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  • Accessible stadia at FC Bate Borisov in Belarus, photo courtesy of FC Bate

By Dr Paul Kitchin

In striving for best practice organisations require benchmarks to improve their performance. Many National Associations and Clubs offer Football for All programmes and spectator access but how do we determine who provides best practice? Our research sought to gather and highlight best practices in the engagement of disabled people* across UEFA’s footballing family. We studied engagement not merely participation. As such we were looking for a more complete idea of involvement through football. We wanted to find the best playing opportunities, we wanted to see who provided the best spectating opportunities, and to explore the opportunities for disabled people to work in football. This broader understanding of engagement was the focus of our research.

How was engagement measured?

To understand the complexity of engagement it was important to have input from as many organisations as possible. We created a survey that included some follow up interviews with those who believed they demonstrated best practice. The survey was designed to measure the organisation’s perspective on the importance and performance of engagement. We also received information on each organisation’s financial, facilities, brand and human resources and competences. This was important as it allowed us to see differences between large and small associations and clubs. In total, we received responses from 39 National Associations and over 300 licensed clubs (those in Europe’s top divisions), and over 30 of these organisations spoke to us at length.

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  • The Sensory Room at Watford FC. Photo courtesy of Watford Football Club

What is working well?

Across Europe, from Astana, to Reykjavik there are many opportunities for disabled people to play and watch football. We found there is a significant increase in integrated Football for All Abilities operating across Europe. These opportunities allow for disabled and non-disabled people to play the game together providing shared experiences and greater awareness of each other’s abilities. In our report and case study book we reported on clubs like FC Utrecht, and FC Bate who ensure the disabled fans’ match day experience is as good or better than any spectator at the game.

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  • Blind football in Germany – photo courtesy of Sepp Herberger Foundation

Some opportunities remain.

Despite the work done by some organisations, more work needs to be done. Involving disabled people in the behind the scenes operations within football is a great opportunity for the football family and will make the football family even more inclusive.

How can we do to build upon this work?

Many organisations felt that even though we have a baseline of engagement activities across Europe more research is required. We are seeking to offer the survey again in late 2017 – this will encourage more organisations to take part and allow those that did take part to see of this increased awareness on engagement is benefitting their organisations.

We will be writing to all those organisations who took part in the research but on behalf of the research team I would like to thank them, the Irish Football Association, UEFA and CAFE for their assistance in our work.

*In this article we use the term disabled people and not people with disabilities. This is recommended by CAFE as per the UEFA & CAFE Good Practice Guide to Creating an Accessible Stadium & Match-day experience.

The Engagement of Disabled People in European Football: Best Practice Cases can be found here.

Dr Paul Kitchin works at Ulster University in Northern Ireland, his area of research is sport management and social inclusion. He was supported in this research study by colleague Stephen Bloomer.