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Celebrating inclusion on 2021’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities

UEFA works with its member associations and a broad range of Football for All Abilities partners to ensure that the football environment and its infrastructure are accessible for everyone who wants to take part, welcoming players and fans of all abilities.

SPORTSFILE

Every year, 3 December marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD), highlighting the challenges faced and the obstacles overcome by the millions of people around the world living with disability.

IDPWD was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations, promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

UEFA football and social responsibility director, Michele Uva

"UEFA is committed to ensuring football is open to everybody. Today, we shine a light on how our Football for All Abilities partners work together with our member associations across Europe, to ensure people with a disability are an active and fully engaged part of football."

Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE)

With a special focus on disabled supporters, CAFE works to make football more accessible, inclusive and welcoming for all disabled people, harnessing the power of sport to act as a catalyst for disability-inclusive change in wider society.

To help disabled fans attending football, CAFE explores every element of the matchday experience, from making the ticketing system accessible to disabled supporters, to advocating for quality sightlines and accessible food counters for wheelchair users, to providing other services such as audio-descriptive-commentary for blind and partially sighted fans.

Joanna Deagle, CAFE managing director

"Through our partnership and cooperation with UEFA, CAFE has been able to support national associations, clubs and venues in significantly improving the matchday experience for many disabled spectators.

"With the appointment of disability access officers, increased numbers of accessible seating, clearer sightlines, and the provision of accessible matchday services, more disabled fans than ever before can follow their teams in an inclusive and welcoming environment."

Learn about CAFE

European Amputee Football Federation (EAFF)

EAFF

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," he explains.

"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."

Despite the impact of the pandemic, the game has been making big strides in Germany with help from the German Football Association (DFB).

"Through my full-time work for amputee football at Anpfiff ins Leben (Kick-off for a New Life), I was also able to provide access to football for other amputees throughout Germany," Christian explains. "In addition, we were able to start the official Amputee Football Bundesliga together with the DFB-Foundation Sepp Herberger during the pandemic, which was a big milestone for us."

Nico Kempf, deputy CEO, DFB Sepp Herberger Foundation

"In September 2021, we launched the Amputee Football Bundesliga. This new competition was followed widely by the public, impressed by the outstanding sports performances displayed by the participating athletes. This is an important milestone for the further development of Disability Football in Germany."

Disability football in Germany

European Powerchair Football Association (EPFA)

Jussi Eskola

Twenty-three-year-old Bradley Bates lives with spinal muscular atrophy, but through powerchair football has become a leading player for England and his club, West Bromwich Albion, as well as coaching the sport to younger players.

"Anyone's welcome, the main thing is coming along and trying to have a go," he explains. ""It takes away that sense of feeling disabled - you just feel like anyone else. Once we are on that pitch, we are all professionals. We are the highest in our discipline and feel no different to any other sport or football in that sense. For us, that is just our way of playing."

Powerchair football has given Bradley a strong sense of identity and offered experiences he could never have imagined.

"It helps me on so many levels," he says. "As a player, you get the social aspect - I got to go to Australia which gave me friends from all across the world - and there is that competitive nature and being able to compete at the highest level. Moving into coaching it’s more about getting to develop younger talents and pass on some of my knowledge to them."

Phil Heap, Football Association (FA) national development manager (disability pathway) and Adam McEvoy, Wheelchair Football Association national development manager, FA disability delivery partner

"We are extremely proud of the recovery made by powerchair footballers throughout England. Efforts like Bradley’s and the powerchair community’s contributions towards the ‘Football Your Way’ campaign meant the new online information hub to help support and motivate disabled people to return to footballing activities featured unique powerchair content, available for the hundreds of powerchair players we have, nationwide.

"The formalisation of The FA’s new plan to develop, improve and raise awareness of powerchair and all forms of disability football in England means there is an exciting future ahead."

More about disability football in England

International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA)

IBSA

Support from UEFA and the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) benefits players like Krisztian Kovac, a 23-year-old blind football international.

"To be part of the blind football movement and of course the national blind football team for Romania is an honour - I am happy that I can represent my country and play one of the most popular sports in the world," he says.

"People should know that blind football is a very spectacular sport. People can follow matches without any knowledge of the special rules we use. Maybe the most important memory I have is when I received the title of Best Player of the Tournament in 2019 at the European Championship in Rome."

IBSA president, Sandro Di Girolamo, adds: "UEFA has been our partner for many years in blind football and with their sponsorship, IBSA has been able to develop blind football in more than half the countries in Europe and initiate development programmes in many others."

Diana Pirciu, FRF special projects manager

"The Romanian blind football national team is one of the FRF priorities and is a part of our national teams family. We really appreciate the spectacular work the team is doing and we will make sure we continue to invest energy in the development of the blind football ecosystem. We plan to create more opportunities for the blind to enjoy the most-loved game and grow the number of players."

Learn more about the FRF and its disability work

International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF)

SPORTSFILE

In Denmark, the game is providing important opportunities for CP players.

"It means a lot because I can play with friends and team-mates. It's good for me to do something else in my spare time," says national team player Mads Tofte. "My best memory was playing in the European Championship in Portugal and we beat Finland 8-0."

His team-mate Glen Sambleben adds: "It makes a very big difference because of all the friendships and all the memories. CP football is a big opportunity for people with disabilities – it gives you friendships and good times."

The IFCPF has also developed a strategy to attract more female players and launched plans for a first CP Women's World Cup which will take place in May 2022 in Barcelona, Spain.

"We are giving a platform to inspiring youth ambassadors, improving the communication of our message, and we are pleased to be working closely with UEFA to find new ways of promoting CP football.," says IFCPC president Jan-Hein Evers.

Søren Jul Kristensen, Parasport Denmark

"Parasport Denmark want to help all people with a disability to find their way into sport. Therefore, we are happy that we have found a way to CP Football for Mads, Glen and their team-mates."

More information on Parasport Denmark

Special Olympics Europe Eurasia (SOEE)

SOEE

Through strong links like that with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), its Football For All programme and Special Olympics Ireland, SOEE is able to offer a range of initiatives and benefits from coach education, grading of players and the allocation of match officials, helping players like Mark and Christopher enjoy regular activity and being a part of a team.

"It means everything to me," says Mark. "Playing football helps me develop social skills with people, as well as meeting other players. Special Olympics gives people like me a chance to play football, and other sports, and we can compete at a higher level - not just in Ireland, but outside of Ireland as well."

Christopher adds: "Participating in football means working as a team. It helps me to talk with people I don’t really talk to and work together with them. It's worth it to play with people you haven’t met before and see what they're capable of."

Patrick O Reilly, FAI Football for All coordinator

"We are extremely lucky to have such a strong special Olympics programme here in Ireland and they have provided a huge amount of expertise and opportunities. In recent months we have begun plans to develop a youth pathway for athletes on the special Olympics young athlete programme to progress into football. This is something we are extremely excited about. The partnership has been extremely beneficial to everyone involved and we look forward to working with Special Olympics in the future."

More about Football For All