- Mani Djazmi was brought to Britain as a child in the hope of saving his sight
- He pursued his dream of becoming a journalist after an unsuccessful operation
- The BBC man told FIFA.com how he has gone about proving the doubters wrong
Mani Djazmi first came to Britain at the age of four. His family fully expected to be back in their Iranian homeland within a fortnight. Thirty-five years later, and with the Djazmis having remained in the UK ever since, it’s fair to say that events didn’t run exactly to plan.
These days, Mani is a respected broadcaster at the world-renowned BBC. He hosts the corporation’s World Football show, shining a light on the global game and leading wide-ranging discussions with regular guests Heather O’Reilly, Peter Odemwingie and Pat Nevin.
Listeners to the show will know Djazmi for his evident passion, knowledge and the easy rapport he strikes up with interviewees and his panel of current and former internationals. What they might not realise, and what makes his rise in football broadcasting remarkable, is that he is blind.
That childhood trip to the UK had been undertaken with a sole objective: to save his sight. And while the operation sadly proved unsuccessful, it started Djazmi on a much longer and more fruitful journey.
As he explained to FIFA.com: “While we were over for the operation, my parents heard about a mainstream school near the hospital that had excellent facilities and support for disabled children – including blind children. Although none of us could speak English at that stage, we decided to stay.”
As well as learning the language in the months and years that followed, Mani developed a passion for football, playing the game with his brother, collecting Panini stickers and devouring the information they contained. He also remembers his first experience of a stadium on a school trip, the “amazing, magical” smell of the grass and the thrill of standing beside the “sacred” pitch. “I still feel that way sometimes,” he admitted.
But while Mani’s love of the game was quickly established, it was predated by a passion for journalism. “Even when I was still in Iran, I would go around pretending to interview people,” he said. “Later, when my friends were getting computer games for Christmas, I was asking for headphones and microphones so I could make radio shows in my bedroom. I was lucky to have that obsession too because I faced so many rejections that I might have given up – but I didn’t have a Plan B to fall back on.
“No-one took me seriously at the start. Even my family thought the journalism thing was just a fad. I also remember early on, when I was looking for work, a radio station manager told me he didn’t see how I could possibly become a journalist if I couldn’t see. That rocked me because I thought, ‘He’s a boss, so he must know what he’s talking about’. But, again, I didn’t have anything else lined up, so I just ploughed on.”
A turning point arrived with a chance meeting that led to him becoming involved in BBC’s In Touch programme for blind and partially sighted people. Then, having faced the same scepticism about his ability to report on football, he was rewarded for his boldness in “taking a punt” by self-funding a trip to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.
“I was trying to establish myself as an Asian football journalist and I thought, ‘You can’t really be taken seriously in this if you don’t go to the Asian Cup’. But normally when I go to tournaments I have a helper with me to act as my eyes in stadiums, mixed zones and so on – and I didn’t on that occasion.”
Eventually, a friend of a friend lent a hand. But with both men uncertain in their new roles, Djazmi’s Asian Cup adventure got off to an embarrassing start.
As he explained: “In my first game, Australia beat Bahrain 1-0 and Mile Jedinak scored. Afterwards, in the mixed zone, I said Jedinak would be a good one to get and my helper said, ‘He’s coming and the coach (Holger Osieck) is just behind him’.
“A few minutes later, I was told, ‘Ok, he’s in front of you’. So I said, ‘Mile, it’s not often you score goals like that’ and I just heard this voice, with a thick German accent, saying, ‘I am the coach’. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.
“But there’s no point in dwelling on situations like that and, through that tournament, I made contacts, did some pieces for World Football, got even more contacts and built from there. It all ended up with me getting a full-time contract with the BBC and doing the work I do now.”
As listeners to World Football will testify, it's work he does with great aplomb. The journey from that unsuccessful operation to a prominent role at a legendary broadcaster certainly hasn’t been without its obstacles. But Djazmi’s talent, knowledge and passion will ensure that he remains a valued voice on the beautiful game for many years to come.