#EqualGame: The first five months of the campaign

The #EqualGame campaign is aimed at promoting inclusion, diversity and accessibility in football.

On 23 August, UEFA launched the #EqualGame RESPECT campaign in Monaco, with the main aim to promote inclusion, diversity and accessibility in European football.

In line with UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin's belief that UEFA has to be a social fair play organisation, #EqualGame has been raising awareness with different stories based on the principle that everyone has the right to play football.

Each month, a European grassroots footballer has taken centre stage to share their passion for football, these players showing that age, gender, ability, ethnicity and sexual orientation should be no obstacle to enjoying the game.

Here are some of the stories we have published so far:

August: Wales – Eddie Thomas

Walking football has helped Eddie Thomas to continue playing the sport he loves
Walking football has helped Eddie Thomas to continue playing the sport he loves

"I can't imagine a time when I didn't have football in my life"

Eddie Thomas, 66, played football for most of his life until he twisted knee ligaments playing for Wales in a veterans' match against England. With his coal business to look after, he was resigned to quitting the game, saying "something had to give".

However, a friend eventually persuaded him to take up walking football, though Thomas said: "It took him a long time, because I thought: 'No, no, it's not for me.'" It took him just two sessions to fall in love with the game. "It's camaraderie," he reflects. "It's like miners working underground. You are all in there together."

September: Hungary – István Szabó

István Szabó created his own blind football club in Budapest
István Szabó created his own blind football club in Budapest

"I had to face plenty of challenges, which I not only had to, but wanted to take on"

Born blind, 36-year-old Hungarian István Szabó had to turn down the opportunity to compete as a swimmer in the Paralympics as a teenager, but is now embracing his first love – football, or blind football to be exact.

"Football gives you a type of freedom," Szabó explained. "You do not need to carry a white stick for, or ask for help. It's your performance that matters. [When I play,] I get rid of everything that's on my mind and I do not think about anything else. When this happens, it is only the football that exists and, for me, that is a great feeling – it is happiness and joy."

Szabó helped to set up his own blind football club – Lass Budapest – and following the launch of the #EqualGame campaign, gave an interview during a European Qualifier between Hungary and the Faroe Islands in October. The interview was transmitted by the Hungarian national broadcaster, and Szabó spoke about how he took pride in helping to spread the message that football is for everyone.

October: Germany – Zehra Badem

Zehra, who is 17 and from Berlin, believes everyone should be able to play football
Zehra, who is 17 and from Berlin, believes everyone should be able to play football

"Football is my whole life – a love and passion which runs through my veins"  

Zehra Badem, who is 17 and from Berlin, was bitten by the football bug at a very early age. "I was four years old when I started," she explains. "Many people said to me: 'You're a girl, you're not supposed to play football', but I didn't care about that. I kept at it. Even at that age, it felt like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Badem, who has a Turkish background, feels football should be equal. "I love football, because on the pitch we're all the same," she stresses. "For me, it is a freedom to play football. Despite the fact that I'm a girl, I can play football. Equality is important and everyone should be able to play football if they want."

The story proved to be particularly popular in Turkey, with numerous high profile publications in the country writing about Badem's story.

November: FYR Macedonia – Jane Velkovski

Jane Velkovski lives and breathes football
Jane Velkovski lives and breathes football

"When I play football, I feel like everyone else"   

Nine-year-old Jane Velkovski from Skopje lives and breathes football. His determination to play is even more impressive given the fact that he uses a wheelchair, having been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).

"When I play football, I feel equal," he said. "I feel nice because I can participate in the game. I feel good that I can lead the team; I can win and I'm the captain. I'm happy when we win, and I'm sad when we lose."

Since the launch of the campaign, Velkovski has become something of a celebrity in his home country. Numerous publications have covered his story, and he was given a special award at an end-of-season gala hosted by the football authorities in FYR Macedonia.

December: England – Liam Davis

Liam Davis is the openly gay male footballer to have played at Wembley Stadium
Liam Davis is the openly gay male footballer to have played at Wembley Stadium

"It shouldn't be a problem for any gay player to play football"   

Liam Davis, a 27-year-old footballer from the English county of Lincolnshire, plays in midfield for Cleethorpes Town in the Northern Premier League, and is the first openly gay male footballer to have played at Wembley Stadium.

"My sexual orientation has never been a thought when I'm playing football," he said. "It's just football. Ball, goal, game."

What would be his advice to a young gay footballer about coming out? "Just to be themselves, at any level or any standard that they're playing at. Don't over-worry and overthink things.

"Don't ever think about having to introduce yourself [at a club] as a gay footballer. You're just a footballer. You're just a teammate. If the manager wants you there, you're there. What you do off the pitch is your life. Your life is your life... and football is just part of it."

There was significant media coverage of Davis's story in England and beyond, including features in major newspapers such as the Independent and the Telegraph.

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