Yan Dhanda has been a leading light in helping Swansea City return to the Premier League, but he is also driven by the fact he’s one of only a handful of British Asian footballers playing professionally in the United Kingdom.
Dhanda, whose father was born in England to Indian parents, says he’s excited by the idea of breaking barriers and being a role model.
But being a role model isn’t easy.
Following Swansea’s FA Cup defeat to Manchester City on February 10, Dhanda was subjected to racist abuse on Instagram. He later said Facebook, which owns Instagram, had added “more fuel for hate” by not banning the account from its platform, instead only restricting the user from sending private messaged “for a set period of time.”
“That’s why receiving the abuse hurt me so much, because I’m so proud of where I come from, and so for individuals to try and abuse me because of that was quite sad,” he said.
Dhanda said he was “angry and hurt” by the abuse and struggled to sleep that night. The 22-year-old believes Facebook chose not to ban the account for “selfish reasons.”
“They just want as many people as they can to be using their applications,” Dhanda said. “They’re not being affected, they’re not being abused, so they’re alright. They’re not over thinking about anything or about how they look or how they feel, and as long as they’ve got as many people as they can using their websites, then they’re happy.
“They might lose one or two people [if they ban accounts] that use in their applications, [but] at least they’re helping people and not allowing these people to send abuse to whoever they want.”
In response, Instagram said it doesn’t “want racism and hate” on its platform.
“The abuse directed at Yan Dhanda last week was completely unacceptable and the person who sent it is currently blocked from sending any more messages,” a Facebook company spokesperson told CNN in a statement. “While we believe it’s important that people have the chance to learn from their mistakes, that doesn’t mean we’ll tolerate repeated abuse.
“If they continue to send hateful messages once these restrictions lift, we’ll remove their account permanently. We announced these tougher measures last week, in addition to our safety features that help people manage the comments and messages they see. We know there’s more to do and we’ll continue to work with the clubs, players and wider industry to collectively tackle this issue.”
Dhanda says there is “definitely not” enough being done by social media companies and sport organizations to eradicate racism and address under-representation.
“We’re in 2021 now and it’s still happening, so obviously something is not right and enough is definitely not being done. I think until people get in the mindset of giving people the job, regardless of where they come from or regardless of the background, then things are not going to change,” he said.
“Whoever is in charge of making the decisions about who is actually working for that particular company, then things are not going to change if the person who is making the decisions doesn’t have respect for people in general.”
Stereotyping ‘still happening’
A report commissioned by the Football Supporters’ Association and Beyond Entertainment in 2020 found that just 0.25% of professional footballers in the UK were from a British Asian background, despite British Asians making up 7% of the population.
Dhanda believes comments made by former English Football Association (FA) chairman Greg Clarke last November, which ultimately led to his resignation, are proof racial stereotyping still exists at the top of English football.
Among other comments, Clarke said there are “a lot more South Asians” in the IT department at the FA and that “they have different career interests.” He later said he was “deeply apologetic” and resigned with immediate effect.
“Before Greg Clarke’s comments, I’d done quite a few interviews and spoke about the stereotypes people are facing,” Dhanda said. “Obviously people had their opinions on that and would say: ‘Oh no, it doesn’t happen anymore’ or ‘things have changed.’
“But Greg Clarke’s comments proved that it is still happening and people who are high up in these certain jobs are making stereotypes and comments like that. So it proves what I was saying was actually right.
“I think it shouldn’t be ‘give this person a job because he’s Asian and we need to make it more diverse in what we’re doing,’ but whoever goes for that job, whoever is best for that job, should get the job, regardless of background and skin color. This is what I’ve said all along.”
When contacted by CNN, the FA pointed to a statement from CEO Mark Bullingham published in November, which stated the FA “respect his [Clarke’s] decision and are clear that his words simply do not reflect the views of the FA, our people and the organization we are today.”
It continued: “We are committed to playing a lead role in actively enhancing equality and diversity across English football, whilst steadfastly challenging and tackling all forms of discrimination.”