Arunveer Singh Brar is a 23 year old British Asian football coach of Indian origin who currently coaches around the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire area of England. Arun is a Sports Coaching Science graduate from St. Mary's University College in Twickenham and is also a FA Level 2 qualified football coach who is currently working towards his Youth Module 2 qualification. He coaches Cookham Dean Football Club's men's team and manages their under 16 boys side. As well as his football qualifications, Arun also has his ECB Level 2 and coaches East Berkshire District under 13's cricket team. He is aiming to complete his Youth Modules 3 and UEFA 'B' qualifications in football within the next 12-18 months and take his first steps into the professional game.
Arun spoke to Talking Sport about the current unrest in football regarding racism and the issue of non-white managers in the English game.
Talking Sport: There are currently only two black managers in the English football league, Norwich's Chris Houghton and Chris Powell of Charlton. Is the lack of non-white coaches a case of racial bias at the upper-end of British football or does the problem stem from grass roots?
Arun Brar: "I'm not really sure of the actual reason for the lack of managers from a non-white origin in the game. I do look around and I don’t see a huge amount of coaches or managers who are not white and it’s very strange because of the diversity in this country and also the landscape of the game; it’s a sport played by all. I honestly think that the problem does begin at the grass roots level where racism definitely exists and probably discourages many people from pursuing a career in the game. I myself have experienced it on the football pitch a few times, I have been spat on and received other forms of racial abuse and it really did sour the game for me. Opponents would look to hurt me just because of the colour of my skin, so I stopped playing the game. I chose to coach because I love seeing players develop but I also wanted to address the balance of the lack of non-white coaches in the game."
TS: How can the situation be improved? Would giving more non-white managers a chance at grass root level improve the unbalanced ratio or will they simply hit a ceiling and struggle to break through at the high end professional level?
AB: "I think people need encouraging; personally I didn’t. I want to coach, I want to get to the top of the game, but some people might think ‘will I be judged on my colour?’ and I think it needs to be made clear that despite your colour or gender you can coach. If you are good enough, you will get to where you want to be."
TS: Where does the responsibility lie in improving the diversity of football coaches in England? Governing bodies, individual clubs or both?
AB: "Obviously it needs to come from FIFA, but personally, I don’t think they care about the issue that much. From the fines and punishments they give, it is clearly evident that racism is not a prominent issue for them. It’s disgusting to think that Nicklas Bendtner got fined more for showing his pants than the Serbian players and fans who demonstrated evidential racism. It sends out the wrong message and quite frankly the handling of the situation is a joke. I hear that people care about the issue, but do they really? I am a Liverpool fan and when Suarez said what he did in the incident with Patrice Evra, I was horrified, but the way Liverpool handled it was shocking. It made me lose a lot of respect for the club and resulted in me sending back my membership and writing a letter to them explaining why I did that. The club have since apologised about the handling of the issue but it left a sour taste. The recent case of John Terry also caused me great upset. When Di Matteo said the incident was getting dealt ‘in house’ that instantly gave the message of ‘we don’t care about what he said, he’s our captain’ and to me that’s wrong. That man is meant to represent the football club and Chelsea have laid their cards on the table; they don’t care about tackling racism and I can honestly say I think it’s pathetic and disgusting. I think clubs need to be on the lookout for more non-white coaches, but don’t select them just because they are black or Indian, select them because they are good at their job and suit the philosophy of the club."
TS: As an aspiring young coach yourself, do you feel you are allowed the same opportunities in pursuit of a successful career in the sport in comparison to a white coach?
AB: "To a certain extent I do but you do sometimes think 'if I was white would my chances be increased of getting this job?' and that shouldn't be relevant. I don’t want to be looked at an Asian coach; I just want to be looked at as a coach. Football has barriers that have been up for a long time, it will take time for them barriers to come down but it is happening, slowly."
TS: So you feel that, with an increased emphasis on producing non-white coaches, you will be given more opportunities than you would have in the past and that this trend will continue to improve?
AB: "Definitely, but as I said, I want to be looked at because of my ability as a coach. I do think that if I we were in the 1980's and I applied for a job at a football club they would take one look at me and say 'no thanks'. Fortunately, modern society has changed and I know that potential employers don’t look at me in that way."
TS: American football tackled a similar issue in their sport by introducing 'The Rooney Rule', wherein a black coach must be interviewed for every head coaching role in the NFL. Would a similar initiative improve the diversity of coaches in English football or would clubs simply interview non-white coaches to co-operate with procedure and continue to employ white staff?
AB: "No, I think introducing any kind of adaptation of 'The Rooney Rule' would be a bad idea. Clubs need to select coaches on their ability to coach, not because you have to fill a quota. The idea of having a black players union is wrong as well, I think it would cause divide and split up segments of the game, we need to be one united community and sort out our issues together. It worked with American football, but it would just act to divide our sport further. I would not want to go to an interview thinking 'I am only here because I am Asian and they have to fill up their quota'. I want to be there thinking that they are interested in my coaching methods and that they want me for my ability."
TS: Do recent cases of racism in the sport ever make you reconsider your potential career? How does it make you feel and what do you believe is the best method of tackling such a poison in the game?
AB: "I think it’s disgusting. I think Serbia should be banned from all competitions, at all levels, until they prove they are fit to compete in a respectful manner. The players who were involved in that incident should be banned and the coaches who threw punches and kicks should lose their license and never be allowed to coach again; it’s horrible behaviour and it really did anger me. I think 'Kick It Out' do a fantastic job, but they need to be independent from the Football Association and Players Football Association. They should have some kind of power within the game because at the moment their hands are tied; they can never speak out against the FA because they are essentially bank rolled by them. The game is taking steps to eradicate racism from football but it needs to be thought about more, people need educating. Punishments need to be much stricter and harsher to get people to think about their conduct seriously. Bans from competitions or leagues should take place, points docked, and people then are forced to tackle the issue head on and get it out of the game."
TS: You've said in the past that people in the positions of highest power in the game often skirt around the issue, afraid to talk about the problem of racism honestly. If you had the chance to discuss your feelings on the matter with a wider audience, as a British Asian coach at the heart of the game, what would you say?
AB: "I feel let down. I feel as if people don’t care about it whole-heartedly. When I see people and organisations getting banned for a couple of games and fined insignificant amounts, I feel like many other people's good work is being undermined. It’s an issue close to my heart, I have been affected by it and so has a close relative, who has now stopped playing the game because of it. He was called a ‘paki’ by a player; the ref heard it and did nothing. My relative then punched his opponent and the referee. I am not saying that is right, it was certainly wrong, but when you get called these things, when you get spat on and physically hurt on a football pitch, you question yourself and others around you. You question the game. Why do I play it? Does my club care? Do my team mates care? My close relative was a very good footballer, he gained trials at some premier league sides, but he's turned his back on the game because of the negative experiences centring around race. I stopped playing the game, I was never backed by my manager or the league but my team mates cared. They refused to play against the team which racially abused my relative and got docked points and fined for doing it. That hurt, it still hurts, and it’s what drives me to be the best possible coach I can be. I want to knock down these perceptions and barriers. When we go to family parties, I say I am a coach and do it for living and I feel that people look down on me. That’s an issue within the Indian culture; football is seen as a hobby but not a profession. My parents are amazing people and have supported unconditionally but they are scared sometimes because they do not want me to get emotionally hurt. My dad has said "I would rather you be in an office job, you won’t get called anything there" but he loves that I am enjoying myself and come home smiling and beaming with pride when my boys play well or I have a good session. If certain people don’t like or agree with my career choice, that’s their opinion but I am here to say: 'I don’t care what people think, I care what I think and what I feel'. I love doing what I do, I love the challenge, I love the ups and down, I love meeting all kinds of people and I love seeing people improve. I love coaching. More needs to be done about the issue, I feel support from those around me but do I honestly believe that clubs care about it that much? No. I think people need education, some people will never experience that feeling of hurt and despair when you get racially abused and my aim is to make sure no one ever has to experience that because it can ruin people, it can make them bitter and turn their back on the sport. At the end of the day, I love football and I want people to love football for what it is; a beautiful game."
You can follow Arunveer Brar on Twitter. @WonderBrar12.