Football is a highly popular game in the United Kingdom. However, football also serves as a venue for racism and discrimination against ethnic minority groups in England. Asian fans are among those who have notably experienced the impact of racism in football. As a result, the level of participation and attendance of Asian fans in football matches is disproportionately lower than that of British whites. In line with this, the study seeks to identify the constraints that impede Asian fans to highly participate in football events and the facilitation strategies that would encourage them to do otherwise.
The football industry in the United Kingdom of Great Britain is faced with problems concerning racism and discrimination against ethnic minorities, especially the Asians fans. To provide an overview of the subject matter, this literature review discusses the following subtopics: (1) a background on the racial discrimination in English football and its impact to Asian fans; (2) a discussion of the strategies employed by organization towards elimination of racism in football, (3) the theoretical framework used to explain the non-participation of Asians in football events, and (4) a conclusion which sums up the discussion and provides research questions as guides for further study.
Racial Discrimination in the Football Industry and its Effect to Asian Fans
Aided by its international popularity and large multi-cultural fan base, football has been viewed as a cohesive mechanism in the United Kingdom of Great Britain in a sense that it can traverse cultural and language diversities in the British society (Football Task Force 1998; Vaughn 2002). However, in contrast with the previous statement, football also serves as an instrument promoting regionalism, which then translates to the more serious issue of racism. (Vaughn 2002).
Racism in football became predominantly common in the Great Britain during the 1970s and 1980s. By becoming a showground for bullying as well as verbal and physical harrying, football opens doors for discrimination against ethnic minorities in the British society, such as the British Asian communities (Football Task Force 1998; Vaughn 2002). Nevertheless, the Football Task Force (1998) affirms that racism is more of a social construct rather than a creation of football itself. Even if such is the case, the challenge to eliminate racial discrimination against Asians in football should be properly addressed.
Published in 1996, a report entitled Asians Can’t Play Football tackles the aggravations and disappointments of Asians as they are estranged by the ramifications brought about by the racism happening during football games (Bains 2005). In addition, it offers recommendations in the form of a development plan outlining changes in the sport, whether amateur or professional football (Bains 2005). However, in the face of all the hard works which seek to eradicate the problems of racism in the football industry, there still exists an apparent marginalization of Asian football players, coaches, administrators, as well as the fans (Bains 2005). This condition is an evident manifestation of how slowly the English football community transforms in a more egalitarian athletic sector.
According to Bains (2005), there are three explanations on why the football games did not change consequently upon the publication of the report Asians Can’t Play Football. Primarily, aggressive fan recruitment strategies were not principally employed by those involved in the English professional leagues, thus resulting in a sluggish change in the fan base in England. In spite of the relative increase in the number of Asian fan clubs and supporters of the national team since 1996, Bains (2005) recognizes that there still remains the challenge of increasing the Asian member of the football clubs.
Secondly, albeit the initiative of various groups to eradicate racism from the football games and to promote equity in the football field, the number of people from ethnic minority groups (such as Asians and British Blacks) holding high-ranking positions in English football clubs and leagues is still very marginal (Bains 2005). This implies that people coming from the ethnic minority groups might not be given opportunities to hold such positions.
Finally, budding and promising Asian football players are underrepresented at nearly all English clubs based on the 2004 report of the Commission for Racial Equity (CRE) regarding football in England (Bains 2005). Such report presents that there are very few young Asians who are part of the centres of excellence or youth academies of football clubs (Kick It Out 2007b; Football Unites, Racism Divides 2008).
Another important fact to take note of is the insignificantly little percentage of young Asian players, accounting for only 0.2%, who are affiliated with several English professional clubs in 1996. After a decade, such percentage increased, but only to a very minimal extent, such that the Asian players in the Academies for Premier League Clubs were comprised of only 0.8% of the entire membership. Additionally, as illustrated on the survey conducted by the Sir Norman Chester Centre for football research, 10% of the young players at the age of fourteen and above in nearly all academies are black while less than 0.2% are Asians (Football Unites, Racism Divides 2008).
If the representation of football players in the football fields, clubs, and academies is very marginal, the same is true with the representation of fans among the audiences attending football games. Among the audiences, 99% are whites (Frosdick and Marsh 2005). Such percentage is indeed striking taking into account that most Asians are very much fond of football (Childs & Storry 1999). It can be surmised that this absence of Asians in the football matches could be a manifestation of the impact of racial discrimination against Asians. According to the Football Task Force (1998), this low attendance of Asian fans in football matches could be attributed to the Asians’ apprehension due to threats of violence and intimidation, evident in racist chants and banana throwing, during the games. In addition, perception also plays a role in the low attendance of Asians such that Asian fans are deemed by most white English fans as violent especially in football (Back, Crabbe & Solomons 2001).
Of course, supporters will not be present if there will be no one to support. With very few Asian players, increased attendance of Asian fans is less likely. Following the argument, Northcroft (2008) points out by citing Netan Sensara that, through the participation of Asian players in football games, the attendance of Asians in matches could be encouraged. Active involvement of Asians in football is immensely significant in a sense that their presence in football matches would imply that inequality is being addressed and diversity is being advocated in such athletic game (Bains 2005; Football Task Force 1998).
Strategies to Address the Issues on Racism
As discussed above, the report entitled Asians can’t Play Football caught the attention of football authorities, fans, and enthusiasts. As a reaction to the report’s direct commentary on Asians’ racial situation in the sport by which they are fond of, several football organizations were moved and became more critical of their social conditions in the context of football games (Bains 2005). Such organizations learned to acknowledge the cohesive characteristic of football – that is, to unify the country and bridge gaps in cultural boundaries (Football Task Force 1998). Furthermore, football associations also realized that the presence of Asian fans and other supporters who are belonging to other ethnic minorities could raise the number of the crowds and consequently resulting in financial stability (Football Task Force 1998). In connection with these, football organizations make efforts to curb and eliminate racism and discrimination in the sport.
For instance, the Football Association Premier League, which is the most internationally recognized football league, aimed to abolish racism in the aforesaid English sport. The football Association addressed this by forming working groups which are liable devising effective programmes and projects in response to racism (FA.com 2008). Moreover, organizations within such association tied up with an anti-racist organization called Kick It Out, which advocates elimination of racism and discrimination through local campaigns (Bradbury 2008).
Kick It Out, in particular, is staunchly dedicated to curbing racism in English football by refuting popular myths which inhibit Asians’ admission to football leagues. Such myths include the belief that Asians are relatively lacking in strength to play football and the perception that disparities in culture would undermine Asians’ development. To deal with this, Kick It Out gave extra attention to competent and skilful Asian players who are could potentially develop and become better in playing football (Kick Out 2007b).
In order to guarantee that everyone accepts and supports football and that everyone is granted access to opportunities concerning football, Kick It Out also works and joins together with every ethnic minority groups in the English community (Kick It Out 2007a). To catch the attention of appropriate agencies which could provide resources to excluded communities, Kick It Out also offers help and support to grassroots organizations and programmes (Kick It Out 2007a). Expected results will be increased level of participation of football fans from ethnic minority groups.
Also, the Football Association espoused the campaign “Football For All” so as to underscore its commitment to the elimination of racism and discrimination. It acknowledges the role of Bangladesh Football Association UK and Sporting Bengal UK, which persistently resists marginalization of Asians in football (Johnson & Bains 2005).
Other actions implemented to eradicate racial discrimination include the establishment of academies in football associations and the formation of the Labour’s Charter for Football and the Task Force of the government. In addition, responsive approaches to address the racism issues were conceptualized and promoted by the Football Association, such as its new strategies for the advancement of equity, education programs on race equality, and standards of equality within the Premier League (Bains 2005). Moreover, new football development centres, which intend to encouragingly influence the recruitment strategies of young foreign players, were instituted. With such objective and with regard to the effect of globalization, these development centres correspondingly drafted their policies and procedures for such recruitment (Bains 2005).
To understand the non-attendance of Asian fans in football matches, the theory on leisure constraints provides framework for explanation and discussion. Such theory shows that factors such as hesitation to participate, barriers, and absence of opportunities in leisure activities have considerable effects to leisure park services and recreation (Godbey 1994).
Godbey (1994) argues that, along the way, people feels frustrated and disappointed and such feelings preclude them to really do what they intended to do on leisure time. There are three categories of constraints to leisure. The first is the structural constraints, which involve physical attributes, deficiency in time, and access to resources. The second is intrapersonal constraints, which include psychological factors such as apprehension, depression, and faith among others. The last is the interpersonal constraints, which involve social relationships and interactions.
There has been a number of research studies conducted regarding leisure constraints and football. Burdsey (2006) argues that factors such as physical attributes, religious beliefs, food intake, and barriers emanating from familial relationships inhibit Asians’ interest in playing football. Similarly, Carrington and McDonald (2001) agree to the factors pointed out by Burdsey (2006). On the other hand, Northcroft (2008) takes into account the role of family’s background in Asians’ non-participation in football in a sense that traditional family beliefs do not view football as a professional career in the future.
Socioeconomic and racial factors were also considered determinants of how people behave during leisure time. Cardwell (2007) argues that socioeconomic factors such as the expensive outings curtail Asians from watching football matches. On the contrary, Holt and Masson (2000) claim that Asians’ disinterest is due to their preference to commit their time in operating small businesses. Meanwhile, Washburn and Wall (1980) structural constraints such as issues of transportation and safety play a part in non-attendance to football games.
Based on the above-mentioned studies, all three categories of leisure constraints evidently influence non-attendance of Asians in most football matches.
Conclusion and Research Questions
It is established in the previous sections that racism and discrimination have been a very critical issue in English football. One of the sectors thoroughly affected by the impact of racial discrimination is the Asian minorities in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Implications of racism among Asians include less involvement of Asian players in football games, underrepresentation in membership and position-handling in football clubs and organizations, and marginal number of Asian fan base present during football matches.
Although several football associations and organizations already started to address the issues of discrimination against race, it is still important to identify the specific constraints that inhibit Asians in participating in football events. This is significant in a sense that, once such constraints are identified, targets for problem solving will consequently be identified. In other words, as barriers to non-participation are pointed out, facilitators to participation will then be distinguished with less difficulty.
In this vein, there is a need to pursue a research focusing on the football situation in England and the racist conditions happening there. Thus, the following research questions are formulated in order to elucidate the effects of racism to the participation of Asian football fans in the context of the English football industry:
1. What are the constraints experienced by Asian fans that impede their attendance in football matches and involvement in football fan clubs?
2. How do racist and discriminatory acts against Asian fans affect their participation in football?
3. How do anti-racist programmes become facilitating strategies to recruit and encourage Asian fans to attend football matches?
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Bradbury, 2008, The New Football Communities, Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, University of Leicester, UK.
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