CAFE is pleased to join with partners and stakeholders to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day 2024, and highlight the importance of removing the barriers faced by sports fans with Down Syndrome.

Down Syndrome is a disorder caused by an extra chromosome 21 becoming present in all cells in the body, which causes the characteristics associated with Down Syndrome. As of 2015, it was estimated that 419,000 people were living with Down Syndrome in Europe.

According to Down Syndrome Development, some of the conditions that people with Down Syndrome can have include hearing and vision issues, a higher risk of health problems, and difficulty with co-ordinating movements and limbs, among others.

Most damagingly, people with Down Syndrome can also face many attitudinal barriers and preconceptions about what they may or may not be able to do.

The theme of 2024’s World Down Syndrome Day is ‘End the Stereotypes’. Many people with Down Syndrome experience being judged, considered lesser, spoken down to or have people assume they cannot do things on their own. These attitudes can be incredibly harmful.

People with Down Syndrome may also face barriers in gaining the best level of education or healthcare they deserve, and can be barred from making their own decisions even when they are of sound mind to. This can cause upset and minimise their confidence, as well as only further perpetuate the stereotype of people with Down Syndrome all leading the same life.

Another area of difficulty can be communication across all aspects of life – in relationships, learning, and even with trusted family members. Due to Down Syndrome affecting facial features, many people recognise those who have Down Syndrome before they communicate with them, and that can impact how they engage and treat those people.

A large part of the social model of disability that we subscribe to and promote is encouraging and supporting independence and autonomy for all disabled people. While there should be accessible support and services in place for all disabled fans, including those with Down Syndrome, there should also be opportunities for independence when possible during matchdays. Part of this can also come from communication with stewards and staff, and measures in place for seating or services as part of the overall experience. 

As an example, it can be disempowering if a person with Down Syndrome asks a question only for the answer to be delivered to their companion.

At CAFE, we are committed to a game that is accessible, inclusive and welcoming for all. Days such as World Down Syndrome Day are an important opportunity to 'end the stereotypes', and we are glad to offer our support.

In 2019, we shared the story of Ella Markham - a young Tottenham Hotspur fan with Down Syndrome - who had been subjected to abuse from online trolls. Her hero, England captain Harry Kane, shown his gratitude for Ella's support and encouraged her not to give the trolls the attention they craved, telling her to “Keep dancing, keep doing what you are doing”.

If your stadium, club, league or national association is interested in finding out more about how to effectively communicate with differently disabled fans, please email at [email protected] regarding our industry-leading disability, inclusion and etiquette training package.

Published 21/3/2024