CAFE has presented its first ever Access and Inclusion Champions awards at our third International CAFE Conference in Bilbao.

The Conference, which took place at Athletic Club's Estadio San Mames in Bilbao, brought over 200 stakeholders together to celebrate wider access and inclusion in the world's most popular sport.

Joined on stage by Athletic Club legend Carlos Gurpegui and iconic Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids, who both helped to give the awards to the winners, the CAFE team presented awards in four different categories.

The first award of the night was the National Association Initiative Award. CAFE Eastern European Development Officer, Esther Jones Russell, presented this award to the Russian Football Union (RFU) in recognition of their commitment to Total Football #TotalAccess.

Esther said, "The Russian Football Union has overseen the largest CAFE Week of Action celebration in a single country to date, hosted Disability Access Officer and Disability Inclusion and Etiquette training seminars and are continuing the legacy of the most accessible FIFA World Cup to date by commissioning a series of stadium access appraisals in the coming months".

Elena Popova, the newly-appointed Disability Access Officer for the Russian Football Union, accepted the award on behalf of the RFU.

RFU Acting President Alexander Alaev later said, "Accessible football for all citizens is one of our priorities. During and before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, we managed to make significant progress both in terms of infrastructure and improving the culture of working with disabled people. Now it is crucial to spread the experience gained throughout the country".

The second award was the Collaboration Award. This award was designed to celebrate occasions where stakeholders have come together in the name of improved access and inclusion.

Presenting the award to Celtic FC and the Celtic Disabled Supporters Association (CDSA), CAFE Fans Liaison, Access and Administration Officer Amy Wilson said, "The winners of the collaboration award are a club and disabled fans group who worked together to create a more inclusive matchday experience for all. Together they have overseen the installation of a Changing Places toilet at the stadium, the creation of new easy access seats and inclusive matchday services including the club’s First Team Manager recording his programme notes in an audio format for partially sighted and blind fans".

The award was accepted by Celtic FC Disability Access Officer, Alexis Dobbin, and CDSA representatives Kevin Mackin and Peter Ritchie.

Celtic FC Chief Executive Peter Lawwell told, "We are delighted to accept this prestigious award from CAFE which demonstrates our real commitment to promoting access for all in football. Celtic is for everyone and we have worked hard to ensure that we understand the different needs of our supporters who face various forms of disability. “We dedicate this award to all our disabled supporters who give such commitment to the club and we can assure these fans that we will continue to work with them to deliver a positive and welcoming experience for all at Celtic Park".

Peter Joyce, Chairman of the CDSA, added, "The CDSA are also delighted to be recognised by CAFE with this award for our work with Celtic. Considering the number of clubs in Europe, it is an honour to be chosen for this above others. “We are working closer with Celtic than we have ever been and this is bringing added benefits for our members. We will continue to develop initiatives to improve facilities and promote inclusion at Celtic Park and elsewhere".

The Club Initiative Award was next to be presented, and CAFE Project Manager Jochen Kemmer introduced "a club that has consistently carried out new and innovative activities to promote wider access and inclusion".

In presenting the award to GNK Dinamo Zagreb, Jochen explained, "This club has made a clear commitment to improved inclusion for all disabled people, and share a genuine belief in our mantra of Total Football Total Access. They have led the way with a number of projects leading to much greater awareness, taking a pan-disability approach to access and inclusion. They also hosted a high-profile CAFE Week of Action initiative with local learning disabled fans and first team players, and also became the first club in their country to provide audio-descriptive commentary".

The award was accepted by GNK Dinamo Zagreb Disability Access Officer, Iva Cigrovskij. Speaking to, Iva said, "People sometimes ask me: 'Why are you working so hard for just a few fans?'. That's hard to hear, and makes me want to work harder, because it is so important that we work together for disabled people to enjoy a live match".

The final award of the night was the CAFE Special Recognition Award. Hosting the award ceremony, CAFE Media and Communications Manager Michael Rice said, "This award is to be presented to the person, group or organisation that has surpassed all reasonable expectations to promote wider access and inclusion. Everyone here tonight is an access and inclusion champion, and we ask you to continue to work hard towards a game that is accessible, inclusive and welcoming for all. We are so motivated by the winner of this award, and we hope that you will be too".

CAFE Managing Director Joanna Deagle continued, "This person has been absolutely pivotal to our works in recent times, and their impact has been huge. This person has supported so many of our works, including taking part in stadium access appraisals, helping with the creation of disabled supporters associations and presenting on CAFE’s behalf at a number of events. Quite simply, many of the great success stories from across Russia just would not have been possible without her".

The inaugural winner of the CAFE Special Recognition Award was Elena Popova.

Elena told, "In an ideal world, we should not have to make a distinction between disabled fans and non-disabled football fans, and we must create inclusive stadium facilities for disabled fans."We should provide facilities and services that make it possible for all fans to go to the matches and enjoy football. CAFE's work is crucial for this because it provides useful information that we cannot find anywhere else".

The CAFE team is proud to be working closely with each of our award winners, and with many more of the access and inclusion champions who attended the Conference in Bilbao.

From the entire CAFE team, a huge congratulations to each of our winners!

National Association Initiative Award winner - Russian Football Union

Collaboration Award winners - Celtic FC and Celtic Disabled Supporters Association

Club Initiative Award winner - GNK Dinamo Zagreb

CAFE Special Recognition Award winner - Elena Popova

Published 26/11/2018