Powerchair football has made great strides forward as a sport and vehicle for social inclusion, thanks to the work of the European Powerchair Football Association, a UEFA partner.
As part of its Football for All Abilities portfolio, UEFA has set up partnerships with a group of organisations, with the aim of fostering the use of football as a tool for broadening the inclusion of players of all abilities, in addition to marginalised or excluded groups.
The programme has enabled each participating organisation to develop long-term activities and set positive targets and objectives. Meanwhile, the organisations themselves have been instrumental in helping people fulfil sporting dreams. The European Powerchair Football Association (EPFA) is one of six such entities carrying out splendid work in its specific sector.
Powerchair Football is a team sport played in a power wheelchair that respects the same rules as football. The sport is played on an indoor basketball court with a specific floor marking, and is adapted to the play of football through a footguard that allows the player to control and hit the ball. In general, the footguard has two control bars with a shooting bar in the middle. It is positioned no lower than 5cm from the floor and no higher than 45cm. Protection must be added to the wheelchair, to prevent rolling up on the ball as well as to keep wheels from getting caught up and/or trapping up the ball.
The official ball is spherical, with a smooth surface of 33cm diameter. A match consists of two 20-minute periods, and the maximum speed during a match is 10km/h. The object of the game, as in football, is to score more goals than the opposition, through two posts of 1.2m height.
"Powerchair football started in France," says EPFA president Nicholas Dubes. "The game developed because there wasn't another sport accessible to people who used electric wheelchairs. We saw that the game was being played in various forms worldwide, so an international structure came together. We now have an international federation FIPFA, continental bodies and competitions." Two Powerchair Football World Cups have taken place – in Tokyo (2007) and in Paris (2011), and the next one is scheduled for Rio de Janeiro in 2015.
As FIPFA's European confederation, the EPFA is making excellent progress. "We currently have 14 member countries," says Dubes. "There are national championships in the 'advanced' countries. We would like to reach 25 members in the next few years.
"The best club sides take part in a Champions' Cup competition every couple of years, and we are staging the inaugural Nations' Cup, featuring six national teams, in Limerick, Republic of Ireland, in July."
UEFA's assistance to the EPFA is crucial. "There is great quality in our contacts with UEFA," says Dubes. "The support is decisive, it gives us credibility and recognition. We are very grateful, as it is helping us put long-term development plans in place. Today, the simple fact that we are associated with UEFA changes everything. It is also fabulous recognition for the work that is being done."
In partnership, UEFA and the EPFA also promote social inclusion. "We're a family," continues Dubes. "Powerchair football has permitted many young handicapped people to practise a sporting discipline and meet other people. When they play powerchair football, they completely forget their disabilities.
"I've undertaken a lot of work over the years," Dubes reflects, "and today, I'm absolutely delighted to see that we have a discipline that is credible. The enthusiasm of many countries is opening perspectives for the future. Europe is by far the most developed continent, but I think we're just at the start. We have a lot of people who are working very hard around us, and we're all optimistic that our sport will continue to progress in the future."
UEFA is gratified that its assistance and support, in tandem with the EPFA's diligent work, is a source of such sporting pleasure.