Many ethnic minority families who immigrate to Hong Kong do so with the goal of building a stable life. Most parents want their children to attend a good school, and later find a decent job – the typical benchmarks of success.
Jahangir Khan’s parents had hoped their son would graduate secondary school with top grades and continue his tertiary education. But the 19-year-old had other ideas. Khan, who is from Pakistan, dreamed of becoming one of the few ethnic minority football stars in the city.
Earlier this year, he came a whole lot closer to reaching that goal when he signed to Happy Valley at just 18, becoming the youngest player in the Hong Kong Premier League.
But despite having lived in Hong Kong for nearly a decade and being able to speak fluent Cantonese, Khan had to be registered as an overseas player on the team because of his Pakistani passport.
The Immigration Department gave Khan two options: wait until he was 21 to get a Hong Kong passport, or give up his Pakistani passport for good. There was another caveat: his father would have to surrender his passport, too.
To Khan’s amazement, his father agreed.
“At first, my parents thought there was no future in sports. But my father eventually agreed because he could see how much I loved football,” Khan says.
The pair submitted all the paperwork a few months ago, and are now patiently waiting for their application to be processed and approved.
“It’s been three months now. You can’t really go to the immigration office and ask when they’ll give me my passport, so all I can do is wait,” he said.
But while he waits, the Happy Valley winger is not wasting any time.
After playing in his first professional match on October 27, in which he almost scored a goal but hit the crossbar, Khan is working hard to prove he is worthy of one of the six spots on the team allocated to foreign players.
He explains that these limited spots usually go to more experienced players from Europe, so his signing was something of an exception.
Here, Khan credits his coach for taking a chance on a teen with no prior experience in playing top-tier football.
Originally a devotee of cricket – his home country’s national sport – Khan didn’t kick a football until he was 13, when he tried out for Eastern’s under-16 team. He had initially thought playing football would be a good way to improve his fitness for cricket. Little did he know that it would eventually become his new favourite sport.
After leaving the youth team, Khan joined an amateur club, the All Black FC, founded in 2016 to help integrate refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong into the local community.
Khan describes the team as being hard-working and culturally inclusive; he played alongside players from Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe and Hong Kong.
It was during his two years with All Black FC that Khan met one of the most influential figures in his sporting career: the team’s manager, who he now affectionately refers to as his “football father”.
“He told me that no matter how tough my training was, I had to press on, because I was going to open the way for my community,” Khan says.
Khan followed his coach’s words to the letter, and when he joined Happy Valley, his community couldn’t have been prouder. It was proof that his talent was more important than his circumstances.
“When my people saw me, a Pakistani guy, playing in the local Premier League, it was a really big thing for them; they were very happy for me,” Khan recalls.
Khan says many teenagers from immigrant families in Hong Kong feel that they aren’t accepted by society, and this becomes a barrier to achieving their goals.
The footballer admits racial discrimination exists in Hong Kong, but he’s determined not to let it stop him from pursuing his dream.
“If you really want something in life, you can’t keep giving yourself excuses,” he says.
Khan is a firm believer that opportunities are never handed out on a plate; they need to be earned. That’s why he seizes every chance he can to show off his skills on the pitch.
“At the end of the day, your skin colour doesn’t matter. It’s only about whether you’re talented or not,” he says.
Now that he’s fulfilled his dream of playing in the local Premier League, Khan has set his sights on building his skills and eventually playing for other professional teams abroad.
His message for other ethnic minority teens hoping to build a sports career in Hong Kong is to believe in yourself and follow your heart.
“Do what you love; everything is possible,” he says. “For me, the dream is so big. I just hope I can perform better in Hong Kong, so I can play in other countries in the future.”