The Football Association has promised to increase the number of people playing disability football in England by 50% in the three years it announced its first plans to support the sport.
Currently 4.5% of people with disabilities play football, with less than 5.9% playing golf. The FA’s Football Your Way plan aims to create 2,800 new opportunities to engage in the sport – from more provision in schools to a new “recreational football offer” for adults. It also has broader ambitions to change the culture around football and disability.
The FA’s Director of Women’s Football, Baroness Sue Campbell, developed the plan with Adeline John, the Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Campbell says it represents an organization that is “looking at change”.
“There has been a lot of good work in the past but pioneers have a lot on their backs,” she said. “As a football association this is the first time that we have a coordinated plan that covers all our divisions. It’s about focusing our energy on getting more disabled people to play our games, to enjoy our sport, and to stay in our sport. “
Campbell said her plan was born out of the recognition that not enough work had been done on disability inclusion, but also that the quality of work could be improved. “It reminded me a lot of where the women’s game was five or six years ago,” she said.
The FA intends to expand the path for players looking to rise to the top and will create a women’s national team for blind players and those with cerebral palsy. A target of 1,000 new handicap football coaches has also been set, with existing players to be fast-tracked into roles. The FA aims to increase the percentage of people with disabilities on the payroll from 3.3% to 10%.
People with disabilities are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people, statistics more affected by the pandemic. Campbell says creating information and confidence are the most important factors to make the plan work, but football has the potential to bring about change in society more broadly.
“Information is important, but my experience is that at an early stage it’s all about confidence,” Campbell said. “So we want to say that it is not all about heavy competition. If you just want to come and play for fun then we are going to create opportunities for you where you [don’t] Feel that you are being measured or you may get hurt. It may sound overprotective but I think the reality is that we have to enjoy getting people to play again and be active again.
“I fully believe that football is a powerful way of conveying a message to society. If we can demonstrate our commitment and really make a difference in people’s lives, perhaps we will be able to recognize that for other people in society. To become a beacon that we should and can do more.”