Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Ethnic minority footballers see a straight line to goal at last

Language barrier to careers on the pitch finally lifted after 14 years of keeping locals who don't read Chinese from achieving their dreams

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 September, 2015, 11:15am

Three South Asian footballers who have represented Hong Kong internationally have been thwarted in their efforts to become coaches for five years because the local football association didn't hold exams in English.

But that barrier is about to be lifted as the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) plans to resume English tests - discontinued in 1998 - this year.

Pakistani Mohammad Wahid scored 27 goals in the Homeless World Cup in Brazil in 2010, and was approached by a scout from the youth team of Manchester United.

But he failed to make it to Old Trafford due to the difficulty of obtaining a British visa. He decided to nurture football talent in Hong Kong, but was deterred by the Chinese-only examinations.

"The HKFA saw itself as a big shot and racially discriminated against us," he said. "They have not given us any chance at all."

Wahid, 22, who once played for Southern District FC, then a division-three club, speaks fluent English and Cantonese, but cannot read or write Chinese.

An international school wanted to hire him as a coach, but without the examination he was unable to get a licence. Instead, he is now working as a bartender in Wan Chai.

Childhood friends Pakistani Abdul Aziz, 23, and Indian Jeffrey Andrews shared his frustrations.

"It's like there's a [can] of food in front of us, but we cannot eat it because we don't know how to open it," Aziz said.

Andrews wanted to apply for a youth leader certification course, which would have allowed him to be an assistant coach in schools, after he returned from the Homeless World Cup in Milan in 2009.

"We just want English but it is not even on the application form, not to mention the examination," he said. "They just put up a language barrier for us."

In a letter in 2011, the HKFA told Andrews to "wait patiently" for translations.

Andrews, who described the sport as a "life or death" matter, said he was unable to become a professional footballer because of discrimination.

Now 28, he says he's too old for the career.

Two-time Footballer of the Year Leslie Santos, now a coach, said they should be given English examination papers.

"They have the heart to do it. We should give them an opportunity," he said.

When Santos, of Portuguese and British origin, took the exam for a coaching licence 10 years ago, he and ex-teammate Anto Grabo had English exam papers.

"If you had asked me to take the examination in Chinese, I would have failed it," he said.

Fermi Wong Wai-fun, executive director of rights group Unison, said she once offered to translate the papers for the HKFA, but her offer was rejected.

She said its bureaucracy had wasted much football talent and that HKFA chief Mark Sutcliffe should have understood.

In September there will be places for 150 candidates to sit the youth leader level-one course in English, followed by a level-two course with 50 English places.