Women's Sports: Why BAME women in football are paving the way for others

Think football and the likes of Messi and Ronaldo spring to mind.

Splashed across our TV Screens are ex-professionals taking the hot seat in TV studio’s week in and week out, providing us with commentary, debate and analysis. 

When we narrow it down and we search for British Asians in football the familiar names of Michael Chopra, Yan Dhanda, Neil Taylor and Danny Batth appear.

But there’s a new crop of individuals that are coming through. Some more established than others, some looking to break into the sport. And they are women.

Women’s participation in football has rapidly evolved over the past few years, not just on the pitch but off the pitch too.

Last year saw a significant increase in the number of females working across The Men’s FIFA World Cup in media. Seema Jaswal reported for the ITV. Jules Breach reported for Australian broadcaster Optus Sport.

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There has also been a significant rise in females playing professional football, from former Tottenham Women’s player Sandeep Tak who now captains Rising Ballers Women’s team and most recently fronted a Lucozade Sport initiative to Simran Jhamat who currently plays for Leicester City Women’s team and the England under-19s squad.

British Asian Women are knocking down those doors and unapologetically owning their craft.

We spoke to just a few of the women breaking tradition to open more doors for the next crop of British Asian Women:

Melissa Reddy: Sports Journalist and Broadcaster

What made you want to pursue a career in football?

From an early age, I knew I wanted to be involved in sports media. I had an insatiable appetite for sport and I loved writing as well as public speaking. I’d spend school holidays teaching myself the rules and history of different codes, learning the fundamentals of cricket, rugby and football, while holding an interest in wrestling, F1 and boxing. I participated in everything available to me: athletics, volleyball and netball. As a young girl growing up in a disadvantaged area under Apartheid, breaking into the industry didn’t seem realistic, but I was a massive dreamer. I’d create imaginary sports TV and radio shows, recruiting my cousins to analyse talking points with me. When I got older, there was still no pathway for females of colour, but I promised myself that when a chance did come along, I’d be fully prepared to give it absolutely everything I had. That finally materialised in 2007 and I kept my vow.

Did you ever play football?

I did. Ah, the glory days! I was a left-winger (who only used her right foot) and captain of a team in the local social league in Cape Town. I once scored four in a game, but I also missed the decisive penalty in a cup final shootout.

What difficulties have you faced, have you ever been subjected to sexism and racism? If yes – how did you deal with it?

One hardship that never truly dissipates as a female – and especially one of colour – is proving you belong at the table. No matter how good you are and how long you have been in the game, when you enter a new space – whether that be a TV show you’re doing for the first time or being introduced to a press officer – it can feel as though it’s an audition to demonstrate you’re capable of doing the job. I’m also conscious that I don’t solely represent myself, but every young girl out there who is serious about entering into the industry and is hoping to get their break. That can mean extra pressure and stress, but it also keeps me from being comfortable – I have to be at my very best to hopefully create more chances for others.

Racism and sexism have unfortunately been part of the package and is largely cowardly delivered through social media. I was once told that the boss of a TV station had decided I was “too opinionated” for a press show were – yup, you guessed it – you had to share your opinions on major footballing issues.

As a foreigner, I’ve also had to combat the twin wars of some thinking I have no place commenting on English football and others being aggrieved that I’m here to steal their jobs.

I embrace my differences. I am hugely proud of them. I wouldn’t choose to be anything other than a female of colour from South Africa and so when people have tried to talk me down based on my gender, my race, or where I come from, I see that as a reflection of who they are, not who I am. I had to sacrifice so much to be where I am, I had to claw for every small window I got to climb through and no racist, sexist or xenophobe has the power to rob me of what I’ve earned.

What advice would you give anyone looking to become a sports journalist?

Be fiercely dedicated to your craft and understand what your unique selling points are so you can play to them. Always add to your arsenal: learn a skill or language, practice different broadcast mediums, understand and make the best use of social media. Never stop learning and sharpening your voice/style/delivery. Be prepared for plenty of knockbacks, while remembering there is little as sweet in sport as an almighty comeback.

Lipa Nessa: Co-founder of the podcast ‘I Think She’s Offside’ talking all things women’s sports

What made you decide to pursue a career in football?

Pursuing a career in sports and football was of second nature. I didn’t think much of it, but I knew I held great passion within the sector. Another factor which played a role was the lack of people at professional playing and coaching level that ‘looked like me’. Instead of looking I decided to be the role model I wanted to see present as a child.

What difficulties have you faced? Have you been subjected to racism and sexism? How did you overcome this?

I have been fortunate enough to not be subjected to racism or sexism in my career as a coach or activist. However, racism played a big part in why I don’t competitively play football today. Unfortunately, this occurred when I used to play at a semi-pro level at the age of 15-17. I can dwell on the past, but I chose in this current day and age to combat this by becoming an activist within sports and to build upon my knowledge in the preserved sectors. Thus, the reason behind getting my voice heard not only nationally but soon it shall be heard internationally.

What advice would you give to women that are looking at pursuing a career in football?

If you’re passionate and truly love the game, then nothing can stop you from achieving greatness. Seek help when needed and remember that you’re not alone as ten thousand came before us! 

Manisha Tailor MBE: UEFA B Licensed coach and Lead Foundation Phase Coach – QPR Academy

What made you decide to start a career in coaching?

After working as a teacher with seventeen years experience locally, nationally and internationally I decided a change was inevitable. I trained as a head-teacher but felt it was time for a new direction.

After my twin brother suffered a mental breakdown it spurred me to look at all options that could help with his recovery. My brother and I had done everything together prior to that. We played football together, watched football together so being passionate about the sport only made me more determined. So I made the brave decision to leave my post and work in a field extremely close to my heart.

How did the coaching journey start?

I always knew it was going to be a challenging move. Working in a male-dominated industry which felt at the time there was a lack of opportunities for BAME coaches and women.

By working with Gibbons Wreckers – a grassroots club founded by former Arsenal women’s and England player Rachael Yankey, I learnt to apply my education and teaching experience into coaching as a whole.

In 2002 I pioneered the first girl’s football programme based at The Swaminarayan Hindu Faith School and used football to create greater community cohesion among staff from both the preparatory and senior school. This also helped to invite more girls from South Asian backgrounds to feel comfortable in playing the sport, equal to their male peers. It was the start of raising the profile of Asians in football at the school.

I am now a UEFA B Licensed coach and work with QPR Academy as a lead foundation phase coach. 

What advice would you give to young girls considering a career in coaching?

On embarking upon a career change, I recognise the value and importance of volunteering opportunities and networking. Gaining experience, being open and taking the time to learn your trade is important. You should remain firm in your values and beliefs; however, it is also important to be adaptable to working in varied environments and with different people. Being rewarded with an MBE in 2017 for my services to sport and diversity makes it all the more worthwhile.

Dee Dhand: Owner of Hillingdon Borough FC

Why did you decide to run a football club?

I have always had a keen interest in Business. After running various businesses such as Real Estate, hospitality and import and exports, I decided to focus on investing my time and money within the leisure industry, specifically football as it is the most popular sport in the UK.

Difficulties you encountered?
It has been challenging because people don’t expect to see an Asian woman having an interest in football or discussing football. 

What advice would you give to other women who want to work on the business side of Football?

Time is changing. If you are passionate about working in the football business that is male-dominated, don’t give up as women can gain the respect that they deserve.

by Sonia Randev

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