The Punjabi Rams will extend their sponsorship of Derby County Women’s forward Kira Rai, with an announcement expected before the Ewe Rams’ League Cup game away at Fylde this weekend.
Sikh-Punjabi attacker Rai, who recently turned 23, has spent over a decade at Derby and is now one of the most recognisable players at the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division side.
The Punjabi Rams – who are an official Derby County fans’ group – have been supporting Rai since she broke into the team at 17, and were planning to announce the renewal of their sponsorship of the winger for a fifth season, before the team’s opening match of the campaign against Burnley last month.
But Rai suffered an injury against Cardiff City in Derby’s last pre-season friendly when an opposing player landed on her knee, forcing her to miss the start of the season and delaying an announcement.
She returned to action in style earlier this month, laying on two assists in a 6-1 win against Birmingham and West Midlands Ladies, but missed Sunday’s 2-0 loss at home to Fylde as a precaution. Sky Sports News understands Rai will be back on the pitch soon.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports News about her relationship with the Punjabi Rams, Rai said: “It’s massive to have their support. Within Derby I’ve always been pushed, I’ve had a lot of support from the club, but then to have your own little community within a club is massive.
“I feel that’s quite a unique thing for me to have and I feel lucky to have that. And obviously, being a Punjabi girl, having their support [is an amazing feeling].
“It’s like you have your own community behind you and you want to be an inspiration for them, but they are also an inspiration for me. They highlight and show football in a South Asian setting is normal.”
Both Rai and Blackburn Rovers midfielder Millie Chandarana are active supporters of the Sky Sports and Sporting Equals partnership, aiming to shine a light on and develop British South Asian football talent, particularly in the girls’ and women’s game.
Chandarana has been shortlisted for the Sports Personality of the Year accolade at this week’s 20th annual Asian Achievers Awards, taking place at London’s Grosvenor Hotel on Friday night.
The 25-year-old is up for the award alongside former light-welterweight boxing world champion Amir Khan, one of the country’s first qualified South Asian heritage cricket umpires, Salma Bi, and two-time British champion powerlifter Karenjeet Kaur Bains.
Chandarana, who spent two seasons playing in the top division in Italy, rejoined Blackburn in the summer of 2021 before signing a professional deal with Rovers Ladies earlier this year.
The 25-year-old has previously shared her experiences of the game while working directly alongside Sky Sports News’ Dev Trehan, who has also earned a nomination at the Asian Achievers Awards – in the Community Service category.
Trehan, who first began working for Sky Sports in 2013, has developed a first-of-its-kind British South Asians in Football index page, producing content every single week since November 2020, inspiring countless people and putting the subject in front of millions of eyeballs globally.
Trehan is also a qualified coach and FA Level 2 scout, and is the only dedicated South Asian female talent spotter in football in the country. He has been working with the families of elite-potential female footballers from South Asian backgrounds for 18 months, with two of those players moving to West Ham to play academy football this summer.
He has also been nominated for Sports Journalist of the Year alongside Sky Sports NBA’s Mo Mooncey at next month’s Asian Media Awards at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate.
ITV Sport and BBC 5 Live broadcaster Aaron Paul has also been shortlisted, along with BBC Sport quartet Aatif Nawaz, Nikesh Rugani, Sanny Rudravajhala and Kal Sajjad. Previous award recipients include Seema Jaswal, Vaishali Bhardwaj and Sky Sports News transfer guru Dharmesh Sheth.
The lack of ethnic diversity at the elite end of the women’s game was brought sharply into focus during the Women’s Euros, with England fielding an all-white starting XI in all six of their matches at the tournament.
Ahead of the tournament, FA director of women’s football Baroness Sue Campbell said in an interview with Sky Sports News that the current system of talent identification and recruitment in the girls’ and women’s game excludes a lot of people.
According to the PFA, less than 10 per cent of players in the Women’s Super League are from a diverse ethnic background. And the number of British South Asian professionals in the top division stands at an embarrassing 0.3 per cent, despite South Asian women making up the largest single ethnic minority female group in the country.
Sky Sports recognised and began taking steps to address the lack of diversity in the women’s game back in 2020 as part of its £30m commitment to tackle systemic racism and make a difference in communities across the UK.
Sky Sports has worked with dozens of current and former players from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and has tried to give them a platform to share their stories to try and capture the imagination and inspire the next generation of female footballers from under-represented communities.
Talent has been identified and signposted directly to the Football Association and clubs as part of Sky Sports’ unprecedented commitment to British South Asians in Football, which has also seen us devote a section of our website to raising awareness about South Asians in The Game, and create a dedicated rolling blog.
A number of elite and elite-potential female players and their families have also been supported with mentoring and access to off-field developmental opportunities.
Earlier this year, Sky Sports also partnered with the country’s largest sports race equality charity, Sporting Equals, which has seen us support participation across the country, including devising the ‘Seeing Is Believing’ event for century-old west London sports club Indian Gymkhana.
For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and South Asians in the Game blog and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital