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Derby County Women winger Kira Rai wants to inspire more South Asian girls to play football

Kira Rai opens up to Sky Sports News about her journey in the game; Derby attacking midfielder keen to inspire more girls to take up football and was joined by Brentford's Rabia Azam at historic west London sports club Indian Gymkhana for event to drive South Asian female participation

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Kira Rai says it is amazing to think she might be able to inspire more South Asian girls to take up the game

Derby County Women footballer Kira Rai admits she is slowly beginning to get used to the idea that she is a role model for girls across Britain's South Asian community.

Rai has enjoyed a good start to the season with Derby, rounding off the scoring in last month's 3-2 win at Stoke and helping the Ewes up to fourth in the FA Women's National League North as they chase promotion to the Women's Championship.

The Burton-born Punjabi has now spent over a decade at the club and is becoming an increasingly familiar face across the city. The 22-year-old is sponsored by official Derby County supporters' group, the Punjabi Rams, and recently featured in her club's new kit launch at Pride Park.

Rai says it is amazing to think she can give hope to South Asian girls who dream of making it in the game.

"I've never really considered myself to be a role model. Like up until now, I've just played football because it's something that I enjoy, because it's my passion," she told Sky Sports News.

"But I guess I should be more aware that as a South Asian female footballer there aren't many people like us, so I know that I am a face that is probably a bit different to everyone else's.

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"And if a young Asian girl sees my face and thinks 'alright, there's someone like me that can do it', then I'm more than happy to help her, I want to motivate them. At the end of the day, if I can inspire other South Asian girls to play football, then that's amazing.

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"Being a South Asian female footballer, it's not something I have ever thought of as negative to myself - I've always seen it as a positive. If I'm the first one to do it or someone else is the first one to do it, that can never be a negative. It's always a positive.

"You've got to take everything in your stride. Yeah, there are more barriers for you, but what does that matter? That doesn't matter, you just have to break them down. When you do break them down, it's got a bigger reward than you would ever imagine."

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Rai's love for the game comes from her father, and she started playing football with her cousins as a toddler, initially joining up with Burton Albion before earning a place at Derby after trialling at the club as an aspiring U10 player.

"There were three or four of us that played at school together [and all went to trial at Derby], and I was the only South Asian girl there, but, looking back, that never really crossed my mind," she said.

"But I've never thought of myself as the only South Asian girl, I've just thought of myself as one of the girls and one of the team, and I think that's been the same throughout my career.

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"I've been lucky in the teams that I've been in, from Burton to Derby, no-one's ever made me feel like 'oh, she's the Asian player'. I've always just been included. I've never felt isolated or anything. I've always been made to feel just as one of the girls, which is nice."

Rai teamed up with century-old west London sports club Indian Gymkhana for a free girls' football event at the weekend, aimed at encouraging more South Asian female participation in the game.

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The initiative was supported by Sporting Equals and local Premier League side Brentford, with women's development squad head coach Will Blithing leading one of the sessions on the day, alongside club defender Rabia Azam.

Derby winger Rai provided tips, mentoring and feedback to girls across different age groups and offered practical advice to parents about girls' football.

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Indian Gymkhana's Tony Singh told Sky Sports News: "We're really proud to host this unique free girls football event in Hounslow, which is one of London's most diverse boroughs, and that's why it was also particularly thrilling to have both Kira Rai and Rabia Azam come down and support.

"You can't be what you can't see - and for the girls on the day - they had a chance to not only see, but also play and spend some valuable time with two South Asian female footballers who have so much experience."

The Indian Gymkhana - Sporting Equals - Seeing is Believing
Image: Youngsters take part in a football taster session at west London sports club Indian Gymkhana

Sporting Equals chief executive Arun Kang added: "Kira is such a fabulous role model in the game, and she's played a big part in making this a really special event.

"The vast majority of the girls at the event were from a South Asian background and we know women from the community are, for a whole host of reasons, the least physically active group in the country, statistically. There is so much work to be done in this space, and that's why events like this are so important."

British South Asians in Football

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