Disability awareness day at UEFA highlights skills
UEFA's first disability awareness day has taken place in Nyon to help raise UEFA employee understanding about the skills of disabled people, both on and off the pitch.
The day featured a blind football masterclass, a blind football match between FC Girondins de Bordeaux and MTV Stuttgart and a panel discussion about inclusivity in the workplace. It was organised under the umbrella of the UEFA Captains of Change initiative, which aims to bring more diversity to the administration of European football.
"Football is diverse in many ways on the field, but it still has to make strides in order to become fully inclusive and diverse, especially in administration and management," said Pedro Pinto, UEFA Chief of Press. "Days like these are crucial as it gives UEFA employees the opportunity to learn from people with different abilities and skills."
UEFA staff were invited to try blind football in the company of the best blind players in Europe and practiced dribbling, passing and a penalty shoot-out. This was followed by a demonstration match between Stuttgart, the most successful blind football team in Germany, and Bordeaux, 11-time winners of the French Cécifoot Championship who have French silver medallists from the London 2012 Paralympic Games in their ranks.
Stuttgart captain Mulgheta Russom said: "Matches like today are important to get national and international recognition of our sport, blind football. UEFA can help getting minority groups acknowledged, and in the case of blind football, gain the respect that it deserves, as it takes a lot of skills, time and effort for the players to compete at this level, and for us who come back to football after a severe injury."
A distinguished panel of guest speakers also gathered at UEFA headquarters to discuss human resources issues, with a view to making the recruitment process more accessible to disabled people.
Joyce Cook, from the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE); Lord Chris Holmes, Britain's most successful Paralympian swimmer and organiser of the 2012 Paralympic Games; and Cyril Gallay, Infrastructure Manager at UEFA, all shared their experiences and knowledge on the topic of skills and challenges, and interacted with the participants in an open discussion.
Joyce said, "I was delighted to take part in UEFA's disability awareness day, and we thank them for their continued efforts in promoting good access and inclusion. Disabled people have an important role to play in football, whether in the stands, on the pitch or in employment. There are so many disabled people around Europe with invaluable experiences to share, and that is why it is so vital to continue to raise awareness".
David Clarke, who represented Great Britain and England's blind football team 144 times, scoring 128 goals, was also on the panel. He spoke about making the step from athlete to the office. He is now a successful banker and the chair of the British Paralympic Association's Athlete Commission.
He said: "Diversity is the world we live in. Diversity isn't something we see, it is what we've got. Therefore, it makes complete sense that talent comes from that diverse pool. If we ignore that talent, we are not allowing it to grow and succeed in a way that it could. So whether it is on the pitch or whether it is in the boardroom, it is essential to draw our talent from the entire pool of talent."