Ahead of International Women's Day 2024, CAFE spoke with women who are passionate about access and inclusion for disabled people.

Whether disabled fans themselves, or working to remove barriers affecting disabled people in sport, we sought a wide range of experiences and opinions to shine a spotlight on the topic.

Marion Helm is a VfB Stuttgart supporter, and the founder and Chairwoman of the Neckarstadiongang13 fan group. The group's articles of association make specific reference to committing to wider inclusion for disabled people.

I have been a football fan since I was seven years old. Now, I am 53 and I still visit each match of my team, VfB Stuttgart, in the MHP Arena. Sometimes I also go to away matches of Stuttgart in other stadiums.

In former times I founded a VfB Stuttgart fan club, but it didn't work out as we had hoped, so I created a new group with friends last year. I am now the Chairwoman of Neckarstadiongang13, and we are proud to support other disabled fans at the club.

My father is a very big football fan, so my sister, my brother and myself grew up with football. Now, my passion is football. I met my friends because of football, and it makes me happy.

In 1977 when I visited my first football match, there were almost only boys and men in the stadium. It was said back then that girls and women don’t have an idea about football. It was quite difficult to try to explain that football isn’t only a sport for men.

Over time more and more girls and women got interested in football. Today you can find a lot of women in the stadiums watching football, and playing football is becoming more and more popular for women.

Women football isn’t as popular as men football yet, and some still look down at female spectators when they watch a match.

There still isn’t the same acceptance for women playing or watching football. There are still a lot of men who think women should stay at home instead of playing or watching football. In my group I feel as valued as my male counterparts because they know that I’m an expert when it comes to football. I love the game just as much as them.

I think my football team welcomes everybody the same. They also have fan clubs dedicated only for women, and a women's football team.

A lot of people still have a big problem with disabled people, especially when you can’t see that the person is disabled. Our community today can be very selfish. There is often no consideration for disabled persons. I think a lot of people have problems in how to speak and work with disabled people - they can’t put themselves in our situation. But at the same time, there are also a lot of people who help us when we need support.

I think disabled men are stronger in our community than disabled women. They face many of the same problems as we do, but maybe they are more self-confident.

I prefer when you have a dedicated area in the stadium for disabled people, for example an area for wheelchair users, where they have no barriers to get in and out. And areas for other disabled people like blind people or people with limited mobility, like myself. In our stadium we have a family block, where a lot of children are seated. Disabled fans like me also sit in this block but alongside non-disabled people too. So, when people stand up in this area for longer periods of time, a lot of disabled people and the children can’t see anything. That is unfair and it isn’t easy to tell them to sit down because they are often selfish and shout at us. We are now trying to find a solution with the club.

People who work in the stadiums also need to be sensitised for disabled people and understand how to support us. For example, I sometimes have to wait in a very long queue to get into the stadium and then I also have to go up stairs. The security doesn’t really know how to help us. We have to show people how to communicate with disabled people instead of forgetting them.

My advice for any woman who wants to become involved in football is clear - try to speak with people who are responsible in their clubs. Show them how you feel and ask them what they can do to get you involved in football.

Celebrating International Women's Day 2024

Joana Cal appointed to CAFE Board of Trustees

"When I started going to watch live football, it was very noticeable that disabled women did not go to matches very often"

"Female ambassadors and representation in the game really do make a difference, especially for young women"

"I realised later that the pressure was actually, to some extent, double. Not only am I a woman, but I am also a disabled woman"

"The truth is that football has always been a man's world, but little by little women are making inroads and taking on roles that were not so common in the past"

"If it means that they have to make changes for you to be welcomed, then that can only benefit the game"

"I have always felt valued as a person, but the work that we women do needs to be defended and fought for much more than that of men"

Published 8/3/2024