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Issue 191, Friday 25 March 2005 - 14 Safar 1426
Fulham centre half makes history
By Elham Asaad Buaras
Fulham football club’s centre half, Zesh Rehman, has broken through the game’s last glass ceiling by becoming the first Muslim British Asian to play regularly in the Premiership.
The 21 year-old is valued between £1 to £5million and is described as the man to open doors for others to follow.
The Birmingham-born defender has so far made 17 appearances for Fulham.
Five other British Asians are also playing full-time professional football, albeit for clubs three divisions below the Premiership. Rehman, though, is the only one to prove his talent at the highest level - so far.
Kick Racism out of Football Spokesman, Leon Mann, welcomed the achievement of Rehman, describing a regular start-up of a British Asian Muslim as “well overdue”. Speaking to The Muslim News, Mann said he believes “the emergence of quality players like Rehman will do to the Asian and Muslim community what black players did for football in the 1970s.”
“When Zesh is playing for Fulham live on Sky Sports, the whole country will be able to see that Asians can play at the highest level. That will help to break down negative stereotypes within football and society,” said Mann. “Football coaches I’ve spoken to say Asians aren’t interested, but a visit to many parks at the weekend shows that’s wrong.”
Whereas racism in football has had decades to be eradicated, Islamophobia remains ripe and untouched.
When Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright Philips were subjected to deafening screams of monkey sounds every time they touched the ball at a friendly against Spain in Madrid last year, both the broadsheets and redtops rightly conveyed zealous disgust at the Bernabeu crowd and the Spanish FA’s reluctance to accept institutional racism in their game.
Yet that passion for self-righteous condemnation went AWOL when Turkish players were subjected to “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk” chants at the Stadium of Light in April 2003. And when subsequently England were fined a record £68,000 by UEFA it was primarily for the pitch invasion that followed David Beckham’s penalty and post-match hooliganism than the constant anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim, anti-Asian chants from sections of the crowd.
The fine should have heralded soul-searching about Islamophobia in the “beautiful” game.
It should have also brought to light the stark difference in numbers of British Muslims in professional football in comparison with their French counterparts. Instead, we were dealt the usual tabloid euro phobic “us and them” anti UEFA drivel. Leicester City fans are fed a weekly dosage of “your town full of Pakis, you’re just a town full of Pakis” in their away travels.
In 2003 Manchester City Manager, Kevin Keegan, found himself on a warpath with the FA after when he criticed them for asking Christian Negouai to drink water during Ramadan, in order to provide a urine sample for drugs testers.
“We’ve had people calling our hotline reporting Islamophobic chants. Since September 11, there’s been an increase in those chants” said Mann.
“There’s a blurred line between acceptance of Islamophobia and intolerance of racism. At Kick It Out we’re trying to get the message across that Islamophobia is as bad as racism.”
Mann’s enthusiasm for eventual positive change due increased participation is reassuring but displaced. Muslim footballers have graced the premiership for over a decade, the latest being Tottenham Hotspurs double January signings, of Roma’s 21-year-old Egyptian Ahmed “Mido” Hossam, and Excelsior’s young Moroccan striker Mounir El Hamdaoui, 20, both joining another established spurs regular Omar Frederick Kanoute. In a recent meeting held by Kick Racism out of Football The Muslim News called for a separate dandling of Islamophobia in the game.
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