I’m Azeem, in my early 20's from Rochdale. I was born with an eye condition which means I have no sight in my right eye and just light perception in my left. I am currently in my third year of study at the University of Salford studying Business Management with Sport.
Alongside my studies, I have the honour of playing Blind Football for my country. I am a representative of the England and Great Britain Blind Football team, having the honour of playing a Paralympic sport all over the world against some of the best players in the sport.
I am a qualified sport and football coach channelling my passion of playing and using it as a tool to inspire and engage young people. I work for an organisation which delivers practical and interactive activities in educational institutions and small / medium businesses, whilst aiming to raise the awareness of disabilities, teamwork and communication.
- What inspired you to follow the career path you have?
Sport has always been a real passion of mine from a young age. From playing to watching to discussing. When I was younger, I had great people around me who inspired me to take up and play sport and if it wasn’t for these people, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. A lot of credit also goes to my parents who were determined to not allow my disability to act as a barrier when accessing school activities. They encouraged me massively to use sport, adapt it and channel it, as a way to showcase my ability against other members of my class / age group.
My mobility trainer at a young age also gave me the confidence to take up a hobby / activity and pursue it to whatever level I wanted to. If it wasn’t for the great support I had around me at such a young age I potentially wouldn’t be where I am today.
- What do you love most about what you do?
Playing wise, the feeling of being part of a team and contributing to an overall goal as part of a unit massively excites me. There is no better place to be than in a happy changing room. The feeling of achievement and success is amazing especially when there are medals and trophies involved. Standing singing the national anthem is also something I love about what I do. The pride you have when singing and wearing the England shirt is something that nothing else can replace.
The smiles on your families faces as they watch on is also something that I love about playing – for them to see the hard work I’ve put in turning into great performances is an amazing and very proud feeling.
The ability to use my story and inspire other young people is another part of what I do that I love. The children in particular who see your England jersey, automatically putting you in the same category as some of their England heroes, is something I’m very proud of and know not many have the honour of doing.
- How have you worked with brands? What have been your favourite brand collaborations?
I have worked with many disability organisations as an ambassador and motivational speaker. This has included many media packages as well as awards evening and conferences.
This has then allowed me to be introduced to many corporate organisations who enjoy the way I tell my story at large collaborative events.
I’ve been very fortunate to have done some work with advertising companies for different type of products and services showcased online, in video format and radio. My main brand collaborations come from the leisure and sport industry, from sports clubs to gyms to national governing bodies. These collaborations vary from local to nationwide.
- What do brands need to learn about creativity?
Learning about creativity can come in so many different formats and can be showcased to others in many interactive and engaging ways.
I think brands having a better understanding about how an idea from a completely different field to what they’re used to working in can actually inspire and engage customers and employees the most. Ideas and concepts that brands have never heard of but take a broad and open-minded view on can go a long way.
Blind Football is a prime example. Not only is it a sport that incorporates so many different team-building and communication skills but is a great way of showcasing some amazing talents that people have. The motivational element as well as the personal sorry element goes a long way when engaging brands from all sorts of different fields.
- How do you apply culture to your work?
For me I use culture as a way to relate to others. Whether it be age / location / gender / disability / religion or ethnic background. I my work is very interpersonal. I usually communicate directly with clients which means an instant connection can be built up from one of the above elements.
As I’ve been very lucky to experience many different challenges as well as opportunities since playing football and become a mini-influencer it has made me realise that no matter who your presenting / delivering to, having that personal touch / connection allows you to build a better relationship and achieve a stronger outcome.
- Where do you get inspiration from?
For me, inspiration is everywhere. From some of the amazing stories and experiences of others who have a disability to the average person who goes above and beyond in some way, shape or form.
Also, I think inspiration doesn’t have to be on a huge scale. The way in which someone speaks and interacts with another, or someone with or without a disability approaches a daily task that is a massive achievement for them but which the average person takes for granted, really sticks with me and inspires me to become a better person.
From someone being able to independently go to the local coffee shop to an amputee climbing to the top of the highest mountain in the world, I genuinely believe inspiration is everywhere, it’s just what means most to you and what you can relate to the most.
- What's the biggest shift in your industry in the last five years?
In Blind Football and disability / Paralympic sport in general I believe the biggest shift in the past few years has been the media coverage. This hasn’t just been in this country but in Asian and European countries the need to showcase talent that some people don’t even know exists is becoming a bigger and bigger opportunity day by day. Taking advantage of this is key to growing disability sport, engaging more people to watch / take part and to increase the knowledge within the general public and within society.
- What’s getting you excited about the future (in terms of your industry and in the world in general)?
The rapidness in growth of disability sport is getting very exciting and seeing a future where more people are able to access sport no matter if they have / haven’t got a disability is growing and that is something I am very passionate about.
In terms of Blind Football, and for me personally, seeing the importance one person like myself can have on so many others through their own life experiences and doing something they love everyday, is great and something I wish to continue doing more and more. The ability and vision of branching out to as many different fields across the country / world is a very exciting prospect and one I cannot wait to continue exploring.
New opportunities are arising day by day and making the most of them and being able to connect with like-minded similar people is something that is key to achieving growth.
- Who is your hero?
I don’t really have a hero. I’m inspired by a variety of people from sports personalities to disability advocates to many others. If an individual is doing something I feel is admirable and unique and a good example to follow, they auromatically are a hero to me.
- What's your focus for the next 6 months? (Personal/Professional - whatever you're happy to share.)
Personally / Professionally– finish my degree, continue developing to be a starter in the England Blind Football team, continue steps to growing the disability awareness programme and interact with at least 10 new clients.
- What geographies do you have insight in to?
Blind Football, Disability Awareness, Motivational Speaking, Professional Speaking, Disability Sport, Student Athlete, Elite Athlete, Dual Career, Entrepreneur, BAME, Professional Development
- What is your main motivation for starting ESS?
A new opportunity / platform to inspire and engage with as many people / organisations as possible to use my story and Blind Football as a tool to change their perceptions on disability in society