For CPL players, Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to reflect, to look to the future – Canadian Premier League

Growing up looking to pursue a career in soccer, it was difficult for FC Edmonton’s Shamit Shome to find many professional soccer players who looked like him.

The 24-year-old Edmonton native, who has Bangladeshi roots, had friends from similar backgrounds at his youth clubs, but beyond that there was a dearth of professional players of his or her background. ‘other Asian origins at the highest level for him to seek. to and imitate.

While he worked his way to where he is now, which is playing for his hometown team after a stint in MLS with CF Montreal (then the Impact ), it means a lot to him to carry such a torch of being a player of Asian origin playing at the highest level.

Knowing what it would have meant to him growing up in Edmonton, he hopes what he was able to accomplish can inspire the next generation of children, giving them that role model he wishes they had grown up. .

“There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me playing soccer at a high level,” Shome told “Playing at youth level, I had a few friends who looked like me playing, but once you start moving up to the next level, the academies and the national team, it’s very rare to find Asian players in the system.”

Because of this, it opens the question – why is this so? Why are there generally fewer Asian players playing at the top level, especially if they are well represented at youth level?

It’s not for lack of talent, as some of the best Asian national teams have all kinds of players playing at the highest level, and it’s not for lack of numbers, as Canada’s 2016 census indicated that nearly 20% of Canadians, or one in five, have some Asian ancestry.

Yet, when it comes to Canadian soccer, that representation just hasn’t been there, especially at the highest level, since there’s never really been more than a handful of Asian players playing at any one time. Due to a mixture of lack of opportunity, visibility and exposure, it has been difficult for players to break through to the highest level, which has led to such a void.

Now, however, that is slowly changing.

With more players like Shome, or David Choinière de Forge, who has Filipino roots, making a difference for their clubs at the highest level, especially in the CPL, the representation is starting to improve, which Shome and Choinière are happy enough to do. see.

“It’s something that I’m very proud to represent the Asian community,” Shome explained. “Because it’s not very common, so I’m just (happy) to be a role model for the next generation to show that guys like me, guys like us, we can do it.”

“You see fewer people in some areas, but it will continue to grow,” added Choinière. “I think there are a lot of Asians doing a lot of great things in the world, and it’s only a matter of time before we all come together.”

At the same time, however, this is only the beginning of what is to come in this regard. While the player pool is slowly growing, there is still work to be done to expand it, as well as to achieve greater Asian representation in officiating, coaching and at the executive level, where things are also on the mend. dragged.

It’s something that Shome says is the next step in really moving things forward, a sentiment strongly echoed by HFX Wanderers’ Pierre Lamothe, who has Vietnamese roots.

“It also has to be about raising awareness to say, hey, refereeing, coaching, those are interesting things, people can be aware and open to the idea that you don’t necessarily have to be what is expected of you as an Asian growing up, where you’re expected to be an engineer or a doctor, you can follow a different career path,” Shome explained. “For representation, organizations need to be open to the idea of ​​having people of color or people of Asian descent representing them and being able to put them to do the right job.”

“The opportunities are there, we just have to trust each other and seize the opportunities that will arise,” added Lamothe.

Especially in light of what is happening right now with Canadian soccer, where both of Canada’s national teams have made great strides at the highest level, first with the Olympic gold medal for the women’s team, and now with the men’s team’s historic qualification for the World Cup, it’s important that representation continues to grow alongside that.

Given that much of Canada’s success is due to its diverse group of players, this is a perfect fit for a country that has always wanted to rely on the strength of its mosaic in the greatest moments, which just goes to show the importance to have such representation. in different areas of their team and staff.

“I think it just shows the game is improving in Canada,” Lamothe said of Canada’s success. “Players come from all over, from all walks of life, coming together to qualify for the World Cup. I think it’s great.

“In Canada, you have people from all over the world,” added Choinière. “And Canada is a great part of that, we’re all coming together and being a great team with players coming together, it’s a great thing, and they’re all working together so we can try to be the best country in the game. world.”

Now, as Canada continues to progress at the national team level and the game continues to develop and grow at the national and club level, growing this representation must remain a priority.

Especially for Asian communities, which remain underrepresented at key levels in the sport, increasing their representation would be huge, giving the next generation a chance to shine.

So as Asian History Month comes to an end, it’s a good reminder of why it’s important to keep pushing for greater Asian representation, helping to see more native players. asian to work their way into various roles, in all areas of the game.

There is still work to be done, no doubt, but Shome feels things are headed in the right direction, which gives him hope that more and more children will be able to identify with his story and follow his traces, making things even better in the future. .

“For the next generation to see me doing what I love and somehow succeeding at it, I think that’s inspiring for them,” Shome said. “It motivates them to say, ‘Hey, I can kind of break boundaries too, and I don’t necessarily have to follow the path that was laid out for me, instead I can follow my own path’.”

To learn more about Asian Heritage Month, which takes place each year in May, go to this link.

Rebecca R. Santistevan