First South Asian football tournament in the country launches in Derby

From left to right: Michael Chopra, Sany Supra, Michael Owen Credit: Sany Supra

By ITV News Central journalist Arun Lal

The UK's first South Asian football tournament has launched in Derby.

IPL Soccer aims to break down barriers and to provide a spring board for British Asians into professional football.

7% of the UK's population are from South Asian backgrounds. That's about 3.5 million people. 

Despite this, there are just 12 British South Asian male footballers playing in the 92 English football teams, a mere 0.3% of the 4,000 professional players, according to IPL Soccer.They're hoping this tournament, which will be held annually, will tackle this issue, with professional scouts being invited to the tournament from a number of professional clubs.The competition consists of four teams, Birmingham Challengers, Derby Crusaders, Leicester Galacticos and London Warriors.

Each team is backed and owned by South Asian celebrities such as Neha Sharma, Bambi Bains, Juggy D, Sunny Leone, Amir Khan and Faryal Makhdoom.

Chopra, Supra, Owen Credit: Sany Supra

The teams will consist of players from South Asian backgrounds but will have one former Premier League player in the team.

Those players include the former Stoke City winger Jermaine Pennant, ex-Leicester City striker Emile Heskey, and former Aston Villa players Lee Hendrie and Gabby Agbonlahor.

IPL Soccer's founder Sany Supra said, "The goal was to bring the players and qualified coaches into the public domain, on to the big stage – creating some new superstars along the way, for UK audiences to see such an event supporting Asians and Non-Asians in a tournament setting. 

"Each IPLSOCCER team is to represent a City from the UK, working as closely to football's governing bodies to bring all new footballing talents and coaches to the forefront and increase the number of Asians into the professional game."

Former England and Stoke City striker Michael Owen and former Newcastle and Cardiff striker Michael Chopra are acting as ambassadors for the tournament. They helped launch the competition after the semi-final draw was held at Pride Park yesterday.

Both say football is for everyone and hope this will platform to get more Asians into the game.

"We want to encourage more people to get involved in football," said Michael Owen

"The main goal would be brilliant is if we could find some gems here that could go on to play professionally," said Owen.

'That would be the absolute utopia - but at the very minimum we want to encourage more people to get involved in football."

One of the first South Asian players in the Premier League, Michael Chopra says the barriers that South Asians face are cultural but also due to also the lack of knowledge from scouts in the game.

Michael Chopra wants to help more young people get opportunities at professional clubs

"You can see loads of Asian kids and families going to the games... it's trying to break the mould of them realising that there's an opportunity for them at professional clubs that they can actually do something."

"You've got to find these players...they've just got to express themselves and show what they can do."

IPL Soccer will kick off on Sunday 8th May at Derby County's Pride Park.