The sterling work being undertaken to enable disabled football fans to attend and share in the atmosphere of matches will be evident at UEFA EURO 2012 thanks to the Respect Inclusion initiative and its corollary Football with No Limits project.
One significant event in the EURO co-host country Poland has already demonstrated how disabled fans are being fully involved in the joy of a football occasion – and how opposition supporters can show respect for each other.
About 230 disabled fans were among the 43,000 crowd for a recent Polish top-fight match between WKS Śląsk Wroclaw and Wisła Kraków at the Municipal Stadium Wroclaw, one of the eight stadiums that will host UEFA EURO 2012. The new Wroclaw stadium, officially opened in September, has 104 seats for wheelchair users and their companions as well as 80 parking places on the same ground level, accessible toilets and special catering places for disabled supporters.
The Śląsk-Wisła match, on 25 November and resulting in a 1-0 win for the visiting team from Krakow, highlighted the positive relationship between the two sets of fans – including the group of Wisła followers among the disabled supporters.
"We had guests from Krakow, including 30 disabled Wisła fans," said Paweł Parus, general director of the Polish Disabled Supporters Association (Klub Kibicow Niepelnosprawnych). "This included deaf people, wheelchair users and also people with learning disabilities. We had a fantastic time together – enjoyed dinner, saw the match, then had a party and networking event."
The idea of the Football with No Limits project – which falls under the Respect Inclusion banner, as part of the overall Respect campaign being organised by UEFA and its partner organisations ahead of UEFA EURO 2012 – is to help disabled people to participate more fully and enjoy this summer's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
UEFA is working with the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) to manage the three separate projects that comprise the Respect Inclusion initiative. The Football with No Limits project aims to provide access information to disabled fans and visitors by means of a tailor-made guide.
CAFE, funded by UEFA, is a Europe-wide charity established to achieve equal access to football. Using the special influence of the beautiful game, CAFE seeks to improve the lives of disabled people by promoting inclusivity and equality and by enabling more disabled supporters to enjoy a match as a problem-free experience.
"We hope this story will inspire other disabled supporters to set up their associations, or further develop and grow existing ones, to promote the message 'Total Football – Total Access' all over Europe," said CAFE of the excellent Polish event.
Respect Inclusion – Football with No Limits promises to be a most worthwhile project at the EURO.
Also under the umbrella of Respect Inclusion, the Showcase Games scheme is being run by Special Olympics in Poland and the National Sports Committee for Disabled People in Ukraine to give disabled people the opportunity to demonstrate their sports skills by competing in matches before each EURO quarter-final.
Moreover, funds for future inclusion programmes will be raised through Respect Inclusion's UEFA EURO 2012 Tournament charity project, encouraging football fans and other benefactors to donate money for upcoming projects. UEFA has already paved the way by committing to donate €3,000 for every goal scored during the tournament.
Within the Respect Inclusion initiative, volunteers will also visit places that will be frequently visited by supporters during the finals to check their accessibility from the perspective of disabled people, including those who are wheelchair users or have limited mobility, are hard of hearing and deaf, partially sighted and blind, and have learning disabilities.
Because football embraces diversity in all its forms, CAFE is using this special influence to increase disability awareness and the importance of good access throughout the UEFA region. CAFE is working closely with disabled fans across Europe, including Poland and Ukraine, to make sure that more disabled people can enjoy live football in the future.
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