Written by:
Nellie Khossousi

Breaking down barriers in football

Read time:
5 minutes

Breaking down barriers in football

Frustrated by the lack of Asian representation in women’s football in the UK, embroidery artist Nicole Chui joined forces with Baesianz art collective co-founders Sami Kimberley and Sarah Khan in May 2022 to form Baesianz FC, a team for women, trans and non-binary people of Asian heritage. She spoke to Nellie Khossousi about how the London-based club is helping to make football a more inclusive sport. 

What was the inspiration behind Baesianz FC?

I had played football for a couple of years and been heavily involved in the grassroots scenes. But I felt there was a lack of Asian inclusivity in the community, as well as [a lack of] representation in women’s football in the UK – there were no East Asian or Southeast Asian people in the England football team campaign [for Euro 2022]. 

I felt I was the only minority in a mostly white group. This really kick-started the idea of forming a football team to find my Asian community within the sport. Baesianz FC is a team for women, trans and non-binary people of Asian heritage. We’ve barely been around a year and we now have two full teams. We’ve played two seasons of five-a-side league football already, been part of several tournaments and had great brand partnerships.

What are the club’s goals?

To keep the community consistent. We want to pass this on to the next generation and create a legacy. Overall that’s the goal of not just Baesianz FC, but Baesianz as a collective. It’s provided so much reassurance and comfort for many people who’ve not found this before, are coming into a new sport, or even meeting other Asian creatives for the first time.

The women and non-binary people in our team range from complete beginners to more advanced players, all from different backgrounds. The whole aim of being a team for Asian people is to represent that we’re not a monolith. We represent so many different cultures within Asia: Central Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. I love that there’s so much diversity within Asian culture and I want people to realise that.

We’ve had issues before where brands just think we’re an ESEA [East and Southeast Asian] group. But we’re for anybody of Asian heritage.

How many members do you have?

Seventy people, but the core team is about 30 people. The core group comes together every week. Some players want to play for the community. We don’t want to exclude people who want to play casually, but we also have goals as a team to improve.

Our training is very welcoming, so even advanced players are there more for the community aspect and friendship.

‘When you can’t see something, you don't feel you can do it’

Why do you think there’s such a lack of diversity in women’s football?

The women’s football field is still predominantly white middle-class. I don't want to generalise, but when you can’t see something, you don't feel you can do it. So, I didn't feel it was even possible to pursue football as a career.

What barriers stop minority groups from getting involved in football?

Mostly pitch bookings and cost. We try to make it as accessible as possible in terms of pricing. Location and money are huge factors in being unable to progress in the game or create consistency within community activities.

Having to manage Baesianz FC outside of our full-time jobs was really difficult. This is for the community, but we don't get paid to do it. We don’t have the capacity to manage many different people, tournaments and friendlies. 

How can others make football more welcoming and accessible?

I’d love to see more inner-city accessibility for young people and more leisure leagues. Having more changing rooms and bathrooms available would be good [too], making it safe for women, trans and non-binary people.

And at night, create more safety around travelling to and from matches. On the previous pitch we played at, once it hit 10pm or closing time, they’d shut off all the lights. I find that very scary as a woman.

Some pitches have a minimum of three months of block booking. You have to pay in advance. Money matters.

There’s an unspoken thing where the male teams are prioritised and get to block-book pitches, even if the women’s team had done it before. If they know the person booking them, they’ll get priority. We’ve had this issue with our league where we’ve been pushed to a later slot despite having paid and organised before [the male teams]. I didn’t realise this was such a huge issue until I started playing.

When I started booking pitches, I also realised how expensive it is. An hour slot can be £70-100, in addition to coaching and equipment costs. If someone could cover that for us, that’d be great.

I’d also love for them to make the funding process a lot easier because the forms are overly complex and really inaccessible.

‘There’s an unspoken thing where the male teams are prioritised’

Who are your footballing heroes?

I love [broadcaster and former England international] Eniola Aluko. Her [recent] book was great, and she’s very real about the industry. Goalkeeper [and presenter] Chloe Morgan is very involved in growing the game for young girls and speaking out about the lack of diversity in football in the UK.

I love Saki Kumagai too. She led the Japan team to victory in the 2011 Women's World Cup after the earthquake [earlier that year]. Her winning penalty was iconic.

What are your plans for the future?

Our first birthday was in May, we’ll be launching an official kit by the summer, and we’ll take part in more tournaments and friendlies. We plan to have a lot of collaborations with people within our community. Some of our members have started an ‘adventure club’ to explore the outdoors together. 

We’d love to work with people in different industries who support the vision of a more inclusive community within our Asian community out in the diaspora.

Find out more about Baesianz FC on their website and Instagram page Nellie Khossousi is a multilingual travel writer, filmmaker and content producer who shares stories about underrepresented communities in the hope of making travel more accessible and inclusive.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Runnymede Trust.

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Photo © Baesianz FC

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