Israel events and conference on "Access and Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Sport," initiated by NIF and CAFE, to impact public awareness and decision makers.

The first-ever conference in Israel for "Access and Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Sport. 

The first-ever conference and events for "Access and Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Sport," which was held in Israel at the beginning of March, had major public and media impact. 

Initiated by New Israel Fund's (NIF) Let's Kick Racism out of Israeli Football campaign and CAFE – Centre for Access to Football in Europe, and organized in partnership with the Israel FA and disability NGO Access Israel, the events hugely raised public awareness to the rights of disabled people and their entitlement to enjoy sport like all citizens. The events have also begun a momentum designed to apply existing legislation mandating access for disabled people and regulatory changes by the country's sporting bodies.

CAFE was represented at the events in Israel by managing director Joyce Cook and special ambassador Danny Wallace, the former Man. Utd. striker who retired after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The event highlights were launched by a reception in the residence of the British Ambassador to Israel and included a Special Olympics competition in Tel Aviv for disabled children, the Conference on the topic at Bloomfield Stadium, and a special presentation to CAFE broadcast live on TV before Hapoel Tel Aviv's cup match against Hapoel Ashkelon.

Cook and Wallace, through their strength and inspiring determination, were able to effectively spread the message in Israel that the challenges facing disabled people were due to the barriers placed in front of them by society.

Media raises public awareness

Access Israel published a comprehensive report on the current situation at Israel's football and basketball stadiums on the eve of the conference which was published in Yediot Ahronot, Israel's most popular daily newspaper. 

The full page story on the back page of the newspaper's sports supplement entitled "A problem with access – Access Israel surveyed Israel's leading football and basketball stadia and found that almost all of them were not accessible to the disabled people made huge waves in Israel. 

It sparked a public debate on the topic and heads of local authorities and sport regulatory bodies have come under pressure to reconsider access arrangements at all sports stadia, while legislators and government officials will be pushed into applying laws mandating access to public places.

The Conference

NIF Israel CEO Rachel Liel described the conference as a 'breakthrough on the topic which would be used to leverage change." 

Israel FA CEO Ori Shilo said, "As a public body we intend taking responsibility and leading change. We will make this top of the public agenda and see that there is access for everybody."

The first panel discussion "What we want and what we have" included the presentation of the Access Israel report by its chairman Yuval Wagner.

MC Gal Gabai, a famous Israeli talk show host, said that there are 1.4 million disabled Israelis. MK Ilan Gilon promised that by 2018 there would be a "revolution in awareness and Israel would be accessible as the US." 

Achia Kamera, Ombudsman for equal rights for people with disabilities at the Justice Ministry, said that the legal amendment regarding sports facilities only needed to be signed by the relevant ministers in order to come into law.

Paralympics swimming gold medalist Keren Leibowitz said that, "When I come to a place that has no access for disabled people; I take it as a personal insult. It is symptomatic of society's belief that people in a wheelchair are not capable."

Esther Sivan, Head of Bizchut, which promotes equal rights for disabled people, said, "Sport is not a privilege, it is a right."

Maccabi Haifa General Manager Itamar Chizik pledged that his club's new 30,000 seat stadium, currently under construction, would be fully accessible for disabled people. 

Nir Partzlina, the outdoing director responsible for the country's sports facilities said that all new stadia would be accessible. He added, "The problem is not only that of the disabled. We do not have a sporting culture here and it is very difficult to get budgets for sports facilities."

The second panel discussion, "How we did it – review and analysis of the European experience," gave the stage to the UK visitors. Joyce Cook said, "Football makes people listen and we want to use that voice to bring about social change in attitudes not only in the stadia but throughout society." She asserted, "As disabled people we are not impaired, we are excluded."

Danny Wallace said, "The visit to Israel has been really encouraging. The people have been friendly and brilliant and we hope our experiences will be able to help them in the future."

Media Coverage

The conference was attended by many representatives of the Israeli media. Here are translations of excerpts of just a few examples of the dozens of articles covering the event.

One Sports Website: Sahar, Shechter and Danny Wallace at the Special Olympics: The Hapoel Tel Aviv strikers and former Man. Utd. player Danny Wallace who suffers from multiple sclerosis worked together with special children.

Maariv: Israel's basketball and football stadia are not accessible to the disabled. This is what a survey by Access Israel found.

Sports TV Channel: The disabled have no access to Premier League football and basketball: A special event today at Bloomfield on accessibility presented disturbing findings for people with disabilities.

Army Radio: Facilities are not accessible for the disabled; it's woeful but can be changed.

Looking to the Future

NIF and CAFE will build on the opportunity created by the conference in raising public awareness on the lack of accessibility to sporting facilities. NIF will consult and continue to empower organizations like Access Israel and Bizchut who are engaged in advancing the rights of disabled people. In particular follow-up pressure will be placed on the sports authorities, local authorities and government ministries to ensure that pledges made during the week of the CAFE visit and at the conference are kept.

In moving forward, cooperation between all stakeholders will be paramount. It is going to take a positive commitment from all involved. NIF, CAFE, Access Israel and Bitzchut and their partners aim to work in a supportive framework with the sporting bodies and their clubs to ensure that good practice is shared and implemented throughout Israel.

A version of this article is also available in Polish.

Published 10/03/2011