FIFA celebrates accessibility and inclusiveness in football on International Day of Disabled People
3 December marks International Day of Disabled People
A day to celebrate disabled members of the football family
Accessibility and inclusiveness key to FIFA competitions
On International Day of Disabled People, FIFA is proud to celebrate disabled footballers, officials and fans that form a key part of the rich diversity of the football family.
There are currently more than one billion disabled people, around 15 per cent of the global population. This is the largest minority of people on the planet and, according to the World Health Organization, almost everyone will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life. Disability part of being human.
Yet disabled people still face social, physical, intellectual, attitudinal and other barriers that exclude them from everyday life, including education, sports and work opportunities. Significant progress has been made to ensure that the world is more accessible and inclusive but a great deal of work is still required to afford disabled people the opportunities that others may take for granted. A day to raise awareness This year, FIFA marked the day with a 'first.' FIFA has seen that many of its FIFA member associations have well-established para-football programmes, and this includes the creation of para-football leagues. However, when looking at the international context, there is a need to do more. Our role at FIFA is to grow football across the world. This growth applies to para-football too across all disciplines, be that from blind football to amputee football, deaf football to power chair football and beyond. And today, in many parts of the world, the chance for disabled people to play para-football is limited or even non-existent. In order to address this, FIFA recently created an expert working group of para-footballers involving para-football legends and FIFA member associations with established disability football programmes. This working group, which met for the first time on 3 December 2021, has been tasked with supporting FIFA and our member associations to develop para-football worldwide.
The working group will develop concrete guidance measures for FIFA member associations. Their efforts will be supported by the creation of a para-football mentoring programme, where the experience gained by some of our FIFA member associations, by para-football legends, and by existing international para-football non-governmental organisations (NGOs), will be put to good use to help to grow and maintain para-football teams, leagues and other events across the world. FIFA's Chief Social Responsibility & Education Officer Joyce Cook CBE, OBE sees International Day of Disabled People as a great opportunity to bring attention to a sector of the football family that often goes under the radar.
“It’s important that we show that football isn’t just about the elite competitions that we see on TV, but that there are all manner of other forms of football, including disability football, that are played, organised and enjoyed by some of the most passionate people in the world. They are all worthy of our support, and I am proud of the work that FIFA is undertaking to ensure that this is increasingly the case, for example through the Forward Development Programme.
"As a disabled woman, I know first-hand that what matters most is the spirit of football, the sheer joy, togetherness and wellbeing it can offer to those most isolated and excluded. Whether we play, work in or watch football, we all share the same love and passion for our beautiful game – and we must never forget that sport belongs to each and every one of us.”
Football is loved the world over and this passion is naturally shared by millions of disabled people. Indeed, more disabled people than ever before are participating in the world’s most popular sport, while FIFA and competition organisers are offering ever more inclusive matchday services to ensure that the unique atmosphere of the stadium can be enjoyed by disabled fans too. From a career perspective, FIFA is working to ensure that football provides opportunities to disabled people with accessible recruitment, accessible tools and working environments key to assisting and supporting their development in the workplace.
Football invokes a passion that inspires people to get involved, from the grassroots to the elite, and this includes an increasing number of disability football competitions that enable disabled footballers to take to the pitch or court too.
Through the Forward Programme, FIFA offers its member associations investment to ensure that everyone who wants to play can do so, regardless of disability or mobility. Since its inception in 2016, the FIFA Forward Programme has been helping to fund projects around the world that support all formats of the game, from cerebral palsy (CP) football to lightning powerchair football.
Meanwhile, the FIFA Foundation also offers support to competitions such as the World Deaf Football Championships, and organises the FIFA Foundation Festival, which in 2018 worked with 48 non-governmental organisations including the Single Leg Amputee Sports Association from Sierra Leone and Downside Up Charity in Russia.
The involvement of disabled people in football can also offer inspiration to children and young people with their role models affirming that they too belong in the sport.
Enjoying the spectacle
The FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup are for everyone. Together with competition organisers, FIFA strives to ensure that there are no barriers to fans enjoying the spectacle of the ultimate competitions in men’s and women’s football.
For the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, FIFA and the French local organising committee worked closely with the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) to develop best-practice stadium accessibility solutions in three main areas: a specialised accessibility ticket programme across three ticket categories that saw over 8,500 accessibility tickets available over the tournament; stadium infrastructure, including parking, entrances and seating; and specialised services, such as live audio-descriptive commentary for blind and partially-sighted fans, following its success at previous FIFA World Cups.
For fans watching from home, FIFA has provided matchday highlights for deaf and hard of hearing fans both at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 and at France 2019.
A barrier-free FIFA World Cup
Looking ahead to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, FIFA is working with Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) and other key stakeholders, including Qatari non-governmental organisations specialising in accessibility-related issues, to provide a barrier-free experience for all fans, whether in the stadiums or in public transportation, accommodation and fan zones. More generally, accessibility and inclusion has been enshrined as a key consideration in the bidding regulations for FIFA competitions, as seen most recently for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 and the FIFA World Cup 2026, and any member association with aspirations of hosting a competition must be sure to cater to all fans.
Again, disabled fans and fans with limited mobility will have barrier-free access in and around the stadiums, accessibility ticketing across four categories, and a suite of specialised disability services, including shuttles, wheelchair escort services, live audio-descriptive commentary for blind and partially sighted fans, sensory rooms for fans with sensory requirements as well as assistive hearing devices for the deaf and hard of hearing. At the ongoing FIFA Arab Cup™, audio descriptive commentators have the first time been made available in the Arabic language. Audio descriptive commentators were specially trained as part of a joint project between the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ LLC (Q22), the Translation and Interpreting Institute at Hamad Bin Khalifa University and the Centre for Access to Football in Europe.
Greater visibility for disabled fans
In 2019, the FIFA Fan Award, presented at The Best FIFA Football Awards in Milan, went to a remarkable Brazilian woman who was given recognition by fans the world over for narrating matches for her son who is blind and lives with autism.
After her story was told as part of FIFA’s Sheroes video series during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, Silvia Grecco said that she was overwhelmed by the support she and her son had received and that “there’s now a realisation that people with disabilities exist and that sport has the ability to change their lives.”