The 2nd CAFE Access and Inclusion Champions Awards took place on the first day of the 4th International CAFE Conference. 

The ceremony was hosted by Piara Powar, Executive Director of the Fare Network, an NGO specialising in anti-discrimination, diversity practice and social inclusion in and through football, and close partner of CAFE. 

Powar kicked off the Awards by delivering a message about diversity and inclusion, and the importance of shining the spotlight on those working hard to ensure everyone has a place in the sporting industry.  

The first set of award winners were nominated by CAFE stakeholders from across the globe in three categories: the Club Initiative, National Association Initiative and Collaboration awards.  

The Club Initiative award aims to recognise a Club that has consistently carried out new and innovative activities to promote wider access and inclusion.  

Laura Wright on the pitch at Wolves with a disabled fan, their friend and a Wolves first team playerIn 2018, this award was won by GNK Dinamo Zagreb for consistently carrying out new and innovative activities to promote wider access and inclusion.

This year, the award was presented by CAFE Ambassador, Laura Gutierrez, to English Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers and their Disability Access Officer, Laura Wright.

The award was given for their tremendous work, in continuing to offer accessible solutions and services to disabled fans throughout the pandemic and since the return of fans to matches, as well as the tireless efforts of the DAO in supporting both home and away disabled fans at Molineux.

Speaking upon learning of the award, Owain Davies, Chief Executive of Level Playing Field, said: "Over the past 18 months, clubs like Wolverhampton Wanderers have been going above and beyond to support their fans through tough times. 

Clubs have been offering practical support, getting players and staff to call fans and more. More often than not, at the heart of this are the Disability Access and Liaison Officers who have also been checking in on disabled fans. 

We are delighted that Laura has won this award and its great recognition for the work she has done during the pandemic to help her supporters and to keep them connected but also the good work she has done over the previous seasons". 

The National Association award recognises a National Association’s commitment to #TotalAccess, both within their own country and as a best practice example to others.

two audio-descriptive commentators sitting in the press box of a stadium at the Euros, both wearing their headsets.In 2018, this award was presented to the Football Union of Russia for their delivery of Disability Access Officer and Disability Inclusion and Etiquette training seminars and for continuing the legacy of the most accessible FIFA World Cup to date. 

This year, the award was presented by UEFA Director of Football and Social Responsibility Michele Uva, to award winners at the Football Federation of San Marino for the commitment shown by FSGC to improve access and inclusion for disabled spectators, and the amazing support of audio-descriptive commentators to cover a number of major tournaments. 

General Secretary of the Football Federation, Luigi Zafferini, accepted this award on behalf of the Federation and commented: "We were very happy to support CAFE and UEFA during last UEFA EURO 2020 Championship and Nations League Finals in 2021, making our trained staff available for the ADC service in Italian language. 

We could never do it without the precious support of the UEFA HatTrick Programme and CAFE; they provided us with many ideas and suggestions useful for the development of our initiatives. 

For sure, this award is not a point of arrival, it is a new starting point to keep improving and to make the football in San Marino more and more accessible to all, in the stands and on the pitch."

The Collaboration award was designed to celebrate occasions where stakeholders have come together in the name of improved access and inclusion.

Gohar and the Noah football team posing for a group photo on a football pitch.In 2018, it was the Celtic DSA and Celtic Football Club that were rewarded for their impressive collaborative work together. 

To highlight the importance of collaboration and to present this award, Para Football Co-Founder Sam Turner joined us and provided us with an insight into the NGO's recent works.

Turner then presented this year's award to Gohar Navasardyan "in recognition of her vital role in the life-changing impact for so many disabled football fans of the collaboration between the Football Federation of Armenia and Football Club NOAH. 

"The commitment shown to promote access and inclusion through collaborative activities of these two organisations over the past couple of years, particularly during the CAFE Week of Action and despite of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been hugely impressive and thoroughly deserving of this award", added Turner.

The final prize of the ceremony was the Special Recognition award, which is presented to a person, group or organisation that has gone above and beyond promote wider access and inclusion. 

Football for All Leadership Programme participants at BenficaThe winner was selected by the CAFE team and Board of Trustees, and given the amount of fantastic work that has taken place since the last conference, particularly during the hardest moments of the Covid-19 pandemic, to support disabled fans, this was no easy decision. 

The inaugural winner of the CAFE Special Recognition Award in 2018 was Elena Popova of the Football Union of Russia who was recognised for her brilliant work, including taking part in stadium access appraisals, helping with the creation of disabled supporters associations and presenting on behalf of CAFE at a number of events in Russia.” 

It was therefore fitting that host Piara Powar was able to hand over to Elena to present this year’s Special Recognition Award to the Football For All Leadership Programme, led by Jose Soares and Joana Cal, for their work over the past 18-24 months.

The programme has been delivering virtual courses throughout the pandemic, and helping to increase employment levels of disabled people in sport across Europe. 

A number of Conference moderators and speakers have also taken part in the the Football For All Leadership Programme, developing valuable skills for future opportunities within sport.

From all of the CAFE team, and on behalf of the CAFE Board of Trustees, we say a huge congratulations to all of our award winners!

Over the past year, a important project for CAFE has been the creation and expansion of the Ambassador programme, with current and former football players from across Europe joining the CAFE family to help raise awareness across Europe and beyond. 

So far this includes Omar Mascarell who currently plays for Spanish side Elche CF in La liga. Omar was born on the Canary Islands of Spain and graduated from the Real Madrid Academy system in 2013. He is passionate about inclusion in sport, and shares CAFE’s vision of a game that is accessible for all. 

In June of this year, Omar was joined by goalkeeper Bobby Allain who plays in Sweden with SK Orebro. Bobby was Born in France to a French father and a Scottish mother who were both born deaf, he is therefore fluent in sign language and has previously been involved with the French National Deaf Team as a coach. 

Finally, Laura Gutierrez became the first female CAFE Ambassador in September. Laura is a former professional player who enjoyed a very successful career with FC Barcelona, Levante UD and the Spanish national team. She now works with the Levante UD community foundation leading on the social enterprise’s inclusion projects for disabled participants. 

Each of these ambassadors have their own area influence and passion for our shared goal of equal access to football. However, CAFE didn’t want to stop there and has decided to expand the Ambassador programme to include a wider variety of stakeholders. 

Stakeholders that are experts in their field and that work towards improved access daily, raising awareness within their own networks and driving positive change within their own organisations. 

CAFE is therefore delighted to announce that during this Awards ceremony the announcement was made that the CAFE family has three new additions: 

Pilar Castillo-Cid and Florian Woeckl, of Real Betis and RB Salzburg respectively, have joined as the first CAFE Disability Access Officer Ambassadors, whilst  Joanne O’Riordan is set to become the first CAFE Disabled Fan Ambassador. 

Graphic showing all of CAFE

Published 9/12/2021