Ivan Ulanov, the Disability Access Officer (DAO) at Russian football club PFC CSKA Moscow, spoke to CAFE about the role he plays in improving access and inclusion for disabled people in football and beyond it.

Why is access and inclusion so important at your stadium?

It is important for any fan to have access to the stadium. In an ideal world, all fans would be able to use all the services that the stadium provides: watching the game, participating in the club’s programmes, and buying food and drink.

How can a DAO help to improve access and inclusion?

We must continually work on this. It is clear that there are architectural features which do not allow us to make all the stands and seats in the stadium fully accessible to all fans, but in time we can at least make improvements.

As an employee, I try to pass information on to the management that I have gathered from disabled fans visiting our stadium. I find out how they would like it to improve. In this way, we communicate with each other so that our stadium gets better every day.

What are your main duties as DAO?

I have been working as DAO for almost 2 years. My duties in this role are to collect information, understand how many disabled fans will come to the match, and work out ways to organise their visits. For away matches, we will inform the club at the pre-match meeting that disabled fans will be visiting and discuss how access will be organised.

Before home matches, we meet fans, and accompany them to the stands. We try to get feedback on any issues with accessing food and drinks or with the toilets, so that we can try to change these.

Which departments do you collaborate with?

We work with the department for fan relations, the commercial department, and the club’s management. Communication is well established across the club.

The club has many positive people working with it who understand that any fan should be able to participate in the live matchday experience. We do everything to make this happen.

Is it important to liaise with disabled fans?

Of course. I personally do not separate CSKA fans into disabled fans, non-disabled fans, adult fans, or young fans. They are all CSKA fans, and we are one big family.

The attitude towards anyone who comes to our stadium should be absolutely the same. After all, as employees, we should work for the fans, just as the players play for the fans.

What feedback have you received from fans?

We are often thanked for our work, but sometimes we are criticised too. People write to me to express their gratitude. However, over some issues such as not having enough accessible parking spaces, we have had complaints. We will definitely work on improving these things.

How does your club provide an inclusive experience for disabled fans?  

Our stadium is new, with two tribunes for disabled fans on the northern and southern stands. We know we still need to organise seating for disabled fans in the other stands. We have already discussed this with the management, and I am sure we will work on this.

We also have a programme for blind and partially sighted fans. We have a specially trained commentator that comments on the match for these fans, via headphones. The use of this audio-descriptive commentary has had positive feedback. Fans really like it, and this means that the numbers coming to each match grows.

According to the recommendations of CAFE, we try to make announcements over the speaker in the stadium and in the toilets, and have improved signage in the evacuation zones. Using different colours on signs has meant colour-blind fans can orientate themselves. We display information on the scoreboard for hard of hearing fans.

However, despite our efforts, there are many things we still need to improve. We must continue working.

What are the benefits of exchanging information and best practices with other DAOs?

This is very important! It is great that new stadiums are being built with the latest requirements in mind. It is clear that the infrastructure everywhere is not perfect, but we constantly communicate.

Other DAOs and I talk before matches to find out how things are going and learn how other clubs work. Some clubs have better access and inclusion than others, but in any case work is under way to move forward.

Russian football is moving in a positive direction. I think in two or three years we will have made a huge step forward.

What challenges have you faced as DAO?

Luckily for me, the management of our club understands the importance of all fans feeling comfortable in the stadium.

However there are problems, of course. There was a moment at one match when some disabled fans could not buy hot drinks near their section of the stand. It was wrong that they did not have catering facilities close to them. We tried to solve this issue, and stop it happening again in the future.

What do you like most about your role?

I like everything! I love my job. I am happy that I work for my favourite club, and it is nice to be able to help people. For me the greatest reward is when you see people smiling and grateful. It is nice to do something good. 

What initiatives have you taken part in and what do you have planned for the future?

We have cooperated with CAFE, and now have the help of the CSKA Disabled Supporters Association. I believe that in the future every club in Russia will have a Disabled Supporters Association (DSA). It is very important.

In the future, we will continue to work with CAFE. It is good for colleagues from other countries to share their experiences with each other.

What has been your most memorable experience from working as a DAO so far?

There was one occasion when this young wheelchair user came to watch a match with his parents. I was told he was a very passionate CSKA fan.

I met the family and led them to the stadium, and then after the match helped them leave. I could see in the boy’s eyes that he was very happy after this experience.

I will remember this moment for the rest of my life. It was clear how much happiness this boy had taken from this one match.

How can CAFE support you more in improving the match day experience of disabled fans?

Accessing more information is very important. We cannot do everything that is recommended, but we will at least try.

It is also very important to continue to be given opportunities to share experiences with other DAOs. We need to share best practices, so that others can use them too.