As we approach the end of the year, we look back over 2021 and some of our biggest news stories from the past twelve months.

As the world has continued to adjust to the ongoing pandemic restrictions and unique challenges, we have been delighted that disabled sports fans across the globe have been able to return to stadiums in some form. Whilst there is still a long way to go until we are all back to pre-pandemic levels, 2021 has seen many disabled fans able to retake their rightful places inside stadiums alongside their fellow supporters.

The pandemic is still not over though, and we know that not everyone can yet return to live sports events in an accessible, inclusive and safe way. We hope that the picture looks much clearer when we look back over next year, which will close with the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

The year kicked off with a first virtual meeting of our Erasmus+ project partners, working together on our ‘Good Governance Needs Access and Inclusion’ project.

CAFE was joined by representatives of national associations and leagues in Belgium (KBVB and Pro League), France (FFF and LFP) and Germany (DFB and DFL), as well national disabled supporters associations from each country (Inter, FFSFH and BBAG respectively) and partner University Universidade Europeia - Portugal (ENSILIS).

The group continues to work together to deliver the project, and we are excited to share more news in the new year.

Erasmus+ is the EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. The programme is managed by the European Commission, and offers funding for international actions to promote inclusive opportunities.

Back in February, CAFE launched a survey to understand more about the thoughts and experiences of disabled fans in returning to live matches. Available in six languages, the survey aimed to find out about both how disabled fans had found their returns and also to understand the factors and barriers that have prevented disabled fans from going back to stadiums.

The findings of this research have helped CAFE to support UEFA, national associations, and football clubs in ensuring that disabled fans are considered at all stages during the planning for a return of spectators, and that services implemented are accessible; ensuring a welcoming, inclusive and safe return for all disabled fans.

The ninth annual CAFE Week of Action took place between 6-14 March, with activities held in 32 different countries. Over 75 clubs joined the campaign, with national associations, leagues, NGOs, disabled fans and disabled supporters associations joining us to celebrate #TotalAccess.

We were delighted to promote some highly unique activities during this year's campaign, including in Spain where Athletic Club lit the entire stadium exterior in CAFE Week of Action branding. Sevilla also published a video of their club anthem being performed on the pitch, with accompanying sign language interpretation and light show.

The CAFE Week of Action also saw the creation of the first DSA in Ireland, at Bohemians, and the first live football audio-descriptive commentary in Hong Kong.

Widespread activities again took place across Russia, with tremendous support from the Football Union of Russia, DSAs, and clubs across the top three divisions.

Through the CAFE Week of Action small grants programme, CAFE was able to support 11 disabled supporters associations in holding activities. These included some highly diverse celebrations, from a workshop to design a series of stickers for disabled fans, to a DSA members' live cook-along!

The tenth CAFE Week of Action will take place between 12-20 March 2022, and you can find out more about how you can get involved by downloading the Week of Action information pack. CAFE is again able to open our small grants initiative, and applications for the programme are open now.

The Disability Access Officer (DAO) Network Group was able to meet three times, remotely, during 2021 to further discuss the development of the DAO role.

At February's meeting, there was a specific focus on how clubs, leagues, national associations and their DAOs reacted to the pandemic and the measures they had put in place to support their disabled fans. The group also met in May, with a focus on typical matchday incidents and the importance of a pan-disability approach.

Matchday steward training was one of the key topics on the agenda when the Group met again in September, which was followed by an exchange meeting between DAOs from England and Scotland, to share best practice solutions.

It was a real highlight of the year to see so many disabled fans able to attend the summer's UEFA EURO 2020 tournament across 11 countries.

For a number of years, CAFE has been working with UEFA to improve the experience of disabled fans attending the tournament, which was significantly affected by the pandemic and differing restrictions in each host country.

CAFE appointed accessibility monitors in each host city, who attended matches and completed feedback forms which were then used to inform any changes that needed to be implemented at the stadiums. We also provided audio-descriptive commentary (ADC) in the local language at every match, and in English in 10 of the 11 venues. We were delighted to be able to offer ADC in both finalists' languages for the UEFA EURO 2020 Final, at Wembley Stadium.

The tournament really shone a light on the importance of having fans back inside stadiums, and after a hugely challenging 18 months it was a delight to see fans able to watch live matches once again.

CAFE continues to work with UEFA to advise on access and inclusion around all of its major tournaments and competition finals, and this continued throughout the year with the UEFA Europa League Final in Gdansk, Champions League Final in Porto, Super Cup in Belfast and Nations League Finals in Milan and Turin.

CAFE has been working with Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) TII in Qatar, and we were delighted to be awarded a contract to deliver ADC training in Qatar ahead of the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Trainings, in partnership with the CAFE ADC Training Network, took place in Doha and the first-ever football ADC was made available during November and December's FIFA Arab Cup.

There will be another round of training taking place in the new year ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and we urge all Qatari residents interested in this unique opportunity to apply online as soon as possible.

During 2021 we were proud to welcome three new player ambassadors to the CAFE family, with Omar Mascarell, Bobby Allain and Laura Gutierrez officially joining us in ambassadorial roles.

The CAFE Ambassador Programme has become a key priority during this year, as we aim to help spread our message of #TotalAccess far and wide. Omar, Bobby and Laura all have unique experiences that they bring to the team, and we are hugely grateful to each of them for their ongoing support.

The year closed with one of our biggest events - the 4th International CAFE Conference - held virtually on 9-10 December.

After Conferences held in London, Paris and Bilbao previously, we were disappointed not to be able to meet you all in-person this year but the virtual Conference provided many unique opportunities and two fantastically positive days of debate and discussion.

We were delighted to welcome a large number of expert speakers to share their knowledge and experiences with over 400 registered delegates, with the largest agenda to date at one of our Conferences.

Highlights included:

In closing the Conference, Managing Director Joanna Deagle and Mark Flewitt, Chair of the CAFE Board of Trustees, issued a series of calls to action encouraging those attending the Conference to continue to work towards a more inclusive and welcoming game for all.

All Conference sessions are now available to watch on-demand, and the findings of a short feedback survey shared with registered delegates will help to inform plans for our next International Conference, scheduled for 2024.

The Conference was a wonderful way to close a particularly challenging yet rewarding year, and we extend a huge thanks to everyone who helped to make the event such a success.

2021 has certainly been a year that will be remembered for a long time to come. Whilst we still remain in a pandemic world, many have been able to enjoy a greater degree of freedom in experiencing the life-changing impact of live sport.

CAFE remains as committed as ever to ensuring disabled people can take their rightful places across the sporting sector, and we will continue to work towards our goal of #TotalAccess. We have some hugely exciting projects lined up already for 2022, and we are looking forward to coming back fully refreshed for a very busy year.

The disability hate incident inbox will be monitored throughout the holiday period. Therefore, please continue to report disability hate incidents online, by calling +44(0)20 3355 9867, or by emailing [email protected]If you are in any danger or require immediate assistance, please contact local police or stadium stewards.

The CAFE office is closing on 23 December for the festive period, and we will return on 4 January. We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has worked with us during this year, and wish you the very best for the holidays.

Published 21/12/2021

For more information about the ‘Good Governance Needs Access and Inclusion’ project, please email [email protected] or call +44 (0)203 355 9867.

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