István Szabó, who has been blind since birth, has proved his disability is no barrier to enjoying and playing the game he loves.
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"I had to face plenty of challenges, which I not only had to, but wanted to take on." This sums up István Szabó’s life perfectly. Despite being born blind, the 36-year-old Hungarian has already achieved more than most in his life. As a teenager, he turned down the opportunity to compete as a swimmer in the Paralympics, and now he is embracing his first love – football, or blind football to be exact.
"Whether it be disabled football, women's football, or anything, football evokes the same experience everywhere," István mentioned. "To those who are either playing it or watching it, they can have the same experience, no matter if they are disabled or whether they have any other type of background.
István’s dedication to show that football is for everyone made him the perfect role model to take part in UEFA’s new RESPECT initiative, called #EqualGame, which is promoting inclusion, diversity and accessibility in football.
István was first introduced to blind football in 2011, however, opportunities were limited to play the sport, due to a lack of interest. He decided to create his own team – Lass Budapest. His side are currently the only blind football outfit in Hungary, though a second team is currently being formed. This means István and his teammates often play against sides from the Czech Republic and Poland.
"Football gives you a type of freedom that you do not need to carry a white stick nor ask for help," István explained. "It’s your performance that matters."
In a nutshell, blind football uses the same rules as futsal, with four outfield players and a goalkeeper. The four players are completely blind and in order to make the game accessible for all, they are all blindfolded. This ensures that everyone, including the ones that have some kind of minimal sight and can detect light, have equal opportunities on the field. The goalkeeper is completely sighted.
"I get rid of everything that's on my mind and I do not think about anything else," István mentioned. "When this happens, it is only the football that exists and, for me, it is a great feeling, it is happiness and joy."
Sport has always been an integral part of István’s life. As a teenager, he was an excellent swimmer and competed in the European and World Championships. However, he gave up the opportunity to compete at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 in order to concentrate on his studies.
"Doing exercise is vital for health, and even if blind, you’ll have to find the kind of sport you like, that makes you feel like moving, that makes you happy," said István. "And then I found blind football and I knew and felt right away that this is the kind of sport that I’m willing to run extra miles for, because otherwise I wouldn’t run."
Every month, UEFA is focusing on a grassroots player from one of its 55 Member Associations. This person will be an example that disability, religion, sexuality and race are no barriers to playing and enjoying football.
As a digital and social media campaign involving global football stars, local grassroots players and fans, #EqualGame will generate positive public awareness of all the different ways people can play and enjoy football – including, for example, walking football for older players, grassroots women’s football and football for people with physical impairments.