Zesh Rehman wants more British Asians involved in football
Former Fulham defender Zesh Rehman is leading a campaign to help inspire more British Asians get involved in football.
Last Updated: 31/07/13 5:42pm
The 29-year-old is a rare success story for the Asian community having gone on to become a professional player after being born in Pakistan.
Rehman currently lives in Hong Kong where he plays for Kitchee FC, who on Monday took on Manchester United in a high-profile pre-season encounter in front of a 40,000 crowd and has set up an organisation hoping to drive others into the game.
"The whole thing is about doing rather than talking," the ex-QPR, Norwich, Brighton and Bradford player said.
"I am fully aware about the debate. What we are doing with the Zesh Rehman Foundation, in collaboration with the PFA and Premier League, is trying to get more British Asians in the game.
"It is something which I am very passionate about. Hopefully we can reduce the number of racist incidents and get more kids from different backgrounds involved because the UK is so diverse now.
"Any form of racism stems from ignorance and a lack of education. But football has an extraordinary power to bring people together. We are trying to use that in a positive way."
Working with the community departments of QPR and Chelsea, Rehman has launched an initiative called S-2-S (short for Sidelined-2-Sidelines) aiming to recruit volunteers from the British Asian community qualified as Level One and Level Two coaches.
"In the first instance we are just trying to get more numbers in more areas of the game, whether that is coaching, refereeing, attending games, in the media or finance departments," added Rehman.
"Ultimately, we want to see a greater representation on the pitch. By doing it this way, firstly what we are trying to do is make them feel they are part of a club and they are no different to anyone else.
"The next step is to change their mentality and not allow them to feel sorry for themselves or believe that their race or background is a barrier to their progression. The problem over the past couple of decades has been people have been talking about what needs to be done. Now we are doing something."
Rehman has seen what can be achieved with the strides taken by one of his former clubs.
"As captain of Bradford I was aware of the history in that area and what happened with the riots of 2001 that put a negative image on the whole thing," he said.
"Whilst I was there we had some good success in terms of the local fans starting to feel part of the club. They were starting to come to the games. The real fruits were seen earlier this year when Bradford went to Wembley twice and had several thousand British Asian kids supporting them.
"These things take patience and time but it will improve because football is such a global attraction."