UEFA is committed to ensuring that everybody, everywhere can play football in a safe and enjoyable environment.
Article top media content
That means creating a playing pathway for the estimated 135 million people in Europe that identify as living with a disability.
European football's governing body will introduce a new grassroots charter for national associations in 2024, which will include requirements for disability football initiatives and help to develop more inclusive clubs, working towards ensuring that everybody who wants it has access to the beautiful game.
"By 2028, I hope that all disabled people are able to take part in football, maybe as a player, as a referee, a coach or administrator, but let's make sure we give them that opportunity," says UEFA grassroots panel member and disability football expert Jeff Davies.
Davies has been working with disabled players over 30 years and believes the sport can make a huge difference.
"Disability football is really important because everybody should be given the opportunity to reach their potential. Fifteen percent of European people live with disability and many of those will want to be involved in football – we should be able to give them a lifelong association with the game."
"Football is a great game for giving people confidence and self-esteem and we should allow people to participate if they want to," he explains. "When I started working with disabled people and helping them take part in sport, I felt there was an inequality and so many barriers to their participation - I was a terrible player, but it was only my lack of talent that prevented me from being a professional - I had all the opportunities. That’s not true for a number of people in society."
UEFA's position at the centre of European football provides an opportunity to set standards and ensure there are opportunities for everyone.
"It's important that UEFA leads on this because we are the football experts," Davies says. "We may not have technical expertise in disability, but we work with partners who do, and it means the world's number one game can give more people so many life skills, a feeling of belonging and an opportunity to achieve. We can lead the way for sport across the world."
What does football mean to disabled players?
Spanish international blind footballer Javier Álvaro Ruiz is a two-time Paralympian, has played in two World Cups and rates his bronze medal, as one of his proudest achievements.
"I would never change it for anything in the world," he says. "Just a few people reach professional sport, but it's important that everyone can enjoy his or her life and I'm sure we can do that through football."
"Sport has many benefits and there are so many things you can transfer to your daily life. For people with a serious disability like me, that’s important."
In Germany, national amputee football captain Christian Heintz has used the game as an inspiration for turning his own struggles into strengths.
"Football has been very important to me since I was four years old - after my leg amputation in 2010, football took on even greater significance because through access to amputee football, I have found my way back into life and am very grateful that I can play football again,"
"Amputee football is a very fast-paced and fascinating sport. Although you play on crutches, the dynamics of all the players are impressive. It's everything we love about football: headers, overhead kicks and beautiful goals."
Case Study: Para-Football in Scotland
The Scottish Football Association were winners at the 2021/22 UEFA Grassroots Awards thanks to the incredible work of their Para-Football (SPF) initiative, which brings together nine different organisations governing different types of disability football - amputee football, cerebral palsy football, deaf football, frame football, learning disability football, autism football, football memories, mental health football and powerchair football – under a single national umbrella.
"There are so many people that want to take part in football but previously possibly had issues with access or facilities being available," says SPF chair Ashley Reid. "SPF is about football for all, creating access for everybody, giving them the opportunity to take part in football on a level playing field."
Coach Paul McNeill, who himself suffers from a learning disability, is a huge advocate for the power of football: "My coach made me understand that those white lines on a football pitch are white lines of safety. They change your life and we never forget that," he says. "SPF is about increasing participation, creating safe, flexible environments and acting as a catalyst for people living with a range of conditions to become more physically active for life.
The more we talk about it, the more people believe in what we are doing. We are making a difference to society, and football is the best thing ever to engage people!"