CAFE has spoken to Ingo Mach about his role as the Austria National Team DAO and what this position involves. 

Why did the Austrian Football Federation create the position of a National Team DAO? 

UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland was the trigger for big changes within the Austrian FA. Due to an increased demand for tickets and greater numbers of fans coming to games, especially many Austrian fans, the Austrian FA installed the position of an SLO for the first time in 2009.

From the beginning, all those involved were aware that good communication with fans is very important. Since then, there has been very regular and positive communication between fans and the Austrian FA. The department dealing with fans, security and stadia started with only one employee in 2009, but it now has three. 

The Austrian FA is committed to the values of tolerance, integration and solidarity. In this context the Austrian FA, as the biggest sports association in Austria, acts on its social responsibility and has a sustainable, active position. The Austrian FA puts a special focus on the integration of all people in Austria, with a strong inclusion policy.

The Austrian FA has a lot of experience working in collaboration with disabled people. During preparations for the UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, it developed a strong partnership with Football for All (FFA - which undertakes actions focused on supporting disabled people. In 2007, FFA created a special website for disabled football fans.

During the UEFA EURO 2008, more than 1000 disabled fans could follow the matches live at the stadiums. There was a close cooperation between UEFA and FFA, which led to the provision of great accessible services for disabled people. UEFA has explicitly declared that it is in accordance with the wishes of all Associations that all fans have the best conditions when attending a football game.

The main focus of FFA is on establishing a barrier-free football experience for all fans in Austria. This includes a widespread service for all stadium visitors, adequate wheelchair user seats with quality sightlines, and an audio descriptive commentary service for blind and partially sighted fans.

What are your tasks as a DAO?

Football for All cares about all disabled fans (having an official Disabled ID card), with a particular focus on wheelchair users, and partially sighted and blind fans.

My task as a DAO is to facilitate coordination and cooperation between Football for All and the Austrian FA. If problems occur, it is my task to find solutions. In my function as a SLO and DAO, I am responsible for our fan club “Wildcats with Handicaps“. This fan club sees fans sit directly in the fan stand, and not in a special area for wheelchair users or blind and partially sighted fans.

Which services do you offer for disabled fans?

Apart from free tickets for blind and partially sighted people and perfectly equipped wheelchair user spaces, there are also reduced ticket prices for additional companions. The Austrian Men’s and Women’s Senior National Teams only play their matches in barrier-free stadiums in Austria, in order to offer the opportunity to all disabled fans to follow the team. Additionally, sufficient accessible parking spaces at every stadium is a mandatory requirement.

Tickets for wheelchair users are available via the Austrian FA’s ticket platform. Tickets for disabled fans are free. Every wheelchair user has the opportunity to bring a companion. His or her companion has the opportunity to buy a half-price ticket.

All stadia used by the Austrian national team are barrier-free, fully accessible and equipped. There are always enough parking spaces reserved for disabled people.

Tickets for partially sighted and blind fans are available via the ticket platform of FFA.

Since the UEFA EURO 2008, the Austrian FA offers a great audio-descriptive commentary service for partially sighted and blind fans free of charge for every home game of the Men’s National Team (and some of the Women’s Senior National Team). Following international standards, professional radio moderators provide audio-descriptive commentary (ADC). This live commentary is broadcasted via radio frequency and can be received via headphones, portable radio sets or smart phones. Partially sighted and blind fans can obtain the headphones before the game and have to return them after the game. The distribution of these headphones is carried out through Football for All (FFA).

Since 2010 the Austrian Bundesliga (Austrian Premier League) offers the same service. The audio-descriptive commentary service from the Austrian Bundesliga is called “Bundesliga on ear“, and there are different frequencies at every stadium. For example:

- Salzburg Arena: 87,5 MHz

- Graz Arena: 90,5 MHz

- Rapid Arena: 99,2 MHz

- Austria Arena: 99,2 MHz

What role does the National Disabled Supporters Association "Wildcats with Handicaps" play?

Since 2019, the Austrian national team has 45 official fan clubs. The Austrian FA also focuses on fans who are ignored by other associations or clubs. The main focus is on inclusion of all people in the Austrian football family.

In cooperation with two disabled fans, the Austrian FA founded a fan club specifically for disabled people. In 2017 these fans brought the fan club to life, and the “Wildcats with Handicaps“ became an official fan club of the Austrian national team. This fan club offers every disabled fan the opportunity to experience a game sat as part of the fan stand behind the goal, and not on separated wheelchair user seats or separate seats for partially sighted and blind fans in other areas of the stadia. This allows disabled fans to watch the games with their friends and family.

As an independent fan club, “Wildcats with Handicaps” is financed by its members. Actions are also planned independently.

At the beginning, the fan club was viewed with scepticism because of security reasons. In an emergency a secure evacuation could not be granted. However, the Austrian FA seeks to make sure that wheelchair users and blind and partially sighted fans are included into all safety and emergency evacuation procedures. After many meetings with security departments and authorities, this problem was solved. Every companion of a “Wildcats with Handicaps“ member is obliged to help in case of emergency or evacuation. The seats of the fan club are directly located next to the nearest emergency exit and all security personnel are trained in how to help disabled fans.

How is the relationship between disabled fans and the Federation? What are current issues? What works well? Any particular tips and tricks?

Football for All has said: “We would like to thank the Austrian FA for outstanding cooperation and exemplary service, perfectly implemented for disabled fans!“

At the moment there are no problems. The only complaints are from companions who would like to have free tickets for themselves. We receive a lot of praise from disabled fans for our outstanding service. As mentioned previously, there are always enough parking spaces for disabled fans, which leads to a high satisfaction among the fans.

Top tips when meeting disabled fans are to be open-minded, listen to their problems and try to find solutions.

How does the ticketing work? Any particular considerations? What are the wishes of disabled fans towards the Federation?

Tickets are available on the websites of Football for All and the Austrian FA for wheelchair users. The fan club “Wildcats with Handicaps” orders its tickets like every other fan club, directly from the SLO of the Austrian FA. After receiving the tickets every fanclub has to pay the orders by invoice. As there are always enough accessible facilities available, disabled fans currently have no wishes for the Austrian FA.

How do you organise travel to away games? What are the costs?

Travel is always organised by our own travel agency. This travel agency takes care of sponsors, employees, team, players, staff, delegations and so on. The fan clubs travel independently and organise their journeys by themselves. We also offer travel offers to fans, but there are cheaper offers available on the internet. There are always 20-30 people travelling with the team including trainer, physio, organisation, travel agency, etc.

The exact costs of traveling to an away game for disabled fans are not known to the FA.

How has the number of disabled fans attending National Games developed in the past years?

During the last two years the number of disabled fans has doubled. Before 2017, an estimated 50 disabled fans attended the games of the Austrian national team. In 2019 there are already more than 100 disabled fans attending matches at the stadium. Numbers of other disabled fans outside the accessible seating areas or the fan club are not known, but it is possible that there are some of them also at the stadium.

How do you cooperate with safety & security staff?

As mentioned previously, cooperation with the security staff works really well. All security staff are trained to help disabled fans.

Cooperation with disabled fans for away matches

The cooperation with other FAs is really good. There have never been any problems in the last two years.

What does the FA do to gain new (disabled) fans?

The Austrian FA established the concept of “Social Football“ in 2018. With this, the Austrian FA puts its focus on inclusion and invites all people to join the Austrian football family. With the creation of the Social Football Award, projects get rewarded for their social engagement. In 2018 more than 700,000 people were reached via media.

Moreover, the Austrian FA has established the club “ÖFB Insider“ for all fans (disabled and non-disabled). For a yearly payment of 35 EUR, the club has the following advantages:

  • Ticket guarantee for all home games of the Austrian national team
  • 10% reduction for 4 tickets at a maximum for every home game
  • 10% reduction for purchases at the official ÖFB fan shop
  • ÖFB Corner – the official journal of the ÖFB – free of charge four times a year
  • Exclusive “ÖFB Insider“ newsletter
  • Exclusive participation at “ÖFB Insider“ prize games
  • Personalized member card
  • Welcome-package
  • Stadium tours, meet and greets, and exclusive attendance of the Austrian national team trainings.