Ex League One Center-back Netan Sansara says ‘Racism is not the actual
reason for the lack of British Asians in football‘
British Asian’s represent over 5% of the UK’s population. Yet, from the 500 squad players in the English Premier League, only 1 has any British Asian roots. That’s 0.2% of the players in the league.
The question this leads to – Why do British Asians not feature in football, and not just in the Premiership and Championship, but also League One and League Two? You see the fans supporting the big teams in the crowds, but why does the same obsession for the sport not convert into playing time?
Is it racism? Is it the lack of opportunity? Or the unwillingness of families to let their children play football?
I recently chatted to Netan (Nico) Sensara, to get his views and opinions on the topic.
Sansara is a British Asian footballer, of Indian-origin, who started his professional career with Walsall in the English Football League One. Since then he has featured for other clubs in England, Scotland, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Norway. He now plays for Hødd in the 2. divisjon in Norway.
ZH: There have been reports of racism towards British Asian players in the past, with some players such as Jimmy Carter, not even revealing their Asian roots, has this racism particularly impacted the opportunities for the players in English leagues?
Sansara: Look, throughout my life, there’s no doubt that I’ve experienced a little racism, particularly when I was growing up. Racism exists in all societies though. I have not experienced it directly in professional football, whatsoever, let me tell you that. I don’t think this is the reason, British Asian footballers.
What then, in your view, is the reason for this lack of representation?
The lack of Asian players is obviously a prevalent issue, don’t get me wrong, but I believe this is due to the lack of role models and also the lack of interest. Making it as a professional footballer takes a lot of commitment and several setbacks are expected along the way.
There are many reasons for this, however, I believe the biggest ones are a lack of role models and perhaps also, the lack of desire within British Asian kids. They, who want to suffer, and go through pain and disappointment to show their desire to achieve in this sport, where these things are a bare minimum.
Do you think British Asians are not scouted enough or given opportunities on larger platforms?
To be honest, if British Asians are good enough and willing enough, they will be allowed to play. I do not think it has anything to do with a lack of scouting. I believe it comes down to the lack of seriousness amongst British Asians towards the sport.
Opportunities are widespread nowadays, with the British FA’s scouting and integration policies, everything is catered towards getting British Asians into football.
Players such as Zesh Rehman, Anwar Uddin and myself did not have any of these platforms or promotion opportunities like social media when we were starting. As a British Asian, of course, it’s a great honour having turned professional in England, this was also a proud moment for my family.
The lack of Asian players is a prevalent issue, but I believe this is due to the lack of role models and also the lack of interest. Making it as a professional footballer takes a lot of commitment and several setbacks are expected along the way.
There are many reasons for this, however, I believe the biggest ones are a lack of role models. Which, of course, we need to do as I mentioned, and also a lack of desire from British Asian kids who are willing to suffer, struggle and go through pain and disappointment. Without this, they cannot expect to achieve in this sport, or any other sport, where these things are at a bare minimum.
I believe that the lack of Asian sponsors and also Asian people who support Asian football players playing professionally now is another reason for the lack of opportunities and sponsorships.
We have seen cricketers such as Monty Panesar, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid having represented England, why isn’t this converted to the football fields?
If we can place British Asian singers, Bollywood artists, bhangra musicians and so on, on some sort of pedestal, why not invest in our Asian footballers as well and also provide them with the appropriate opportunities to grow and gain exposure in the sport?
I think it’s up to our people to show that eagerness to cultivate and develop relationships with the players, as there are several professional players out there.
You have previously worked with the NGO, Kick It Out, could you tell us a bit about what you have done with them?
The work I did with Kick it Out was to try and raise the profile of British Asian footballers and also encourage the participation of young kids from the community in football. This included acting as a role model for these kids and a sort of ambassador for the sport.
Tell us about your career and journey?
For starters, I have moved across several countries to make a career for myself and I have done that happily. In fact, it is probably one of the best things I have ever done. It has enabled me to learn about various cultures, meet new people, understand football from a different perspective and to personally grow as an individual.
What would you like to say to British Asians who dream of playing football in the big leagues of the UK?
My advice to young kids aspiring to become professional footballers, particularly from British Asian communities is – are you willing to sacrifice everything, give up all the things that are comfortable in your life, make the necessary sacrifices, face several setbacks and disappointments? If that’s the case, fight every day like it’s your last, be prepared to suffer. That is what being a professional is about.
Ability does matter to a certain extent but more of it has to do with what kind of character you are. That is the difference between having a career and not. I have been a professional for 16 years and faced disappointment, but I’ve also experienced joy. There’s no doubt that it is a whirlwind, but it is by far the best thing I have ever done and I have achieved so much personally as a professional.
Are you serious enough? Are you willing to sacrifice everything for the game? I did! Believe me, if you are good enough and dedicated enough you will be seen and picked.
My coach always said to me as a kid, if you stay in the game past the age of 25, you have had a career. Well, I pushed through, I did it, and so can you!
Zushan Hashmi is a sports enthusiast who works in the policy space in Australia. He is an avid fan of climbing, football, cricket and all things sport. You can follow him here on Twitter.
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