March 2022 marks one year since launching the PFA’s Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS).
The scheme was created to nurture today’s elite South Asian footballers, boosting representation, and inspiring the next generation of players.
Some of the work undertaken in the programme inaugural year has included:
PFA Player Inclusion Executive, Riz Rehman, said: “I am extremely proud of the ground-breaking work we have achieved over the last 12 months – the AIMS network has grown considerably. We want to thank the senior players, young professionals, scholars, and their families who participated extensively and fully embraced the scheme since its inception. Collectively we have laid solid and sustainable foundations to push for meaningful and long-term change.”
A key part of the PFA strategy was to work with professional clubs to collate granular data on current playing levels at all development phases to fully understand the current participation levels across the game. By creating a nationwide network with all clubs and academies, this data allows us to baseline the current position and provide a platform that can continuously be maintained, from which achievable growth targets can be set over the forthcoming years.
The latest figures from Sport England across academic years 3-11 debunks the myth that South Asian are not playing football. South Asian players account for around 6% of the total playing population. It would be a fair assumption to expect elite participation to mirror this figure. However, at every age group in the elite system, South Asian players are hugely underrepresented.
Rehman explained: “The data collated really highlights the gap at the younger levels and threatens the strategy over the coming years. It takes over ten years for young footballers to develop, so this key stage of development needs to be addressed as priority. Our player advisory group has overwhelming backed an initiative to put a spotlight on South Asian talent. Clubs have responded positively, and there is a real commitment to helping accelerate players entering the elite environment. Plans are also underway for multiple nationwide events in 2022 and a sustained approach each year thereafter.”
This new evidence-led approach enables all involved in football to better quantify current participation levels across the game. By developing a network with clubs and academies, we now have an informed baseline position, which gives the PFA and the wider game the opportunity to set achievable growth targets for the future.
Middlesborough defender and PFA AIMS mentor, Neil Taylor said: “Working with clubs and their academies on initiatives to boost opportunities into the academy system is the next stage. This concentration of talent will provide an opportunity to boost education for players, parents, and guardians about the elite pathway. The fact we now have the actual stats and data to back up the much-needed future work, you can’t throw that blanket anymore that Asians are not playing. They are there and this is the proof that you should look at targeted interventions at the entry level.”
Sunderland defender and PFA AIMS mentor, Danny Batth, added: “I can see the momentum of the AIMS programme is growing, and I believe it is beginning to progress young players who are making their way through academies and trying to break into first teams across the leagues. Increasing the numbers of players in academies is a priority for the AIMS programme and is backed up by data - I am looking forward to helping the PFA with this specific target throughout the football pyramid.”
Looking to the future, PFA’s Riz Rehman concluded: “I truly believe we can see a change in the future. We will continue to challenge well-documented barriers for South Asian players, but we feel strongly there is a real opportunity to focus on the powerful narrative demonstrated by our current cohort of players, the clubs, and wider communities.”