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'Was a victim of racism at youth level'

sports Updated: Aug 21, 2012 23:45 IST
Amoy Ghoshal
Amoy Ghoshal
Hindustan Times
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Racism in English football was under the spotlight again after the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra and John Terry-Anton Ferdinand incidents.

It also possibly remains a barrier British Asians must cross if they are seeking a career in football.

A study in 2008 revealed that less than 1 in 100 youngsters in academies throughout the entire English football league system were Asian. Till date only two British Asians have played in the English Premier League (EPL) – Zesh Rehman and Michael Chopra. Neither was deemed good enough for the senior England shirt.

A former Fulham central defender, Rehman was the first and represented England at the under-18, under-19 and under-20 levels before opting to play for Pakistan, the country of his parents.

In this email interview to HT, he spoke on racism, the betting culture in English football and India-Pakistan ties among other things.

Excerpts:
Were you ever a victim of racism?
I experienced a lot of racism at the grassroots level but to be honest in the professional game, I had a good experience. You would hear the odd word from the opposition crowd though as there would always be an ignorant minority at every football ground.

What was it like at the youth level?
At youth level I always played in mixed teams and not Asians-only leagues, so being the only Asian player in a team was new to my teammates and their parents. It would start from the parents with their foul and abusive language and filter to the kids who thought it must be alright to copy the elders.

While representing England at age-group levels, did you think there was any bias in selection?
Whoever is doing better would play in general but there have been occasions where that has not always been the case.

What's your take on former Southampton skipper Claus Lundekvam's recent statement that spot-fixing existed in the EPL?
That's the first I have heard of it. It's common for players to have a bet but the rules prohibit them from betting on their own team or competition. I have not witnessed any wrongdoing during my time in the UK across all levels.

How important is it for India and Pakistan to compete in sports? Will the upcoming bilateral cricket series improve relations between the two?
I have played against India on a few occasions and enjoyed the games. I think it (cricket series) will be great for strengthening ties between the two countries. That is the power of sport; it has the ability to unite people.