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Debutants with a difference in the Futsal Champions League

DSC Dolphins Ashdod from Israel are first-time competitors in the UEFA Futsal Champions League, and there is one detail about them that stands out – their squad is made up entirely of deaf and hard of hearing players.

Doron Hafif

Deaf Sports Club Dolphins Ashdod, to give them their full name, are among 15 debutants in this season’s competition and meet Romania’s United Galati in the preliminary round later this week. Victory would secure entry to a round of 32 that includes holders Barcelona.

The team made history in Israel by becoming national champions despite their competitive disadvantage, and will be seeking to replicate that success on the continental stage.

To create a level playing field, Ashdod’s matches see futsal's two pitch-side referees adopt the use of flags, as well as whistles, to signal stoppages in play. A sign language interpreter joins the team’s coach on the touchline to help communicate with the players on the pitch.

Ashdod are not the first disabled team to enter a UEFA futsal competition. Doncaster College for the Deaf, the 2005 English futsal champions, participated in the 2006/07 UEFA Futsal Cup, bowing out in the preliminary round.

The Association for the Encouragement of the Deaf Athlete of Ashdod operates in a number of areas of activity. The Dolphins Ashdod futsal team are defined as the association’s flagship project, enjoying considerable success in recent years.

2020 UEFA Futsal Champions League final highlights: Barça 2-1 Murcia
2020 UEFA Futsal Champions League final highlights: Barça 2-1 Murcia

The team have won seven Israeli championships and four state cups as part of the futsal competitions that come under Israel’s Deaf Sports Association, and two European Deaf Champions League Futsal titles, in 2018 and 2019.

In addition, the team won the Israeli professional futsal league title, under the management of the Israel Football Association. "We have put the city of Ashdod on the map," says Nadav Cohen, the club's chief operating officer.

The Ashdod association's chairman, Yacov Oliel, added: "The futsal team's achievements in Israel and abroad have brought great pride to the entire community in the field of sports, especially when it comes to a team that consists of people with hearing disabilities.

"It is a great source of pride for us to represent the city of Ashdod in particular, and Israel in general, in such a prestigious UEFA tournament. We have set ourselves a goal to continue our tradition of success, and to create a great history for the team and all its supporters."

Read our Futsal for Beginners guide

UEFA and the European Deaf Sports Association (EDSO)

Among UEFA’s football social responsibility partners is the European Deaf Sports Organisation (EDSO), which was founded in 1983 to help provide regular organised competitions for deaf athletes.

With UEFA’s support, the organisation offers deaf players the opportunity to play football/futsal and compete with and against other deaf players, thereby helping deaf individuals develop greater self-esteem, resilience and physical abilities, and fulfil their potential as an inclusive part of society.

EDSO’s five key aims are:

● Encourage deaf youth to play football/futsal.

● Grow the number of female deaf grassroots football/futsal players.

● Continue to enhance deaf football and futsal championships.

● Expand the number of deaf referees involved in futsal and football.

● Boost the number of deaf football/futsal coaches and improve all coaches’ comprehension of the requirements involved in coaching deaf football/futsal, such as learning sign language.

EDSO organises the European Deaf Champions League, a popular annual futsal event for both men’s and women’s teams.

The men’s title was lifted in January this year by Italy’s GSS Potenza – DSC Dolphins Ashdod finished third – while GTSV Essen from Germany were successful in the women’s competition. The next edition is scheduled for February 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal.

For more information on EDSO, view the latest edition of the UEFA FSR Report

How does UEFA support deaf fans at its events?

For more than ten years, UEFA has worked closely with its partner CAFE (Centre for Access to Football in Europe) to help create a game that is accessible, inclusive and welcoming to all.

CAFE was set up in 2009 to ensure that disabled people can enjoy a full matchday experience in the spirit of 'Total Football Total Access', with that scope now expanded to promote inclusion for disabled people to work within the world of football.

CAFE and UEFA encourage clubs, national associations and other stakeholders to consider the needs of disabled people, for example in supplying induction loops for deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors, adding visual information to audio announcements, and where possible providing sign-language interpreters in certain areas to help deaf supporters understand key information and communicate effectively.