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Football for all abilities

With football offering opportunities for personal and sporting development, the game can make a significant contribution in helping disabled people to fully participate in society.

Blind and partially sighted players had the opportunity to feature in a UEFA Respect Inclusion match ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final in Gdansk, Poland
Blind and partially sighted players had the opportunity to feature in a UEFA Respect Inclusion match ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final in Gdansk, Poland ©UEFA

UEFA's view is clear and concise. Football is not a sport for the elite. It is available for everyone, whatever their age, ability, race, faith, gender or sexual orientation.

Football offers educational values, health benefits, social opportunities and sporting worth. The game is a wonderful vehicle for personal and sporting development. At the base of the football pyramid, grassroots football boosts all levels of the sport.

As a result of its promotion of widespread, popular access to football, the European football family contributes significantly to health and social cohesion in Europe. Under the umbrella theme of Respect, the UEFA social responsibility strategy builds upon this role by making external investments in multi-sector activities that address, through football, social issues in Europe. The themes of racism and discrimination, peace and reconciliation, football for all abilities, health, violence and the environment are regrouped in a partnership portfolio.

UEFA's portfolio approach sees the European body pursue core and associated partnerships with a carefully selected number of organisations involved in these strategic issues. One of the particular portfolios is Football for all Abilities. Through this, UEFA's objective is to promote and develop the use of football as a tool for broadening the inclusion of players of all abilities and marginalised or excluded groups. This includes disabled people. UEFA maintains relationships with partners who are striving to give disabled people the chance not only to play and experience the beautiful game, but also to further their personal growth through football.

Football can make a significant contribution in assisting disabled people in participating fully in society. Yet a considerable number of disabled people have never engaged in leisure activities or sport. UEFA has put the matter of access and inclusion to football (playing or attending) for disabled people high on its agenda, by granting the annual UEFA Monaco Charity Award to no fewer than five different disability football development projects over the years.

With the help of the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE), the aim is to help increase playing and workplace opportunities for disabled people and to improve and expand possibilities for a full matchday experience for disabled supporters. UEFA also offered platforms at UEFA EURO 2008 and UEFA EURO 2012 to showcase disability football ahead of the quarter-finals in either competition, with a view to breaking down attitudinal barriers.

UEFA has six partners within its Football for all Abilities portfolio: Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA); European Deaf Sport Organisation (EDSO); International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA); European Powerchair Football Association (EPFA), Special Olympics (SO); and Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE).

CPISRA was founded to support athletes with cerebral palsy and related neurological conditions and give them a chance to play sports; IBSA provides a wide range of sports for partially sighted and blind athletes; EPFA was established to govern European powerchair football – a competitive team sport for disabled people who use power wheelchairs; EDSO works tirelessly to champion sport for hard of hearing and deaf people; Special Olympics creates opportunities for intellectually disabled athletes across the globe; and with the slogan Total Football Total Access, CAFE's goal is to extend and enhance access to football for disabled fans.

For each of these partners, a five-year agreement is in place. The partners receive UEFA funding and backing, and deliver regular reports on their activities to UEFA as well as proposals for future initiatives.

In terms of social responsibility, the football for all abilities projects tick all the right boxes; disabled football players and supporters are a key element within UEFA's stakeholders, and this includes children. The inclusion of disabled children and adults in society is a European concern, for which UEFA is playing an important part.

There is a story to tell about each project, and we will look at the work and objectives of all six partners in the coming months.