Engaging with disabled people through football

Since 2010, UEFA has been supporting football-related academic research projects through its Research Grant Programme. Dr Paul Kitchin analyses efforts to involve disabled people in football.

Dr Paul Kitchin works at Ulster University in Northern Ireland researching sport management and social inclusion. He was supported in this research study by Stephen Bloomer
Dr Paul Kitchin works at Ulster University in Northern Ireland researching sport management and social inclusion. He was supported in this research study by Stephen Bloomer ©NigelMcDowell

When striving for best practice, organisations require benchmarks to help them improve their performance. Many national associations and clubs offer football for all programmes and are working to improve spectator access, but how do we determine the best practices in such areas?

Kitchin's research – which began in 2016 – sought to gather and highlight best practices in the engagement of disabled people¹ across UEFA's footballing community.

"We studied overall engagement rather than just participation, to give us a more complete picture," says Kitchin. "We wanted to find the best playing opportunities, see who provided the best spectating opportunities, and explore the opportunities for disabled people to work in football," he adds. "This broader understanding of engagement was the focus of our research."

Measuring engagement
To understand the complexity of engagement, it was important to have input from as many organisations as possible, so Kitchin's team created a survey that included some follow-up interviews with those whom they believed demonstrated best practice.

The survey was designed to measure the organisations' perspective on the importance and performance of engagement. The team also collected information on each organisation's finances, facilities, brand, human resources and competencies. This was important to explain differences between large and small associations and clubs.

In total, the researchers received responses from 39 national associations and over 300 licensed clubs (those in Europe's top divisions), over 30 of which provided detailed information.

What works best
Across Europe, from Astana to Reykjavik, there are a large number of opportunities for disabled people to play and watch football. The study also found there has been a significant increase in integrated football for all abilities across Europe.

These opportunities allow disabled and non-disabled people to play the game together, providing shared experiences and a greater mutual awareness of each other's abilities. The report and case studies quote clubs such as FC Utrecht and FC BATE, which make sure the matchday experiences of disabled fans are as good or even better than those of any other spectators at the game.

Some opportunities remain
Despite the progress made by some organisations, a lot more needs to be done. Involving disabled people in behind-the-scenes operations is a great opportunity for the football community and will make the sport even more inclusive.

Second round
Even with this benchmark of engagement activities across Europe, many organisations felt that more research was required.

The survey was repeated in late 2017, to enable more organisations to take part and allow those that responded in the first round to see that increased awareness and engagement is of benefit to their organisations. The latest results are currently being analysed.

¹The term disabled people and not people with disabilities is recommended in the UEFA and CAFE Good Practice Guide to Creating an Accessible Stadium and Matchday Experience.

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 176 

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