The third International CAFE Conference has been held in Bilbao, with access and inclusion given particular emphasis.
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Experts from across Europe and beyond came together at Athletic Club's Estadio San Mamés in Bilbao to discuss the many roles that disabled people can play within both football and wider society.
The International CAFE Conference is the largest event of its kind, bringing together key stakeholders from across all levels of the game – including disabled fans, clubs, leagues, national associations and governing bodies, as well as disability and equality advocates and others from within the game and the disability sector – to promote access and inclusion.
There were a number of important topics on the agenda, including the role of disability access officers, inclusive employment, digital accessibility and communication, and accessible facilities and services including audio-descriptive commentary. There were also discussions on disabled supporters associations, the importance of collaboration and the CAFE Week of Action.
"It was our pleasure to welcome over 200 access and inclusion champions to Bilbao for our third International CAFE Conference," said CAFE managing director Joanna Deagle.
"The Conference is our opportunity to bring stakeholders together to share best practices, to challenge the status quo and to celebrate the fantastic works taking place across Europe.
"We hope that the Conference delegates are motivated to continue their commitment to Total Football #TotalAccess, and we are already looking forward to sharing many more great success stories at our next conference in three years' time."
Access and Inclusion Champions awards
To celebrate some of the great achievements taking place across Europe, CAFE presented the first ever CAFE Access and Inclusion Champions awards. Disability access officers Elena Popova and Iva Cigrovskij were two of the proud winners.
Popova, who works at the Russian Football Union, said: "In an ideal world, we should not have to make a distinction between disabled fans and non-disabled football fans, and we must create inclusive stadium facilities for disabled fans.
"We should provide facilities and services that make it possible for all fans to go to the matches and enjoy football. CAFE's work is crucial for this because it provides useful information that we cannot find anywhere else."
Cigrovskij, who is disability access officer at Dinamo Zagreb, adding: "People sometimes ask me: 'Why are you working so hard for just a few fans?'
"That's hard to hear, and makes me want to work harder, because it is so important that we work together for disabled people to enjoy a live match."
Anthony Joy, chairman of the Arsenal Disabled Supporters Association, felt "energised" by the conference, and the great work being done across Europe. "We're going back to London with a lot of ideas on how we can form a plan to work with Arsenal to continue to improve access, particularly on the experience of the match-going fan," he explained.
"Things are changing. There's still a long way to go, but there's momentum and to see a conference like this be so successful on its own merits is hugely positive."