connecting race and gender in sport: south asian females on the ball

Por: Aarti Ratna.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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In the context of sport in England, research about ‘race’ has tended to focus on the experiences of men. When the experiences of women have been considered, various groups of women have to various extents been treated the same as white, middle-classed women. Therefore, it can be argued that the particular sporting experiences of ethnic minority women have been marginalized. For example, in the case of football - the most popular sport in England - academics have debated about the over-representation of black players, and also the under-representation of South Asian players at professional levels of the game. No reference is made to the experiences of female footballers. Evidence actually indicates that there is a burgeoning group of both black and South Asian females playing at elite levels of women’s football in this country (Ratna, 2003). But still, their experiences remain relatively under-valued and under-researched (Bains and Johal, 1998: 204). It is the aim of my proposed research to address this absence and to specifically examine the football experiences of South Asian girls and women that have grown up in England.

Theory and Method

Birrell (1989) has argued that there is a pressing need to develop race relation theories that analyse the experiences of ethnic minority groups in sport, without treating ‘race’, ethnicity, gender and other social belongings as additive variables, but rather, as multi-axial relations of power. This research proposes to use South Asian feminist thoughts, which have been underpinned by post-structuralist ideas about difference and intersectionality, to examine the (historical) cross cutting of these various power relations (Brah, 1996). In this way, the matrix of social interdependencies that have influenced the subjective experiences of South Asian female football players can be analysed (Gilroy,1997: 301). Ethnographic research methods will be used to give ‘voice’ to those experiences. Specifically, using participant observations, interviews and the collection of various newspaper/internet articles. Approximately 30 interviews will be carried out in 2004 with South Asian girls and women that play at various elite levels of the game, from different parts of England.


This proposed research will help fill the lacunae of work about South Asian women in sport, and contribute to the beginning of wider and further research in this area.


[1] Bains, J. and Johal, S. (1998), Corner flags and Corner Shops, The Asian Football Experience, London: Victor Gollacz.
[2] Birrell, S. (1989), ‘Racial relations theories and sport: suggestions for a more critical analysis’, Sociology of Sport Journal, 6: 212-27.
[3] Brah, A. (1996), Cartographies of Diaspora, London; New York: Routledge.
[4] Gilroy, P. (1997), ‘Diaspora and the Detours of Identity’ in K. Woodward (ed.) Identity and Difference, London, Thousand Oaks; New Delhi: Sage Publications: 301-346.
[5] Ratna, A. (2003), Young, Female and ‘South Asian’: An investigation into the experiences of girls and women of ‘South Asian’ origin playing competitive levels of football in England, unpublished paper.






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