All across Europe, disabled people are making a positive impact on the game.
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On 2022's International Day of Disabled Persons, we celebrate the contribution of the disabled workforce to football and identify best practices to encourage sporting organisations to be more inclusive.
As one of 11 focus areas in our Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, we want to ensure that the football environment and its infrastructure are accessible for everyone who wants to take part, welcoming players, fans and staff members of all abilities. Our ambition for 2030 is to guarantee barrier-free access for any individual wanting to play, attend events or work in football.
UEFA'S Football for All Abilities policy
Michele Uva, UEFA director of football social responsibility
“Our sport is an enabler towards equal opportunities. Everyone must be empowered to participate in the game and society as their authentic self. UEFA’s mission is to make European football a community that welcomes everybody in a safe and inclusive environment.
"UEFA is currently undertaking audits to evaluate accessibility needs at our Nyon campus and identify existing barriers. Job descriptions for our flagship competition, EURO 2024, contain a diversity clause inviting candidates to point out potential barriers, so that we can effectively address them. And all job openings are advertised through the German Football Association’s diversity network, which includes advocacy groups for disabled people.”
UEFA cooperates with six Football for All Abilities partner organisations. Playing football can provide a pathway into employment for disabled people, so UEFA works with the European Amputee Football Federation, the European Powerchair Football Association, the International Blind Sports Federation, the International Federation of CP Football and Special Olympics Europe Eurasia to help facilitate the transition from the pitch to coaching, refereeing or football administration. CAFE, the Centre for Access to Football in Europe, also promotes an inclusive employment policy.
Joanna Deagle, CAFE managing director
"We are pleased to join with our partner UEFA, and stakeholders across the industry, in celebrating International Day of Disabled People – a day when a spotlight is shone on access, inclusion and the experiences of disabled people.
"Over 15 per cent of the global population are disabled, and it is crucially important that through days like today, paired with greater education and awareness, we all do more to remove the barriers that so many disabled people still face in their everyday lives. Whether attending a live match, seeking employment in the industry or playing the game themselves, football has a unique power to change lives and must be fully open and accessible for all."
Norbert Foris: making a difference in Hungary
What is it like to work in football as a disabled person? To find out, we asked Norbert Foris, a staff member of the Football and Social Responsibility (FSR) Unit at the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ). Norbert was born blind, but that has not stopped him pursuing his love of football in his native Hungary.
“I’ve loved football since I was a little kid, when I used to follow football with my dad who was a big fan. Football is an important tradition in my family," Norbert explains.
"I have degrees in physical education, public administration, public organisation and recreational organisation. But when I was looking for a job, I sent out over 100 applications to various companies across Hungary and about 50 of those never answered. 30 more organisations told me they simply couldn’t imagine how a blind person would integrate their workforce. Only two organisations offered me an interview. One of them was the Hungarian FA, where I have been employed since November 2021."
It has been an interesting journey so far, but Norbert is delighted to be making a positive impact on the game’s workforce.
"Being blind myself, I felt I had first-hand experience to contribute to the Football for All Abilities programmes, but I am also very interested in all the other areas," he says. "In spring 2022, I joined MLSZ’s Football and Social Responsibility team and am now revising the way our ticketing system is set up, making sure it is accessible to disabled spectators."
We also wanted to hear from people in Norbert’s environment about their insights into making the workplace more accessible.
Bettina Pap is one of Norbert’s closest MLSZ colleagues, who shares her experience of working alongside him.
“I’ve learnt a lot from Norbi and it’s not as complicated as I would have expected," she says. "Ask what the person’s needs are, listen and be open. Working with Norbert has sensitised everyone at the office. We now just treat him like any other colleague and are no longer afraid of making mistakes.
"Other than the screen reader programme on Norbert’s phone and laptop, no changes were needed. Thanks to Ginger, Norbert's guide dog, he gets around by himself. And if he does need help, one of our colleagues is always there to assist him."
Rebeka Balogh, Norbert’s girlfriend, believes he inspires her to push for change in her own workplace.
"Yes it does - negative stereotypes about disabled people in society still persist," she explains. "Openness, acceptance and patience are needed. But I try to set a positive example for our environment through my relationship with Norbi, who inevitably comes up as a positive example."
A growing community
Norbert is in good company, with similar stories across the European football landscape, and today, we highlight some of our favourite examples across our official social media channels.
In fact, a recent poll revealed that more than half of UEFA’s surveyed member associations employ disabled staff in various roles, with an even balance between part time and full-time employment.
But there is more football can do to shift numbers in favour of disabled people. In fact, pre-pandemic research in the EU showed that the unemployment rate of disabled people aged 20-64, is 17.1 per cent compared to 10.2 per cent of non-disabled people, and that the inactivity rate is particularly high among disabled women.
In some countries, national legislation imposes quotas on companies regarding the employment of disabled people. And members of the football community also come up with their own solutions. The Football Federation of Armenian (FFA), for example, systematically advertises job openings with disability advocacy groups first, before opening them to the wider public.
Who features in UEFA's #IDDP2022 social media posts?
Rachel Pearson, UEFA senior venue logistics manager
Oxana Spataru - Football Association of Moldova (FMF) Open Fun Football Schools Project assistant
Katharina Kühnlein - FC Schalke 04 ecological sustainability manager
Steve Daley MBE -England partially sighted team head coach
Heather Jameson and Chris McElligott - Football Association of Ireland (FAI) disability football programme development officers
Elena Popova - Russian Football Union (RFU) football & social responsibility specialist
Jason Browning – Irish Football Association (IFA) disability access officer
How can football continue to increase opportunities for disabled staff?
- Listen to disabled people to understand the current barriers and how these can be resolved
- Work with local disability experts to understand how accessible your offices and systems are, and implement improvements to ensure the workplace is fully inclusive
- Integrate disability inclusion into organisations' core strategy and practices
- Collaborate with expert organisations such as CAFE, the ILO Global Business and Disability Forum and local partners
- Review HR policies, recruitment, and retention of staff practices
- Provide accessible education and career development opportunities
- Support and multiply sport specific initiatives such as the Football For All Leadership Programme, supported by the Portuguese FA and CAFE, and the Innovating for Inclusion Bootcamp, which will be delivered next March in partnership with the Royal Netherlands Football Association.