In the modern era, where racism and discrimination are being hard fought and eradicated, we have a much more levelled playing field in sports. People from any country, race, sexuality, and background can compete to be the best. But, it has not always been like this; many Asians faced threats and violence in the past. Today, we will take a look at the Asian pioneers of the sporting world: the first athletes from Asia to set our mark in the world.
*Note: Despite the fact that Australia takes place in the Asian Cup and Asian Games, we will not include them.
Asian Firsts in Formula One
In the pinnacle of motorsports, Prince Bira, an actual prince of the Thai Royal Family, was one of F1’s earliest pioneers. He entered the first-ever F1 race at the 1950 British Grand Prix and was regarded as one of the best.
Finishing on the F1 podium, though, is another story. It was the would-be team owner Aguri Suzuki who would be the first-ever Asian to stand on the F1 podium in his home race. The 1990 Japanese Grand Prix is unfortunately better known as the race where Ayrton Senna went for ‘a gap that no longer existed’ and crashed himself into Alain Prost. Senna won that year’s championship, but it was Suzuki that made history in front of his adoring fans.
32 years later, the British-born Thai-flagged Alexander Albon got promoted to a Red Bull seat and won himself two podiums in the 2020 season. He is still on the F1 grid going into the 2024 season, joined by continental compatriots Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda. But, will he be able to perform as well as he did in 2023? Place your bets on Albon’s and Williams’ fortunes now via kapook888.
First Asian to play in the Premier League
Jimmy Carter, not the US President, is the first British Asian to play in the English top flight; his father had originated from Kanpur in India and later got married to Carter’s English mother. Out of fear for himself, Carter chose to cover up his Asian heritage until after his retirement.
Carter’s career began with Crystal Palace in 1983, but it was with Arsenal in 1992 that he made Premier League history unbeknownst to anyone at that time. He retired in 1999 at Milwall, having made 149 appearances and scored 13 goals for South East London side.
Should Jimmy Carter count?
Thanks to Carter’s British Asian status and limited data, it becomes harder to determine who the first Asian Asian player really was; Australians have been making appearances in England since 1992, but they should not be counted for obvious reasons.
As far as records go, Iranian Karim Bagheri and Chinese Sun Jihai were the first two Premier League players to have originated from Asia. Bagheri made only a single 15-minute cameo for Charlton in 2001, whilst Sun made more than 120 appearances and became the first East Asian to score in the Premier League.
First Asian to play in the Champions League
The only record of Asian firsts in the pinnacle of European football is the first Asian to play in the Champions League final: Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United in the 2008 final against Chelsea; by the end of that final, he also became the first Asian to win the prestigious tournament.
Son Heung-Min is the latest to come close to achieving this feat, but his Tottenham Hotspurs side lost to Liverpool 0-2 in the final.
Asians in the Europa League
Seven Asians have won the Europa League: Japanese duo of Daichi Kamada and Makoto Hasebe won the 2022 Europa League with Eintract Frankfurt; Hasebe even captained the team to victory. But they were not the first Japanese to do so, as Nobuji Ono of Feyenoord did it two decades prior; he helped the Dutch side beat Borussia Dortmund to win the 2002 Europa League or UEFA Cup at that time.
South Koreans Jin Dongjin and Li Hao won the UEFA Cup with Zenit St. Petersburg. Their legendary compatriot, Cha Bum-Kun, also achieved this feat twice with Eintract Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen.
These are the pioneers, the ones from the great continent of Asia who first dared to do. Their names and legacies live on as a plaque for future Asian generations to dream big and never give up.