BASPA Lack of British South Asian Elite Talent in Sport and Physical Activity Statement

BASPA Lack of British South Asian Elite Talent in Sport and Physical Activity Statement accessible versions below followed by the full written statement by the British Asians in Sport and Physical Activity (BASPA) Advisory Board. 

Plain Text Version
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Following recent major sporting events including UEFA Euros 2020, Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics there has been a lot of conversation regarding the lack of representation from British South Asian communities within elite sports, within these major sports events we saw little to no representation yet again from South Asian communities within Britain. A community which counts towards 6.9% (UK Census 2011) of the British population, which is astounding. This made us truly take pause to reflect on what is going wrong for British South Asian communities with regards to elite level sports.

When reflecting historically we can see there has been fluctuations in the representation of South Asians communities, though nominal at best, present in Team GB. Only seven British Asians competed for Team GB at the last Olympics and Paralympics in Rio in 2016. Seven athletes out of the 630 athletes present, that translates to just one per cent. This lack of representation seemed to drop even more in the most recent games where there appeared to be no South Asians present in Team GB for the 2020 Olympics and one athlete of South Asian descent in the Paralympics, Ayaz Bhuta who incidentally won a gold medal in Wheelchair Rugby. When reflecting on the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament it was very clear to see the lack of South Asian talent within the England team and we are all too aware of how other ethnically diverse players were treated at an elite level when the team lost the final. 

The question we feel is necessary to ask is what is going wrong for British South Asian communities that they are still unable to access the elite pinnacles of competitive sport. This very issue was the driving force that led to Sporting Equals creating, establishing and supporting the British Asians in Sport and Physical Activity (BASPA) Advisory Board and the network that is made up of over one hundred and fifty organisations. The Advisory board continually reflect, campaign and advocate for greater inclusion of British South Asians in sport and physical activity here in Britain. The lack of elite level participation and representation of British South Asians has been a historic issue which the board has spoken on and campaigned for resolves.

Speaking to Manish Tailor MBE Vice Chair of Coaching at BASPA she reflected:
“The issues of talent pathways and support extended to British South Asian communities have been long-standing, while other ethnically diverse communities are able to find their way into elite level sports the British South Asian community is often overlooked. There is also a lot of misinformation and outdated stereotypes about our community which has created unconscious bias towards our energy and passion for sports that aren't just cricket or hockey. The British South Asian community have a lot to offer the sport and physical activity sector in Britain in terms of talent for elite level sports. However, the continued lack of transparency in recruitment processes from within the sector teamed with outdated notions of the capabilities of our community continue to hold back progress.”

Speaking to Gurdawar Singh Dhaliwal, Chair of the Talent sub-group of BASPA, he reflected:
“The lack of representation at the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament, many would infer there isn't an interest from our community to engage in football or perhaps we aren't talented enough – this simply is not true. In 1996 Jas Bains and Raj Patel highlighted the dangers of this misinformation and attempted to rectify this with the ironically named report 'Asians Can't Play Football'. It is sad to say that 25 years on whilst the desire and talent persists within the British South Asian communities; a lack of understanding, engagement, empathy and support for elite talent pathways and specific community engagement continue to block our community from reaching the professional levels we know we are capable of attaining.”

In August 2021, Sporting Equals conducted a pulse survey with its network of Associate Members that cater for south Asian communities.

88% of respondents agreed that there should be more South Asian representation on Team GB. Over three-quarters of respondents felt connected towards Tokyo 2020 athletes who ethnically look more like them. Over half (57%) of our respondents to the survey felt sad, disgusted, or shocked about the apparent lack of South Asian representation on Team GB at the Olympics and Paralympics.

74% of respondents also perceived that their service users would attend more stadium sport as spectators if there was more South Asian representation in those events. Over 90% of respondents agreed that their service users would be more inspired to participate in sport if more role models came from their ethnic backgrounds.

Reflecting on these statistics Arun Kang OBE, Chief Executive of Sporting Equals highlighted:
“What we need to see from the sport and physical activity sector is a concerted effort to engage with specific communities, to understand the nuances and barriers each community faces when looking at sport and physical activity, there is not a one size fits all approach here. For British South Asian communities there is an issue of bias, unwelcoming environments, lack of support and understanding which continually blocks the community from reaching its full potential which in this day and age is wholly unacceptable. Those that have reached elite level talent often face poor treatment and prejudice as highlighted by Azeem Rafiq's recent experiences.

If we as a sector are to truly resolve this issue and reach viable long-standing solutions the sector must engage with organisations that understand specific community issues, who have knowledge of and the support from specific communities, in this case British South Asian communities. Working together with said organisations we must begin a process of learning, understanding and assessing – particularly focusing on how we can best support the British South Asian community and examine why talent pathways have consistently failed this community and led to wide ranges of exclusion.”

One thing is certain from the constant fluctuation and poor representation of British South Asians within elite level sport and the poor treatment of those who manage to break through as outliers to the general trend of exclusionary prejudice; more needs to be done to support communities. We must begin to look in detail at how engagement and retention of British South Asians in sport so that we may enable wider talent pools and more accessible pathways to elite level sports.