FA aims to be ‘beacon for society’ as it reveals first disability football plan
- Pledge to increase participation by 50% in three years
- Elite pathway to be expanded plus emphasis on playing for fun
The Football Association has pledged to increase the number of people playing disability football in England by 50% in three years, as it announced its first plan to support the game.
Currently 4.5% of people with disabilities play football, fewer than the 5.9% who play golf. The FA’s Football Your Way plan intends to create 2,800 new opportunities to engage in the game – from greater provision at 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, has developed the plan, alongside the director of equality, diversity and inclusion, Edleen John. Campbell says it represents an organisation “looking to drive change”.
“There’s a lot of good work gone on in the past but very much on the back of pioneers,” she added. “This is the first time as a Football Association that we have had a coordinated plan which covers all of our divisions. It’s about focusing our energy on getting more disabled people to play our game to enjoy our game and to stay in our game.”
Campbell said he plan was born out of recognition that there had not been enough work on disability inclusion, but also that the quality of the work could be improved. “It reminded me very much of where the women’s game was five or six years ago,” she said.
The FA intends to expand the pathway for players looking to reach the top and will create women’s national teams for blind players and those with cerebral palsy. A target of 1,000 new disability football coaches has also been set, with current players set to be fast-tracked into the roles. The percentage of people with disabilities on the FA’s payroll is targeted to grow from 3.3% to 10%.
Disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people, figures further affected by the pandemic. Campbell says that information and instilling confidence are the most important factors in making the plan work but that football has an ability to drive change more broadly in society.
“Information is key, but my experience is that at starter level it’s about confidence,” Campbell said. “That’s why we want to say it isn’t all about heavy competition. If you just want to come and play for fun we’re going to create opportunities for you where you [don’t] feel you’re going to be measured or that you might be hurt. That might sound overprotective but I think the reality is we’ve got to get people back in playing and enjoying being active again.
“I passionately believe that football is a powerful way to get messages into society. If we can demonstrate our commitment and really make a difference to people’s lives, maybe we can be a beacon for other people in society to recognise that we should and could do more.”