Norway’s Star League is a fantastic example of how making football open to everyone can inspire and act as a source of happiness – and has earned the programme the accolade of Best Disability Initiative in the 2019 UEFA Grassroots Awards.
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The Star League is a series of bimonthly league competitions for players with disabilities, organised by the Football Association of Norway (NFF) in the Hordaland region.
NFF Hordaland is a firm advocate of ‘football for all’. Various clubs in the region recruit players with disabilities who are given the chance to take part in the Star League, and the overall objective is to encourage participation.
“The Star League offers players with disabilities or those who need things made easier for them an opportunity to play,” says NFF Hordaland club developer Tove Iren Vindenes. “So it’s basically a project which makes it possible for more people to play football.”
The first Star League team for children in Hordaland was established in 2012. Today, nine clubs offer Star League opportunities for children between 6 and 12 years of age, giving more girls and boys with disabilities the chance to participate in football. In addition, 18 clubs cater for youth and adult players with disabilities from the age of 13 upwards. Players train weekly with these local clubs, as well as taking part in the bimonthly Star League competitions. More than 300 active players are involved.
“Back in 2015, there were fewer than 200, so we’ve seen a considerable growth in the number of players since then,” says Tove Iren Vindenes, who started as club developer at that time to assist the clubs in recruiting more players with disabilities. “That’s been one of the factors behind the success in our work.”
“What makes the Star League so special? It’s the players in it of course, because the players have a unique ability to care for each other. So that solidarity and that joy for football that you experience in the Star League is unmatched.”
The Star League, as Norway’s only league for people with disabilities, has inspired other regions to establish their own teams.
“Today, the model and structure that the Star League has developed is also the model for all such football activity in Norway,” Tove Iren Vindenes explains. “So we’ve been a forerunner in relation to this kind of football. We’re very proud of that.”
UEFA Grassroots Awards
The Best Disability Initiative prize rewards outstanding grassroots disability football projects.
The UEFA Grassroots Awards have been run annually since 2010. The awards reward excellence in the grassroots field, and national associations from around Europe are invited to put forward candidates each year. UEFA’s Executive Committee ratifies the awards following recommendations made by the UEFA Grassroots Panel bureau and UEFA Development and Technical Assistance Committee.