The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics has seen Team GB send its largest ever contingent to an overseas Olympics Games with 376 athletes at the XXXII Olympiad.
There are no fewer than 51 Olympic medallists in that group, with a further 22 reserve athletes in Japan. More than half are competing at their first Games, with just 122 returning athletes.
It’s also the first time a British team features more women than men, with 201 female athletes across the 27 sports.
Mohamed Sbihi the Olympic rower was selected as the co- bearer of the British flag in the Olympics and led out Team GB at the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Games.
When he was selected to be a flag bearer, the 33-year-old said: “It is an iconic moment within the Olympic movement – people remember those images.” And it was iconic, Sbihi, the son of a British mother and a Moroccan father, became the first Muslim to be selected as the Team GB flag bearer when he carried the flag in front of a television audience estimated at one billion.
In acknowledging the precedent he had set Sbihi said: “To know I’m the first person of Muslim faith to have this role and duty is a very proud moment.”
But Sbihi also recognises that progress still needs to be made. He said: “We need more representation and hopefully this starts that process of getting young Muslim kids involved in all types of sport,”
He added: “I was just an average kid that was lucky enough to fall into rowing and here I am, 18 years later, leading out Team GB at the Olympics. I hope it has the impact I would like. This is an incredibly diverse and inclusive team, and that’s not been an overnight thing.”
However, Team GB is not as diverse and inclusive as they would like us to believe. It is a predominantly white squad; 86% of the athletes are white, 12% are black and the remaining 2% are from other ethnic backgrounds. The athletics squad is made up of 47 black athletes and 33 white. When athletics is taken out of the equation the squad is 93% white.
The big question must be, if the squad is so diverse where is the representation from the British south Asian community? It appears non-existent in Tokyo.
Does the absence of South Asian athletes suggest that Team GB have a hidden problem with diversity?
South Asians in particular have always found themselves underrepresented in British squads, from football to the Olympics and many reasons have been put forward for this.
Only seven British Asians competed for Team GB at the last Olympics and Paralympics in Rio in 2016. Seven athletes out of 630, that is just one per cent.
It is easy to draw parallels with football in Britain where British Asians make up 4.9 per cent of the UK population which equates to around 3m people, but of the 3,000 professional footballers in this country, only ten are British Asian.
Of the 493 coaches in professional football, only two are British Asian.
Arun Kang, the CEO of Sporting Equals said: “British Asian communities are still invisible in professional sport, in fact, in all areas of sport from qualified coaches to senior management.”
This is even true in cricket where British Asians represent one third of the playing base in recreational cricket, but only 4.2 per cent of the players in first-class county cricket are British Asian.
Role models are an essential and recognised part of developing sport. But British Asians have very few home-grown role models to look up to.
South Asia has a long history of producing world class sports men and women, but this has not translated to the UK. Pakistan with its plethora of cricketers, squash, badminton, and tennis players as well as athletes. Bangladesh can cite professional footballers alongside its cricketers and the sports shooter Iman Hossain.
And India, who together with its cricketers stand, boxers, wrestlers, badminton and tennis players, athletes and representatives from the country’s national sport, hockey.
Indian men’s hockey has a rich history in the Summer Games having won the gold an unprecedented eight times in the past, the last of which came way back in 1980 Moscow Olympics. Since Moscow a slump followed but the last few years have seen a resurgence in fortunes for the team. With a current world ranking of four, the Indian mens’ team are considered a bright medal prospect this time around in Tokyo.
Given this level of success it is hard to understand why no one from the south Asian community is playing hockey for Team GB. All 36 hockey players in Team GB are white.
Other role models for south Asians include boxer Amir Khan. As an amateur Khan won a silver medal in the lightweight division at the 2004 Olympics, becoming at the age of 17, Britain’s youngest boxing Olympic medallist. He is also one of the youngest ever British professional world champions, winning the WBA title at the age of 22.
Following in his footsteps is 19-year-old boxer, Simran Kaur who is a five-time national champion and European silver medallist in the 51kg category. Kaur said: “I feel like I am representing Asians and females.”
Kaur aims to become the first female Asian boxer to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. Unfortunately, Kaur didn’t make the squad this time around but is expected to shine in 2024.
Many Asian parents will class boxing as a dangerous sport and therefore may not allow their kids to compete on a professional level. In addition, many British Asian families may not view football as an achievable career goal for their children either.
Access to elite sport is another problem. Centres of excellence are dotted across the country and are not necessarily accessible to all. To be at the level required to be in with a chance of selection requires dedication and a hefty parental investment in terms of both time and money. Many hardworking parents do not have the financial resources or free time to support access to sport at this level.
There are not many British Asian professional sports people, so it is perfectly reasonable for parents to question if this was a good pathway for their child.
It’s rare a parent who will throw their resources towards a young boy or girl’s dream to becoming say a footballer or a cricketer or even a tennis player; all that time, money and effort may end in no success, and thus result in their child missing out on a more promising career path elsewhere.
That said, more and more British Asians are taking up sport after the success of the likes of Amir Khan (Boxing), Zesh Rehman (Football), Isa Guha (Cricket), Moeen Ali (cricket), Adil Rashid (cricket) Imran Khan (Muay Thai) and Rajiv Ouseph (Badminton), but the current make up of Team GB would seem to suggest that much work is still to be done.
Team GB’s parent body, the British Olympic Association were asked for comment but have yet to respond.