The countdown is on to the first European Deaf Women's Football Championship in Albena, Bulgaria, with the opening games due to take place on 3 June.
Deaf football continues to grow in popularity, with the number of men's and women's teams taking part across Europe rising from 124 to 164 since 2009. This has yielded an increase in players from 2,490 to 5,148. As well as the football European Championships – the men's version of which runs from 27 June until 9 July in Odense, Denmark – there are also deaf futsal championships at world and European levels.
"We always come back to the drawing board to find ways to improve the competitions, especially with teams having to fork out their own money to take part," said European Deaf Sports Organisation (EDSO) football technical director Andrew Scolding. "Bearing in mind most deaf players and volunteers have jobs, this impacts on finding the time and expense to travel and participate at club and international level.
"There are many opportunities for deaf players at grassroots level. The most important thing is the clear player pathway from grassroots level to elite level in both deaf competition and mainstream competition. However, there are still bridges to be crossed: more information is needed in both directions. For example, there might be a deaf player with great potential who is playing mainstream football and is not aware of the deaf football path."
With funding tight and publicity often hard to come by, as explained by Scolding, UEFA can play an important role in several areas – "technical advice, providing publicity and promotion through various forms of media, and getting information to the national football associations within UEFA's jurisdiction". He added: "They also assist financially to enable the organising committee of the championships to obtain UEFA standard football grounds and with the recruitment of neutral match officials."
Although the sport has taken huge strides in recent years, Scolding insists the EDSO will not rest on its laurels and will maintain lofty ambitions for the future. "We want to continue increasing the standard of football for men and women and hope that one day deaf players and deaf match officials will get into elite level football with the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United," he said.
"[We also want to] create more opportunities for young deaf people by setting up a new youth competition at European level – this would enable deaf people to have equality with their hearing counterparts."
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