- The FIGC has launched a Division for Paralympic and Experimental Football
- It is the world’s first football federation to do so
- FIGC Secretary General chats to FIFA.com about its implementation
Why shouldn’t people with disabilities be able to play football as freely as others?
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC), led by President Gabriele Gravina, admirably elected to tackle the obstacles they face. Therefore, in conjunction with the Italian Paralympic Committee (CIP), they recently became the first national football association to launch a Division for Paralympic and Experimental Football.
“We identified that people with disabilities didn’t have the same opportunities to play football as freely,” FIGC Secretary General Marco Brunelli told FIFA.com. “All boys and girls should be able to fulfil their desire of playing football in a structured and organised environment.
“In 2016, in collaboration with the Lega Serie A and the Centro Sportivo Italiano, an organisation that makes ‘Sport for all’ one of its inspiring principles, we launched the first experimental project called ‘Fourth Category’. It was aimed at players with cognitive disabilities, and had the direct involvement of many professional and amateur clubs.
“We started with nine pioneer teams, coupled with nine professional clubs that guaranteed them sporting support and identity, giving great visibility to the project. It involved 120 athletes.
“Now we boast 116 sports clubs and almost 3,000 members. We had the first Coppa Italia-style tournament and the first game broadcast live on television with commentary.
“This rapid and extraordinary evolution convinced us to give a definitive structure to the world of disability-related football, through the newly-formed Division for Paralympic and Experimental Football.
“The Italian Paralympic Committee – for its history, experience, competence and capillary activity carried out for many years in football – immediately represented the natural interlocutor to give substance to this process. Many thanks to the President of the CIP, Luca Pancalli, for believing in us. Now, anyone who wants to play football, without exception, can really do it.
“The reaction has been beyond positive. From institutions inside and outside of sport and the public, but above all from the people who now have greater opportunity to play football and their families, which of course is what pleases us the most and fills us with satisfaction.”
Former footballers, clubs and organisations have all backed the initiative.
“Last season we organised a championship presentation day,” Brunelli explained. “Javier Zanetti, Franco Baresi and Gianluca Pessotto – three icons of Italian football – represented Inter Milan, Milan and Juventus. In fact, each club – from Serie A to Serie C – had a footballer-ambassador.
“It was very engaging. Furthermore, this new frontier of Italian football has managed to unite all the components of our family and there is great attention being shown from the highest executives of the clubs. Together we are sending a powerful message.”
That message is spreading beyond Italian borders.
“Last June we hosted our Spanish friends from Nastic de Tarragona to familiarise ourselves with their ‘Liga Genuine’ project (a competition organised for people with intellectual disabilities),” Brunelli said. “Teams from Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain also came.
“We recently received a great testimony of esteem from the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), asking to get together to lay the foundations for a project similar to ours. This filled us with pride, underlined the work we are doing to make football open to everybody.
“We look forward to sharing our project with other federations and dream of perhaps creating a big international championship together for people with disabilities. It would bring important cultural growth. It would be a real football revolution.”