TOP TEN TO WATCH IN SPORTS
When it comes to sports, a new wave of British Asian talent can be seen making a breakthrough in several fields.
With more inclusivity being promoted in various sports across the UK over the last few years, people are finally getting to know the sheer talent that some of these professionals have.
Trailblazers in their own right, they are here to stay through the force of their passion, work ethic, resilience and faith put in them by their coaches and clubs. Here are the Top 10 Trailblazers in sports in the UK to look out for in 2023:
Born in Slough, English professional boxer Hamza Sheeraz has held the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) European light-middleweight title since 2019.
His grandfather and uncle were both boxers, the latter winning ten national amateur titles for the Slough and Pinewood Star Clubs.
Sheeraz was first directed to a gym by his uncle at the age of eight and had his first bout at 12. He then went on to become a three-time finalist at the national junior championships.
However, he became disillusioned with the sport after being overlooked for the Commonwealth Youth Championships and took a year off to focus on an electrician’s apprenticeship.
A meeting with his then-trainer Lenny Butcher led him to come back and try his luck as a professional. He is now signed by Hall of Fame boxing promoter Frank Warren and is a champion in his own right.
Taking “the same journey, but a different path” the Azim brothers from Slough are the up-and-coming faces of boxing.
Adam turned professional in 2020, and is considered to be one of the most promising young talents in British boxing. Hassan, who admits he does not have the same limelight and fanfare as his brother, is a force to be reckoned with as he remains undefeated in four bouts, with two stoppages.
Both the brothers started training very young. Adam got into the sport at the age of four while Hassan decided to give it a go at the age of 11.
Adam won several titles as an amateur boxer and was ranked the number one youth welterweight in the country. Hassan was also successful and won bronze at the Youth Olympics.
Both the brothers are very close to each other and consider it “a blessing” to be able to start their professional journeys together.
Bradford born Safiyyah Syeed, also known as ‘The Hijabi Boxer’ is a force to be reckoned with. Not only has she competed in several championships, but is also transparent about her struggles with an eating disorder. She is also one of the very few Muslim boxers to wear a hijab in the ring, and is currently balancing her boxing career along with training to become a lawyer.
Syeed was very young when she had to face a series of hiccups due to ill-health. This was followed by an eating disorder because of which she lost five stone in weight.
After this incident, she promised to herself that she would do whatever it takes to get better, make a list of things she would love to do, and follow through with it. This led to her realising that boxing, which was a part of that list, was something she wanted to do in the long run.
Along with her studies and a successful boxing career, Syeed now also works with several high-end brands such as MyProtein, Jean-Paul Gautier and Samsung, and has also starred in a short film directed by Will Robson-Scott called ‘Nocturnal Narratives’.
A midfielder for Premier League club Manchester United, Zidane Iqbal is one of the most well-known British Asian sportspersons in the country.
Having showcased his talent at a young age when he played for local side Sale United, Iqbal joined Manchester United at the age of nine. He credits his father for introducing him to football.
The 19-year-old signed his first professional contract with the club in 2021. Since then, has contributed greatly to both his club and the country. One can describe his position to be ‘in the hole’ supporting the strikers. He is considered to be very skillful and can easily spot a pass. As a versatile footballer, Iqbal can also play in a defensive midfield role.
Iqbal is the first British-born South Asian to play for the Manchester United and the UEFA Champions league. He considers himself lucky to be surrounded by many top-level athletes and looks up to ace footballers like Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes.
Arjan Raikhy is an Under 21 player who is associated with Aston Villa Football Club. Born in Wolverhampton, the young footballer has tasted success with promising participation in leagues.
According to AVFC History, “Raikhy was promoted to Sean Verity’s Under 18 Premier League squad and proved himself to be a burgeoning goalscoring midfielder having already hit an audacious goal against Chelsea in the 2020-21 league season, taking the ball 40 yards from goal before sending a looping half volley past the ‘keeper”.
His incredible performance was noted by Mark Darnley who promoted the young man to the first team squad after which he gave him his first team debut in the 2020-21 season at the age of 18 in the 1-4 FA Cup defeat to Liverpool in 2021.
Raikhy was part of the youngest ever team to ever take the field for Villa in a professional game, AVFC History mentioned.
16-year-old Layla Banaras, who is of mixed English and Pakistani heritage has championed the aspirations of many young Asian girls who want to become successful footballers.
She became the first woman of South Asian heritage to represent Birmingham F.C. in the club’s professional era. She stepped onto the pitch as a substitute in the 78th minute of the Blues’ 4-0 win against Huddersfield Town in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup and helped to secure Birmingham’s place in the fourth-round.
Banaras started playing for the club at the age of eight, and continues to achieve several milestones under the guidance of former manager Carla Ward and current supervisor Darren Carter.
Twins Amar and Arjun Singh Purewal recently made history as the first British South Asian brothers to line up against each other under the arch in a Wembley Cup final.
The brothers are Sunderland Sikh-Punjabis and have played together at different clubs across the North East of England; but were on opposing sides as Consett AFC took on Hebburn Town in the FA Vase final that took place in 2021.
They registered their names in the record books of Wembley and shared a moment of pride and joy after they made history together.
Both were dubbed the ‘Punjabi Pride of the North East’ when they first made history as teenagers back in 2008 after becoming the first twins ever to score in the same FA Cup tie, Sky Sports reported.
Amar and Arjun have made valuable contributions to their teams and their achievements are a testament to the progress in sports made by the British Asian community in recent years.
Known for being one of the few golfers who wears two gloves, Aaron Rai is an inspiration for many. In one of the leading men’s professional golf tours in Europe – the European Tour – Rai has emerged as the winner twice in the 2018 Hong Kong Open and the 2020 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
Born in Wolverhampton, the 27-year-old is an established sportsman in the game. He began playing golf at the Three Hammers Golf Complex and joined Patshull Park at the age of five, according to Golf Monthly.
Initially, Rai wanted to make a career as a racing driver and wore Ferrari T-shirts and jumpers in junior golf competitions. However, fate would lead him towards golf as he turned out to be brilliant and became a professional in 2012. Since then, he has never looked back.
At the age of 23, Enaam Ahmed is one of the most well-known racing drivers in the country. Born in London, he made his debut in 2015 at MSA Formula for Arden where he finished eighth overall, and won the Rookie title with one overall win and four top-four finishes in the final four races of the season.
The young man has won several races since then and aspires to win the Indianapolis 500 in the future. In an interview with The Express Tribune, the rising star spoke of his love for Pakistan, his country of origin and added, “What pushes me to be the best is that I want to prove that any Pakistani, given the opportunity, can be the best in the world at anything. Even something so unusual like motorsport.”
Ahmed was born in London but left home at a young age to become a racing driver. He races under the Pakistani flag and is one of the very few drivers of Asian heritage in professional motorsport.
Azeem Amir is a visually impaired professional footballer and founder of Learn with ESS, which provides disability awareness training for businesses, schools and colleges in the UK.
An inspiration for many, Amir has been playing football as a hobby from a young age. His passion for the sport grew with time. He then decided to play football professionally and now plays blind football for the England and Great Britain Blind Football Team. He is working towards achieving international success.
In 2016, Azeem became the youngest blind person to complete Tough Mudder; a grueling 12-mile obstacle course, featuring muddy ditches, huge walls and electric fences, raising substantial funds for charity.
Since his stint at Tough Mudder, Azeem became a highly respected advocate for disability rights. He is now an ambassador for several disability organisations, and through public speaking, coaching and workshops, he wants to inspire as many young people as possible to achieve their own version of success.