England’s first Afghan-born footballer called a ‘terrorist’ by team-mate

27th Nov 2020

Elham Asaad Buaras

The first Afghan-born footballer to play in England’s top four divisions has revealed he was twice called a “terrorist” by a team-mate. Maziar Kouhyar, who moved to Birmingham with his family from Afghanistan in 1998, signed for League Two side Walsall in 2016 — but is currently unsigned.

The 23-year-old has claimed that he did not speak out of fear of jeopardizing his career but was inspired to tell his story by the activism of bigger names like Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling as well as the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’ve never thought to speak out because I’ve always thought in my head ‘you’re going to be labelled a troublemaker’, but now seeing people speak out about it, it’s given me the confidence to say, ‘if you’ve got a voice, you should tell your story’.”

Recalling one of the incidents he said, “We were just training and one of the lads said something to me about being a terrorist. I laughed it off, but he said it again. When he said it again, I commented back something like ‘you’re forcing the laughter now’ or ‘you’ve already tried once, don’t try it again’ He didn’t like that. We started pushing each other and the players split us up.”

Kouhyar said he expected the club to contact him for more information, as a member of staff was present during the exchange. “Calling me a terrorist was hurtful to me — my family fled from Afghanistan because of terrorists. Calling me that is a bit close to home.”

Kouhyar also recalled another incident during a team bus journey in Luton.
“They (his team-mates) would see an Asian family outside the bus and say ‘ah, look, there’s your auntie’. It’s on a coach so it’s in front of everyone; you have to take it on the chin. You don’t want to be the awkward one who can’t take a joke, which was how it got perceived back then.”

Kouhyar said, “It is nothing against Walsall — it’s just the whole football culture. I had so many good friends at the club, but these things do happen all over football, and we need to tackle them.”

A statement from Walsall read, ‘Should Maz have raised any of his concerns at the time with the hierarchy here at the club, they would have been taken very seriously and dealt with swiftly. We have a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination of any kind and would not condone any such behaviour.

Even though he has now left the club we would, of course, like to deal with his concerns if he can provide specific detail.’

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