Don’t Leave Me Episode 265
Kiban Rai is the son of a Gurkha who has his sights set on playing for Wales as he helps fly the flag for South Asian football in the British game.
Rai has become the first male player of Nepalese heritage to secure a professional contract in the Premier League or EFL.
Rai, who has signed a deal at Newport County, hopes his progress will convince other players with Asian backgrounds that there is a pathway to professional football.
“I have seen it myself,” the 18-year-old says. “There are a load of players from different ethnic backgrounds who are very talented and they just need the opportunity.
“Hopefully, we can see more players from different backgrounds – not just Nepalese or Asian backgrounds – take a story like mine, become inspired and know that it is possible.”
Rai was born and raised in Brecon, where his mother Indra and father Gaj settled as a result of the military barracks in the town.
He is leaving home this week and is preparing to move in with a couple of Newport team-mates, having become a senior pro.
“My dad is a British Gurkha,” Rai says. “There is an army base in Brecon and that’s where he was based. He served 22 years.
“Ever since he retired, for my football and everything else, he just thought it was the best decision to stay.
Kiban Rai in action for Newport
Kiban Rai’s Newport debut came as substitute in a League Two defeat at Salford in March
Rai started playing football as a youngster in Brecon and had a spell in Merthyr’s academy before being given a trial by Newport at under-16 level.
He quickly earned a scholarship and in March 2023 – aged just 17 – was handed the “special moment” of a first-team debut by Exiles boss Graham Coughlan.
Three further appearances followed last season – including a first start on the final day of the League Two campaign – before Rai was given his contract, the length of which has not been specified.
He has joined what is a relatively short – but growing – list of British South Asian players plying their trade in England’s top four divisions.
Rai has been helped along the way by the Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS), a Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) programme set up to enhance the experience of Asian players throughout the professional game.
When he joined Newport, Rai was contacted by Riz Rehman, a former Brentford youngster who is now the PFA’s player inclusion executive.
Rehman is in regular contact with Rai, who has attended numerous AIMS events alongside other British Asian players.
“Every event I go to, I learn so much from the senior lads, players like Danny Batth and Mal Benning,” Rai says.
“An AIMS event will be hosted at least once a year at St George’s Park (the Football Association’s national football centre), where they will get all the South Asian background kids, senior players, younger players – girls and boys – together. It’s networking basically.
“You get to see how many players there are and it’s so good because it’s growing every year. Hopefully, that will continue in the coming years.