Footballers of all ages and abilities converged on UEFA club final fan festivals in Seville, Tirana and Paris to exhibit some of the sport’s lesser-known disciplines.
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Disabled and disadvantaged footballers from across Europe showcased their skills in front of thousands of fans at the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League finals last month.
As part of the host city celebrations, where supporters can take photos with the trophies, test their own football skills and enjoy entertainment, UEFA invites teams from various organisations to play on the specially built mini-pitches located at each festival. Their players are either living with disabilities or face challenging life circumstances.
Football provides a major opportunity for social inclusion and physical activity, with the festivals offering the added possibility of being joined on-field by a footballing legend like Robert Pirès, David James or Lorik Cana, guaranteeing smiles, high-fives and added excitement.
It makes for a lively atmosphere at the festival as passers-by are drawn to take in the action, which this year included players demonstrating blind football, amputee football and powerchair football, athletes from organisations representing Special Olympics, the Homeless World Cup Foundation and UNHCR.
Michele Uva, UEFA Football and Social Responsibility Director
"Football is all about people, a common passion that brings together individuals of different ages, backgrounds, nationalities and abilities. By show-casing the impressive skills of some of these less well-known football formats at our very popular fan festivals, we aim to illustrate our commitment to increasing playing opportunities for disabled players, refugees and other people from disadvantaged backgrounds, across Europe."
Pride but no prejudice
For the players involved, there is a huge pride in participation and playing their part in the UEFA club finals.
"They are here making a difference for themselves and are able to break down some barriers that have surrounded them," says Aldo Muçalliu, an amputee football coach in Albania.
"Football has helped these people a lot – they don’t feel ashamed of themselves because they have an amputated leg. They are proud to be here at the Skanderbeg Square [in Tirana], and football has given them confidence in themselves."
The reward of being there is also motivation, as Nuno Rodrigues from the Projecto Futebol de Ruai initiative in Lisbon, which is supported by the Portugese Football Federation and (FPF) whose players undertook a five-hour journey to Seville, explains.
"We use football as a tool to develop soft skills, helping people from difficult backgrounds and tough neighbourhoods, and helping them grow – but playing football is only half of our project, alongside that we have workshops that our participants have to attend, and then show and apply those skills on the pitch."
UEFA’s Football for All Abilities, Refugee Support and Solidarity policies
These fan festival activities demonstrate just how powerful football can be as a vehicle for overcoming divisions and discrimination within our societies.
Through UEFA’s new Football for All Abilities, Refugee Support and Solidarity policies, embedded in our Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, we work to ensure that the football environment is accessible for everyone who wants to take part, welcoming players and fans of all abilities. Invitations to the fan festivals are only one element of these efforts.
Throughout the year, and in cooperation with its national member associations, UEFA supports the European Amputee Football Federation, the European Powerchair Football Association, the football section of the International Blind Sports Organisation, the International Federation of CP Football, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia and the Homeless World Cup Foundation. UEFA also has a cooperation agreement with UNHCR. All of these organisations are key in further developing grassroots and elite participation opportunities for the thousands of footballers playing our sport.