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The world’s first blind war correspondent and football commentator? BBC News Arabic supporting journalists with disabilities

Haidar Albaseer

BBC AimHigh scheme freelance journalist, Baghdad

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Haidar Albaseer is a freelance journalist based in Baghdad

Journalists with disabilities from around the Arab world recently completed three weeks of training in London as part of BBC News Arabic’s AimHigh scheme.

I was trained how to record videos and take pictures as a visually-impaired person.

At the earliest possible opportunity I will pass on what I’ve learned to colleagues, because this is something that I’ve suffered from in the past, as other people who knew these new things didn’t want to share it with others.

I would love to share what I’ve learned because that’s how I want to be treated as well.

It’s not easy in Iraq to get a job, especially if you are visually impaired, and I had to do different jobs for free for a long time at first, including interview producer, presenter, football commentator, editor, and studio manager.

I used to listen to the BBC, and by chance some journalists in Iraq heard me contributing to phone-in programmes, so they asked me to start work as a journalist. I started in 2004 as a political programmes presenter.

In 2006 most reporters left Iraq because of the security situation, as it was very dangerous to go out on the streets of Baghdad, but I was in the middle of what was happening, and without any protection.

Because people don’t consider someone who’s blind as a journalist I used to go anywhere I wanted without being stopped, because no one ever suspected that I was a journalist.

In 2010 I became a news presenter, again by accident as the presenter who was supposed to broadcast the news had an accident and they had no one else, so they asked me to do it.

Because I can’t read the news I memorise it and recite it by heart. When I suggested the idea of commentating on football matches, everyone laughed as they thought I wasn’t fit to do it, in the same way they thought I wasn’t fit to be a journalist. But one of the directors believed in me and gave me a chance.

I became a war correspondent from when so-called Islamic State came to Iraq in 2014, until 2016. No one predicted that! I used to walk around in the middle of the fighting, in front of the shooting.

Then I started working in local radio.

For football commentary, sometimes I’d go to the stadium, sometimes I’d be in the studio. I prepare for every match three hours before, to memorise the line-up beforehand, the players and the background of the teams. I would have someone tell me only where the football is.

Guinness World Records offered to document this in 2013, with me as the first blind football commentator.

Football commentary in the Arab world is totally different from how it’s done in Europe and South America. In the Arab world, the commentator considers himself part of the game.

For the next six months I’ll be concentrating on a project for the AimHigh scheme, and will make a mini-documentary on subjects including sports for disabled people.

Find out more about AimHigh here.

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