Caribbean people had ‘different career interests’ by citing the make-up of the FA’s IT department.
Baljit Rihal, a football agent and the founder of the UK’s Asian Football Awards, said the comments will strengthen stereotypes that already hold back talented players – and put others off altogether.
Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury is one of only two British Asians playing in the Premier League
He said stereotypes used to explain why Asian players will not make it, such as diet, stature and a suggestion that parents do not approve, have been a barrier for a long time.
‘Most Asian kids aspire to be professional footballers,’ said Rihal. ‘But when we hear these comments, that sets it back. It galvanises the stereotypes.
‘The FA have got a lot of bridges to rebuild.’
Rihal believes these attitudes have stopped many Asians breaking into the top tier.
Neil Taylor of Aston Villa is the only other British Asian playing in the Premier League
‘Some scouts, if they are given the choice, would be more likely to pick the non-Asian player,’ said Rihal.
Clarke’s ‘litany of absurd stereotypes’
‘If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, to high-profile coloured footballers, and the abuse they take on social media… social media is a free-for-all.’
‘If you go to the IT department at the FA, there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests.’
‘The real issue is once you run out in front of 60,000 people and you decided on Monday that you wanted to disclose your sexuality – and I would never pressure anybody to disclose their sexuality – what I would want to do is to know that anybody who runs out onto the pitch and says, ‘I’m gay. I’m proud of it and I’m happy. It’s a life choice, and I’ve made it because my life is a better place”.’
‘I talked to a coach – and I’m not certain this is true – and said, “what’s the issue with goalkeepers in the women’s game?” She said, “young girls, when they take up the game (aged) six, seven, eight, just don’t like having the ball kicked at them hard”, right?’
Despite Clarke’s resignation, serious damage has been done, says Kulwinder Singh Johal, the secretary at GNG FC in Leicester, a club with one of the highest numbers of BAME players in the country.
‘I have worked hard all my life to break down barriers and make football accessible,’ said Johal, 50. ‘I was the subject of racism at an early age in grassroots football.
‘We were trying to be accepted as Asian players in school leagues and grassroots and the racism was blatant.
‘What used to keep non-white kids out of football was people saying you have not got a right to play, now that has changed to say kids from Asian backgrounds make different career choices.
‘It is saying the same thing,’ said Johal, who has spent the last 20 years helping to build up GNG FC, which draws 600 players from across Leicester’s inner city and fields more than 40 teams.
‘I don’t think we have made any progress if a head of the FA has those views. It gives a mandate for anyone else in football to hold those views.
‘I have seen this all my life. After all these decades it is still there. In Leicester, we thought we were making inroads but to hear that, it puts me back a lifetime.’
Clarke apologised for his comments in front of the Parliamentary committee and then again after his resignation.
He said: “My unacceptable words in front of Parliament were a disservice to our game and to those who watch, play, referee and administer it. This has crystallised my resolve to move on.
“I am deeply saddened that I have offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include.”
Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out executive chair, responding to Clarke’s comments yesterday
Meanwhile, Sanjay Bhandari, the chair of anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out, told BBC Radio 4: ‘This isn’t about the one word that he used this is about a litany of absurd stereotypes.
‘A combination of evidence says “You don’t really get it. You don’t understand the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion, particularly in your organisation and this is a strategic objection for you”.
‘It’s absolutely crucial that somebody that is at the top of the tree does get it.’
Peter McCormick will step into the role as interim FA chairman and the FA Board will begin the process of identifying and appointing a new chairman.
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