The proportion of British Premier League players from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds has doubled since the league began in 1992.
Exclusive research carried out by talkSPORT reveals that on the opening weekend of the first Premier League season there were 218 British players across all starting line-ups, 36 of whom were from BAME backgrounds; a proportion of 16.5%.
As the 2017-18 season began the proportion was 33%.
The founder and Chair of anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, Lord Ouseley said: “These statistics do not surprise me and I expect the proportion to go on increasing in the Premier League.”
A particularly significant period occurred between 2002/03 and 2007/08, which saw the British BAME proportion increase from 22% to 33% in the top flight.
Chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, Paul Elliott, said: “It is a testament to the game and to those black players who have been prepared to work hard and sacrifice in order to make it.”
The trend is also revealed at a national level. In the 25 years since the inception of the Premier League, England have competed in ten major tournaments.
While prone to greater fluctuation, the proportion of appearances made by BAME players rose from 7% at Euro 96 to 50% at Euro 2012.
When England hosted the tournament in 1996 Paul Ince and Sol Campbell were the only BAME players to appear over the course of five games. By contrast, England’s opening match of Euro 2012 against France saw Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jermain Defoe and Theo Walcott all play.
Former England striker Les Ferdinand said: “I feel a sense of joy and pride that players are being recognised for their abilities rather than their colour at the moment.”
Ferdinand, who represented QPR, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League, believes black role models have been key.??“You have to thank the likes of Cyrille Regis, John Barnes, Brendon Batson and Viv Anderson. They came first, took a lot of stick and paved the way. They showed that black players did have ability and did have skill.”
Lord Ouseley added: “Young black footballers know now that if they are good enough they will not be discriminated against because if managers are prejudiced they would be cutting off their noses to spite their face.
“However, off-field opportunities are still extremely limited and that is where the problem remains for football.”
Elliott agrees: “What we want to do now is make that next step, so that BAME players can move into coaching, into management and into boardrooms with the same equal opportunities as they enjoy on the field of play.”