Bradford City AFC and Football for Peace (FfP) have today joined forces with The FA Sporting Equals and The UN Global Goals to launch the Mesut Özil Centre at the University of Bradford.
The centre - sponsored by Innaree - will provide opportunity for South Asian players, showcasing the power of football in all its forms to contribute positively to pressing issues of inclusion, inequality and discrimination.
Leading a nationwide initiative, the Bradford centre becomes the first of many FfP centres which will also be co-branded with professional players and clubs, promoting opportunities for members of ethnically-diverse communities to fulfil their aspirations, providing pathways into elite football and education.
A number of Premier League and EFL clubs have also signed up to the FfP initiative, led by former British South Asian Footballer Kash Siddiqi.
Despite there being over 3 million South Asians in the UK, the South Asian diaspora is largely absent at a playing level, administrative and coaching level throughout football.
England manager Gareth Southgate also was recently quoted during South Asian Heritage month, saying: “football must revisit its approach to scouting and creating opportunities for British South Asian talent to thrive in the sport.”
The Football for Peace Mesut Özil Centre is working closely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and will be contributing to the UN 2030 Agenda and Global Goals to also upskill youth to contribute positively to their own communities around sustainable living, wellbeing, inequality and discrimination.
Launched this afternoon at the University of Bradford, the centre will also provide workshops for parents - who are a key part of the process - unlocking and reshaping the relationship between the local community and the football community as a whole.
This is the first time an initiative of its kind is launching specifically for the South Asian community, and is welcomed by The FA, which is also providing sponsorship alongside Innaree (supplier of the highest-quality organic CBD for sport and the health and wellbeing industry).
Former Premier League footballers including Michael Chopra, Cherno Samba and Hayden Mullins have also joined the initiative as technical directors, alongside Özil.
The former Arsenal and Real Madrid midfielder said: “I have always been surprised at why the South Asian community are only allowed to be fans of the game. Why are we not seeing more players or managers breaking into professional football?
“I want to support them and give them an opportunity to be successful - both on and off the pitch. I, myself, am from an ethnically-diverse background and understand the challenges. I hope the Football for Peace Mesut Özil Centre will become the platform they need.”
Kashif Siddiqi, former Pakistan international, co-founder of Football for Peace and football diplomat added: “Football has given me so much and, with working with Mesut, we want to create a platform that will provide a framework inside the football pyramid - between professional clubs and also our community.
“While it is important to see greater representation in professional sport, it is also vital to recognise the power football can have on communities.
“Our ongoing engagement with young people and communities also seeks to contribute to reducing the devastating effects of COVID-19, which has also led to reducing the amount of sports participation, especially that the South Asian community are engaging in.”
City’s chief executive officer, Ryan Sparks, said: “We are delighted to form part of the Mesut Özil Football for Peace Development Centre, the very first of its kind, which will facilitate the growth and inclusion of the local South Asian community in football.
“Inclusion and diversity is fundamental to the success of our club and Bradford as a whole – and we pride ourselves on providing a welcoming and warming environment for all.
“We are proud of Bradford’s rich, multicultural heritage, what we as a city stand for and want collectively achieve in the years ahead. The launch of this facility represents another huge step for the district.
“We are hugely grateful for Mesut's commitment and belief in our city and football club as we work together to shape an extremely exciting project, which has the power to do so much good for the people of Bradford and beyond.”
For more information on Football for Peace, please CLICK HERE.