First-ever timeline celebrating history of South Asian heritage female players in English women's game to launch at Sporting Equals Race Equality event at Chelsea FC; Derby's Kira Rai, Blackburn's Millie Chandarana, Coventry United's Simran Jhamat and West Brom's Mariam Mahmood all feature
Thursday 16 March 2023 12:24, UK
Sky Sports has celebrated the anniversary of its partnership with Sporting Equals by creating a first-of-its-kind timeline documenting the modern-day history of South Asian female players in the English game.
Marking the evolution of women's football in the Women's Super League era, the timeline highlights 20 current and former players from South Asian backgrounds, who have blazed a trail in the game in different leagues across Britain.
Chelsea forward Sam Kerr, Manchester United and Wales goalkeeper Safia Middleton-Patel (on loan at Coventry United), and ex-West Ham and Watford winger Rosie Kmita are among the players whose achievements are celebrated in the timeline.
The timeline has been curated by Sky Sports journalist and FA Level 2 scout Dev Trehan, and forms part of a wider display put on by Sporting Equals that also showcases four role models from Britain's South Asian community that currently ply their trade in the women's game.
Following a successful recent pilot, the exhibition will be formally unveiled at the Race Equality: State of the Sector event at Stamford Bridge on March 23. The exhibition, which comes at an auspicious time of year for South Asians of different faith backgrounds, will then go on tour.
The four players being showcased are FA Women's Championship footballers Millie Chandarana (Blackburn Rovers), Simran Jhamat (Coventry United), FA Women's National League players Kira Rai (Derby County) and Mariam Mahmood (West Bromwich Albion).
Sky Sports' Dev Trehan said: "Creating a timeline and highlighting these incredible female role models is a massive step forward for women's football as well as South Asian communities.
"I'm enormously grateful to the players and their families, their clubs and coaches, and people across football and the wider community, including Sky and Sporting Equals, for the support to help this project come to fruition.
"Documenting the journey of South Asian heritage female players in the modern English game has both historical significance and cultural importance, representing a genuine legacy for current and future generations."
West Bromwich Albion forward Mariam Mahmood said: "It's an honour to feature in the timeline and to have my story showcased in this way.
"Education and bridging the gap in knowledge about South Asians in football remains a major issue. Our stories matter and I hope this raises positive awareness and encourages more children - particularly girls from South Asian backgrounds - to take up the game and enjoy playing football."
The Lionesses captured the hearts and minds of the nation when they lifted the Women's Euros last summer, but their triumph rekindled the debate about diversity at the elite end of the game after England fielded an all-white starting XI for every match of the tournament.
Current and former players Eni Aluko, Lianne Sanderson and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk have all spoken to Sky Sports News about the lack of ethnic diversity, with Chelsea manager Emma Hayes recently adding that women's football is "quite middle-class" in her opinion.
According to the PFA (2022) just 9.7 per cent of footballers at the elite level of the women's game are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. British South Asians are the largest single-ethnic minority group in the country, but only 0.6 per cent of players in the Women's Super League hail from the community, despite the worldwide success of 2002-hit film 'Bend It Like Beckham', based on an aspiring British footballer from a South Asian background.
Sky partnered with national sports race equality charity Sporting Equals last year through a shared desire to help tackle under-representation by addressing some of the barriers affecting the participation and progression of British South Asian football talent, particularly in the women's game.
Blackburn Rovers midfielder Millie Chandarana said: "This is a very important project, which documents progress and helps change the narrative. We can now see all the great things that these girls have achieved and continue to achieve, and it's great to be a small part of it.
"I hope it gives inspiration to many more, to show that a career in football is possible for women from the South Asian community."
Derby County winger Kira Rai said: "To feature alongside some fabulous South Asian women as part of the history of the English women's game is a matter of huge pride for me, my family and my football club.
"We know women's football is not as diverse as it should be, and I want to play my part to help change that. I hope this inspires the next generation and gives talented girls who look like me the belief that they can also make it in the game."
Sporting Equals CEO Arun Kang OBE said: "This exhibition serves as inspiration, showing that women of South Asian heritage have a place in the game and can achieve anything. There has been great progress in women's football, but this community is neglected.
"We are proud to partner with Sky Sports to grow the national game and delighted to be launching this first-of-its-kind showcase of South Asian heritage female footballers at our Race Equality event at Chelsea Football Club."
Coventry United attacker Simran Jhamat said: "It's amazing to be involved in this legacy project. Seeing is believing - and I hope this inspires children and parents alike.
"We all want to see more South Asian players come through so that we can be confident when we say that it doesn't matter what race or religion you are and that football is for everyone. Nothing comes easy in this industry and all the players featured have worked tirelessly to get to where they are."
Muslimah Sports Association (MSA) chair and FA National Game Board member Yashmin Harun said: "It's very important to understand the history of South Asian female players in the game and reflect on their journeys for us to get to where we want to get to in terms of making elite women's football more diverse and representative of the nation.
"These inspiring women are brilliant role models, who are changing the way we look at the game and are paving the way for the next generation to thrive. They are turning dreamers into believers and it's important to shine a light on them and celebrate the achievements."
For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and South Asians in the Game blog and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital platforms.