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Zesh Rehman holds a unique place in English football as the first British-born player of Asian descent to feature in the English Premier League. The powerful central defender most notably featured for Fulham, as well as a host of other English clubs, and has recently joined Malaysia's Pahang after spells in Thailand and Hong Kong.

The Pakistan international captain is passionately involved in his own personal foundation, which aims to assist British Asians in disadvantaged communities to overcome cultural and religious barriers through football. Rehman, who is passionate about social justice issues, spoke with FIFA.com to discuss his own experiences with racism and discrimination, and what can be done to combat the problem.

FIFA.com: Have you had first-hand experience of racism in your football career on or off the field?
Zesh Rehman: I experienced a fair bit of racism in my young days playing grassroots football in England between the ages of 9 to 13. Being subjected to racial abuse on and off the pitch can be very off-putting and daunting at a young age but my parents always taught me to be thick-skinned. My brother Riz and I were the only Asian lads in the whole of our Sunday League in Surrey during the early 1990s so we had it tough. As you get older you begin to realise that racism stems from ignorance and a lack of education.

How did any first-hand experiences affect you?
The experiences of racism made me realise that my journey in the game was going to be filled with more than the usual barriers, and that I needed to become focused and mentally strong to deal with it and keep on the relentless pursuit to becoming a professional. For any young player, doubts as to whether they have the capacity to succeed at the highest level or not are usually focused on their desire to succeed or simply their ability, but for me it was directed more at my cultural heritage. Coaches would always tell me to take up cricket instead of football as it was a recurring theme that Asians don't play football, that our culture and diet is not suited to the demands of the game. But it was a passion of mine from a young age and something that I really wanted to do. I took positives out of it and wanted to set a precedent for other Asian youngsters like myself and show that becoming a professional can be achieved and is realistic.

You can either crumble, cave in and accept the comments or you can roll your sleeves up and rise above it by doing your talking on the pitch. Of course when you are a young player it's never easy but that's when it's even more important to have positive role models surrounding you in terms of coaches and teachers so that you can remain focused.

What advice would you give young players who experience racism and how should they react?
My advice would be to use it as motivational fuel to inspire yourself to perform better and win over the heart and minds of the people dishing it out, so they realise that they cannot break you and you will keep turning up and performing regardless. I have faced the dilemma many times in my career when I felt things were going against me, but I never used my race or cultural beliefs as an excuse so I would encourage others to adopt the same stance. Young players need to learn not to worry about things that are out of their control. However, if they do experience racism it is important they report it using the correct reporting procedures at their clubs.

You're the first player of Pakistani heritage to have played in the Premier League. Can you foresee a time when the English game is truly multicultural?
The fact that I remain the only Pakistani player to have played in the English Premier League means there is a lot of hard work to be done in terms of changing the mindset of the next generation of young Asian talent, as well as educating the decision makers. I believe the day will come when the numbers increase, it's a challenge and one that inspires me to work even harder so the future kids can follow in my footsteps and believe it's realistic to carve out a career for themselves both in the UK and overseas. There are a couple of young players at professional clubs who have a chance of coming through and hopefully these players can go on and inspire even more children from Asian backgrounds to play the game. Having one superstar at the top will not change a generation – we need players breaking through at all levels of the game including at non-league level.

What can football do to combat the problem?
For me football has possibly done more to combat racism than other institutions across society. Football has become a global game and there are high-profile players in every corner of the world who are now perfectly placed to act as role models to spread anti-racism messages. In England, there are anti-racism groups such as Kick It Out, formerly known as 'Let's Kick Racism Out of Football', and Show Racism the Red Card, who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness across the game and are now using current and former professional players as ambassadors to showcase their work. The Professional Footballers' Association are also taking the lead in delivering diversity and equality workshops to all senior players in England - something which should be replicated in other leagues across Europe and Asia.
With anything, I believe we need to ensure more education is targeted to those coming into the game at the grassroots as they are the future players, coaches, administrators of the game and they need to be made aware of the negative effects racist and discriminatory language can have. Football is a reflection of society so we definitely need to have a bottom-up approach starting with grassroots football clubs.

What other areas of discrimination can football help to tackle?
Football has the power to unite people from all backgrounds and challenge inequalities of every kind. Homophobia and anti-Semitism are becoming more prominent and it is vital discussions are had around how these can be addressed. It's important to keep the debate alive on these topics to see how we can all work towards a game free of discrimination. Giving people a better understanding of certain myths which exist around players of faith have become highlighted in more recent times and this is something my foundation has been looking to take a lead on.

Does football's global appeal mean it is uniquely placed to tackle the issue of discrimination?
Absolutely. Football is such a major factor in so many people's lives. Having played professional football inEngland, Thailand, Hong Kong and competitive games all over the world with Pakistan, I have witnessed first-hand different nationalities working together to achieve a common goal. We cannot underestimate the power of the game to make positive changes in our society but we need to make sure that everyone joins forces for the same common goal. Teams across the world are made up of players from a number different cultures and backgrounds who all mix together on a daily basis. The players can play an important role in changing attitudes on the terraces by uniting with team-mates to celebrate each other's differences rather than seeing them as a barrier.

Can you tell us about the Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF), and how it is helping young footballers in difficult circumstances?
The ZRF was founded in 2010 and is now working hard to help change perceptions and myths surrounding British Asians in football by providing more opportunities in disadvantaged communities - combating cultural and religious barriers associated with communities that have a high number of Asians. The ZRF works at the grassroots level in these communities to help aspiring footballers and coaches develop their skills through coaching clinics, soccer schools and personal development courses. As a British-born player with Pakistani heritage, I am aware of the challenges and perceptions faced by young people from minority communities on a daily basis, and how that can have a negative impact on both their mindset and their actions.

The Asian communities in the UK are still under-represented as players, coaches, administrators, within the media and even at grounds as supporters and the ZRF has been set up to provide pathways into the game. We are currently delivering a unique programme called 'Sidelined-2-Sidelines' which is designed to increase the number of British Asian coaches who can act as role models and be equipped to work within the professional game. We are also working closely with the governing bodies and clubs to deliver our 'Muslim Awareness' workshop which creates an awareness for coaches, managers and club staff on how to better engage with and understand the needs of players from Muslim backgrounds.

Read the full article on the FIFA.com website.

Sidelined-2-Sidelines was set up by the Zesh Rehman Foundation with the help of a grant from the Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association.

The coach education and mentoring scheme is designed to develop British Asian coaches in order to increase the number of young people from minority communities accessing high-quality football coaching. The idea is that these coaches will act as role models to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

PFA Management Committee Member Zesh Rehman was the first British South Asian footballer to play in the Barclays Premier League when he represented Fulham from 2003-2006, while he also had spells at Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Bradford City.

Since launching earlier in the year, coaches on the programme have progressed onto working for professional club community departments including Chelsea FC Foundation, QPR In the Community Trust, Fulham FC Foundation, Crystal Palace FC Foundation and AFC Wimbledon Community Football Scheme.

"We are not trying to change the world, we are just trying to make pockets of difference, where we can and by working with the Premier League, PFA, QPR and Chelsea in west London to start with on this project to encourage more coaches is a positive step forward," Rehman said.

"It is not only about coaches finding roles at professional clubs but for them to pass on their acquired skills to support other local community initiatives and grassroots football to grow the game."

Jobs in football

Over the last 6 months of the Sidelined-2-Sidelines programme 33 participants have gained their FA Level 1 certificate, 2 have qualified as Level 2 coaches, 2 have enrolled onto a referee course and a number of coaches have enrolled onto the Futsal and Youth Module courses, and over 2000 voluntary hours have been contributed in the community by S2S coaches. The Zesh Rehman Foundation Soccer Schools in Merton and Tooting are also managed and delivered by S2S coaches.

Ragesh Nambiar, who recently secured a community coach role within the Chelsea FC Foundation said: "Since coming onto the S2S programme I've qualified as a Level 2 coach and learnt from the experienced coach educators who the ZRF have brought in to support us.

"My role at Chelsea will help me further improve and it's a great feeling to know that young children within my community look up to me as a role model".

The Sidelined-2-Sidelines scheme, which is delivered with the help of Chelsea and QPR, began in March this year with 50 male and female participants between the ages of 16-25 years old taking part on a 12-month course. They will gain two qualifications in coaching and youth work with each student volunteering 150 hours of coaching at junior football clubs. The participants also attend Continual Professional Development Workshops every month to help maintain and reinforce their skills.

Vikas Sadiq, another young coach who recently secured a position at the Fulham FC Foundation continued: "If I'm honest I don't think I would've got the role at Fulham if it was not for the time and effort which the Zesh Rehman Foundation has put in.

"Having only qualified as a Level 1 in August this year, the ZRF gave me the opportunity to volunteer, learn from other experienced coaches and support me in managing my own junior football team which now train on Wednesday evenings and play on Sundays.

"6 months ago I was doing nothing and now I'm coaching in some capacity everyday which I'm loving and hopefully can continue to improve and help the ZRF achieve its goals".

Amin Miah, who manages the newly set up ZRF Juniors FC, was recently successful at an interview with the Crystal Palace FC Foundation and believes that the Sidelined-2-Sidelines programme is something which can help increase participation amongst young children.

"I've always had a passion for the game but never knew anything about player development or what skills coaches needed to identify and nurture players, said Amin.

"10 of us S2S coaches are now coaching regularly at the ZRF Soccer Schools and a few of us have been given the responsibility of running ZRF Juniors FC which we are all really enjoying.

"The skills which Rob Udberg, Nick Levett and Ben Bartlett have shared with us on the S2S workshops has helped me to re-define my philosophy of developing players and hopefully we can start producing some quality technical players at the ZRF".

Expertise

"The Premier League is fully aware of the under-representation of British Asians at all levels of the game," said Simon Morgan, the Premier League's Head of Community Development. "We have worked closely with the ZRF to develop Sidelined-2-Sidelines and are confident this programme will offer viable coaching pathways for young people from minority communities."

Gareth Dixon, Social Inclusion Manager at the QPR In the Community Trust said: "The ZRF are giving us the knowledge of some of the barriers that are faced within the Asian community whether it is regards to playing, coaching or line into football.

"Working together is fundamental to success and it now great to see the young participants benefiting from the programme".

The Sidelined-2-Sidelines programme has also received support from other governing bodies including the Football Association and Kick It Out.

"Programmes like this are massive and if every player put something like this on to support and develop the grassroots game then we will be in a much better position", said Nick Levett, the FA's National Development Manager for Youth Football.

"The FA recognises that the game needs to be reflective of the communities that play it and if Sidelined-2-Sidelines can produce an extra 50 Asian coaches to support the development of players then we are right behind supporting this".

Head of Equalities at the PFA, Simone Pound, who recently sat with Zesh at a panel discussion at Loftus Road said: "The PFA have been involved from the start assisting the ZRF when setting up.

"Three years on and its great to see the work of the ZRF flourishing and making a real difference to young peoples lives and communities".

Troy Townsend, Mentoring Manager at Kick It out continued: "What the Zesh Rehman Foundation and Zesh have shown is that they are committed to supporting the local community and giving the community what they want.

"I've spoken to coaches on the programme and its clear to see there is a hunger in them to succeed and make a real difference.

"Kick It Out are massive supporters of the work ZRF do and it is initiatives like this which should be rolled out across the country".

The Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF) this week linked up with the Surrey FA to put on a FA Level 1 coaching course for 24 participants on its 'Sidelined-2-Sidelines' initiative. Sidelined-2-Sidelines is a coach education and mentoring programme funded by the Premier League and Professional Footballers Association and aims to address the imbalance in the number of Asian coaches in football.

Zesh Rehman, who played for Fulham, QPR and Bradford City was the first British Asian to play in the Premier League and launched his own charitable organisation to offer pathways into the professional game for under-represented groups.

"In the first instance we are just trying to get more numbers in more areas of the game, whether that coaching, refereeing, playing or attending games" said Zesh.

Sidelined-2-Sidelines, delivered in association with the Chelsea FC Foundation and QPR in the Community Trust is a year long programme which is actively working with 50 participants offering coaching, refereeing, talent ID and youth skills qualifications.

Rehman continued: "We are not trying to change the world through the ZRF but small pockets of differences where we can.

"The Premier League and PFA recognise that there is a lot of work needed at the grassroots if we are to see more representation.

"These coaches will become role models not only within their own communities but within the wider community as each S2S coach will be coaching and volunteering at various grassroots clubs across London".

Vikas Sadiq, who has been on the week long course with the Surrey FA said:

"I've been volunteering at the ZRF Soccer School and Camp in Tooting since joining the programme which helped me prior to my FA Level 1 course.

"I was a bit nervous coming onto the course as I did not know what to expect but soon as I did my first practice session the nerves went away.

"I am now really inspired and looking forward to going back into the community to coach and develop children.

"I will be managing the ZRF Juniors Under 11's this season and I've picked up some valuable tips this week which I will use with my team".

To find out more about the Sidelined-2-Sidelines programme pleack click here.

Former Fulham defender and ZRF Founder Zesh Rehman recently talked to Sky Sports News about the Sideined-2-Sidelines initiative which aims to inspire more British Asians to get involved in football.

The 29-year-old is a rare success story for the Asian community having gone on to become the first British Asian to play in the Premier League.

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."

Story via www.skysportsnews.com

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Defender Zesh Rehman returned to one of his former clubs this week to help promote a new Premier League-funded scheme which aims to increase the number of British Asian coaches in the game.

Sidelined-2-Sidelines began this year and was set up by the Zesh Rehman Foundation with the help of a grant from the Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association.

The coach education and mentoring scheme is designed to develop British Asian coaches in order to increase the number of young people from minority communities accessing high-quality football coaching. The idea is that these coaches will act as role models to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Rehman was the first British South Asian footballer to play in the Barclays Premier League when he played for Fulham from 2003-2006 while he also had spells at the likes of Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Bradford City. And together with former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean, who worked with Rehman at Fulham, he attended a conference at Loftus Road to pass on his experiences of the professional game to Sidelined-2-Sidelines participants.

"The programme aims to encourage more Black and Minority Ethnic coaches into the game," he told premierleague.com. "It will give these young people the platform to go and get qualified as coaches and in turn go back into the community for local clubs, centre of excellences or even academies and progress further.

"The funding from the Premier League and the PFA is a major help, we can get these programmes up and running. Secondly, we all know, it's arguably the biggest footballing brand in the world so just to have them throw their weight behind it allows us to have that even stronger impact on these guys because everybody knows about the Premier League."

The Sidelined-2-Sidelines scheme, which is delivered with the help of Chelsea and QPR, began in March this year with 50 male and female participants between the ages of 16-25 years old taking part on a 12-month course. They will gain two qualifications in coaching and youth work with each student volunteering 150 hours of coaching at junior football clubs. The participants also attend Continual Professional Development Workshops every month to help maintain and reinforce their skills.

"We are not trying to change the world, we are just trying to make pockets of difference where we can and by working with the Premier League, QPR and Chelsea in west London to start with on this project to encourage more coaches is a positive step forward," added Rehman.

Expertise

The programme is already having an impact. Of the 50 participants who started the programme this year, five have already progressed into professional football club community departments.

"The Premier League is fully aware of the under-representation of British Asians at all levels of the game," said Simon Morgan, the Premier League's Head of Community Development. "We have worked closely with the ZRF to develop Sidelined-2-Sidelines and are confident this programme will offer viable coaching pathways for young people from minority communities.

"The ZRF have proven through their work that they have the skill sets and expertise to access a community where clubs have previously had little connection.

"With Zesh's notable achievements both on and off the pitch and the high regards he is held amongst all stakeholders of the game, I'm sure Zesh's involvement with the project will certainly inspire the cohort of coaches to develop and enter the world of professional coaching."

Rehman, who now plays for Kitchee FC in Hong Kong, set up his Foundation in 2010 with a variety of schemes focusing on community cohesion, education, health and sports participation. The Foundation is active in Liverpool, Bradford and London and so far over 5,000 youngsters have been engaged with its work.

"The Foundation hopes to create the bridge in the community for these guys to get back out there and feel part of the local football clubs and accepted in society through the football," he added.

"When I was playing in England across all four leagues I was bombarded by kids, from all backgrounds but predominantly from Asian backgrounds that wanted some help and assistance and guidance to get into the game and it's just my way of trying to give something back.

"Communities are becoming more diverse, people are starting to celebrate each other's differences more, especially within football. I think that's going to help the young guys on the first steps of the ladder, in terms of coaching, refereeing and volunteering. That's what the foundation aims to do, to help break down those myths surrounding the British Asian lads in particular."

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