Trailblazing football coach Manisha Tailor MBE has told Sky Sports News the elite women’s pathway in English football lacks diversity.
PFA figures released earlier this year revealed just 9.7 per cent of footballers at the elite level of the game are from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
The number of British South Asian professionals in the top division of women’s football stands at a paltry 0.3 per cent. That is despite South Asian women making up the largest single ethnic minority female group in the country, and the worldwide success of 2002-hit film ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ based on an aspiring British footballer from a South Asian background.
Speaking to Sky Sports News ahead of this summer Women’s Euros, FA director of women’s football Baroness Sue Campbell admitted the current system of talent identification and recruitment in the girls’ and women’s game excludes a lot of people.
Tailor, who is assistant head of academy coaching at QPR and the only South Asian heritage woman ever to hold such a role in the game, has called for action to be taken to redress one of the biggest statistical anomalies in English football.
UEFA A Licence coach Tailor told Sky Sports News: “I don’t think that the female pathway in the elite game is diverse. I don’t believe it is representative of the demographic of England.
“When I have asked [the Football Association] for data – I understand that certain data is protected, and it’s very challenging to actually fully understand the landscape of how many South Asian females we have in the elite pathway – whether that is the pathway to the Women’s Super League or the pathway to England.
“I think more needs to be done.”
The Football Association was unable to provide any ethnicity data on diverse representation within girls’ and women’s elite pathways when contacted by Sky Sports News.
The FA said its key aims are to provide greater access for more players while diversifying the talent pool, pointing to its Discover My Talent initative and referring Sky Sports News to its Asian Inclusion Strategy update and wider Diversity and Inclusion strategy.
Tailor’s book ‘Dream Like Me: South Asian Football Trailbazers’ has just been released during National Inclusion Week, and profiles a number of people from the community working in and around the game.
Based on interviews and aimed at children of school age, the stories illustrate some of the barriers encountered by British South Asians in football, offering young readers lessons for the future.
Sanderson: Diverse talent not coming through concerning
Meanwhile, former England striker Lianne Sanderson says blockages in the female talent pathway for girls from diverse ethnic backgrounds is a genuine source of concern.
Diverse ethnic representation at England level became a talking point back in 2021 when England named an all-white squad for a game against Northern Ireland.
Demi Stokes and Nikita Parris were unavailable, and Ebony Salmon was eventually drafted into the squad, but England named an all-white starting XI for the game. The issue was brought sharply into focus once again over the summer as England named an all-white starting XI for every match of their stunning Women’s Euros campaign, which saw them go on and lift the trophy.
Asked by Hayley McQueen, live on Sky Sports News, about the visibility of ethnically diverse footballers at the highest level, Sanderson said: “There was a squad picked for England a couple of years ago that didn’t represent any people of colour and a lot of people have a lot to say about this issue, but for me it’s a knock-on effect for a number of years.
“When I played for Arsenal it wasn’t like there wasn’t any of us. There was loads of us: myself, Rachel Yankey, Alex Scott, Anita Asante, the list could go on and it does concern me that there is not a lot of younger players, playing at grassroots and then coming through because, for me, I think it’s getting blocked somewhere.
“I don’t know why, and there are all these surveys that come out, and I think the PFA are doing a really good job, but it’s all about talking about it.
“And [England manager] Sarina Wiegman spoke about it during the Euros, she didn’t shy away from it, because it is obvious. When you look at the WSL, there aren’t many people of colour within the squads – and that can’t be right.
“Now, I’m not saying we should pick people based upon the colour of their skin – that’s not what I have ever said – I’m just saying there has to be an issue somewhere, becuase there are not many of us within the game.”
Sanderson added: “The visibility is everything, and like I’ve said, it isn’t about picking people based upon the colour of their skin or their sex, it’s about picking the right people for the job and giving us that opportunity.
“I think having these types of conversations will hopefully change that and bring an awareness to it, because in the Euros it was something that was pretty obvious to me.
“It’s been obvious for the last two or three years, but I can’t always be the person, Hayley, that’s talking about it all the time.
“It needs other people to sometimes speak up as well. It was raised during the Euros, and hopefully we will start to see a lot more younger players coming through the system that are from diverse backgrounds and are good enough to play for England.”
Sky Sports recognised and began taking steps to address the lack of diversity in the women’s game back in 2020 as part of its £30m commitment to tackle systemic racism and make a difference in communities across the UK.
Sky Sports has worked with dozens of current and former players from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and has tried to give them a platform to share their stories to try and capture the imagination to inspire the next generation of female footballers.
Talent has been identified and signposted directly to the Football Association and other international federations, and professional clubs as part of Sky Sports’ unprecedented commitment to British South Asians in Football, which has also seen us devote a section of our website to raising awareness about South Asians in The Game, and create a dedicated rolling blog.
A number of elite and elite-potential female players and their families have also been supported with mentoring and access to off-field developmental opportunities.
Earlier this year, Sky Sports also partnered with the country’s largest sports race equality charity, Sporting Equals, which has seen us support participation across the country, including devising the ‘Seeing Is Believing’ event for century-old west London sports club Indian Gymkhana.
For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and South Asians in the Game blog and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital