The family of a 12-year-old footballer of Asian heritage who was racially abused during a match has criticized his local Football Association for a lack of support and said he has received no apology from the opposition team involved.
Sathi Balaguru, was playing in a nine-a-side game for Pitshanger FC in west London, when he was tripped and called an “Indian boy” during a penalty incident. Another player on the opposing side directed a racist Indian accent towards him. Sathi is British and of Sri Lankan heritage.
It has left him upset and, 16 months since the incident, he has decided to speak out because he wants “everyone to have an equal chance”. He is concerned the handling of his case suggested his ethnicity may limit his progress in the game.
Balaguru was the only player from an Asian background on the pitch and said he now felt as though “having an Asian background will already bring my chances down by about 50% of being a professional footballer”.
His experience comes amid concern at the lack of players of south Asian heritage in football’s top flight.
The FA describes Asian communities as “the most under-represented in almost every area of the grassroots and professional games”.
The Leicester player Hamza Choudhury last year became the first British Asian to win the FA Cup. But in the 2019/20 season only eight out of about 4,000 English professional footballers who played in the top four divisions were British Asian, according to one tally.
Sathi’s team was playing Wealdstone Youth FC in October 2020 when the racism flared up and was recorded in the referee’s report. He said he tried to “rise above it”, but after the game he felt “isolated and alone”.
“I had never experienced it before,” he said. “I had no way to describe my feelings and I felt paralysed and upset.”
Curtis Alleyne, Pitshanger FC’s safeguarding officer, contacted Middlesex FA and Wealdstone but the FA said there could not be any misconduct charges against people under 11, as per the FA rules. A month after the incident Middlesex FA said it was liaising with Wealdstone “who have already begun the education to the players”.
Wealdstone’s coach told the referee after the match that he had to shout at a player after hearing Indian accents directed at Balaguru.
Alleyne asked Middlesex FA about getting an apology from the club but the FA said this “is not something we get involved with or enforce”. Alleyne complained to the FA that its response “seems to be focused on the accused and education whilst not providing support or assurance of inclusion and anti-discrimination to our player who was the victim”.
Middlesex FA told the Guardian it spoke with Sathi, his parents and Alleyne last October and offered help from the Sporting Chance charity, which provides support for victims of discrimination. It said “we fully investigate all allegations of discrimination in line with FA rules”.
But Balaguru said: “From the Middlesex FA I have had no support.”
By May 2021, Balaguru still had not received an apology and Alleyne complained to Middlesex FA that “no-responses from clubs and governing bodies” were “indefensible”.
Wealdstone told the Guardian that it “condemns any instance of racism and deeply regrets the incident involving Sathi and the distress it has caused him and his parents”.
It said it apologised to Pitshanger’s team manager shortly after the incident and asked for that to be passed on to Sathi and his family.
“We believe the club has apologised to them already but should this apology not have been properly conveyed to them then we would be happy to reinstate it,” it said.
Pitshanger said that while Wealdstone was extremely concerned about the incident, its manager did not recall the apology.
Middlesex FA said it was committed to making sure football “truly embraces diversity and inclusion and challenges discriminatory conduct”. It said: “we take a stringent stance against any form of discrimination.”