The Football Association have announced an ambitious new three-year plan titled ‘Football Your Way’ to help develop, improve and raise awareness of disability football in England.
The new plan is the first of its kind and covers seven key areas, demonstrating The FA's commitment to ensuring that, as part of the equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, disabled people have the opportunity to engage and participate in football their way, from grassroots all the way to the elite end of the game.
The plan comes under the umbrella of the broader equality, diversity and inclusion strategy which is about creating ‘A Game For All’. The launch of the three-year plan, from 2021-2024, outlines the organisation’s intentions to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce from inside The FA and out, and from top to bottom, whilst also growing participation, increasing the number and quality of coaches and developing an inclusive and diverse talent pathway.
It will also increase the support for elite players and raise the profile of disability football at every level. Football Your Way will allow The FA to create and sustain a culture across the sport where disabled people have access to all opportunities and feel they truly belong, both on and off the pitch. The seven pillars of focus are:
* Our People and FA Culture: Build full-scale awareness of what The FA has to offer disabled people while increasing understanding within the organisation around what it means to have a disability. Enhancing this understanding and creating an increased culture of inclusion will help increase disability declaration and representation within the organisation from 3.3% to 10%.
* Participation: A focus on recovering and returning to pre-Covid-19 participation levels and then increasing the number of disabled people taking part in football, whether that be simply for fun or for competition across schools, clubs and the community.
* Talent Pathway: Ensure that disabled people understand what is available and how they can grow as athletes and showcase how sustainable and inclusive the pathway is. By 2024, the forecast is an increase of 25% of players coming up through the Talent Pathway into England Para teams.
* National Teams: Provide world-class coaching and support services for six senior England and associated Under 21s teams with the aim of every Para team challenging for podium success by 2024. Football Your Way also commits to establishing two new blind and cerebral palsy England Women’s teams by 2024.
* Coach Development: Focus on recruiting and developing a great number of quality coaches who can nurture and grow future football players. By 2024, personalised support will have been delivered to all coaches in the talent and international pathway.
* Marketing and Communications: Embedding disability into everything that The FA do. This will range from ensuring disabled people are represented when they showcase football offerings, to ensuring they proactively increase the promotion of disability football. This will include driving awareness of opportunities available for disabled players, coaches or administrators and will be about working to challenge stereotypes and change perceptions.
* Partnerships: Ensuring sustainable funding is allocated to the future of disability football by securing two additional purpose-led partners.
The plan launched at Wembley Stadium connected by EE with Baroness Sue Campbell and Edleen John, who are strategically co-leading on this agenda. Baroness Sue Campbell, The FA’s Director of Women’s Football, said: "Football has an incredible power to bring people together, and we are determined that disabled people have equal access to opportunities so that everyone can be involved in the game they love.”
“Our new plan for disability football, Football Your Way, will help create a sustainable culture that improves opportunities for disabled people, making the game fun and accessible, as well as providing world-class coaching. We are sending a clear message: if you have a disability there are opportunities for you to participate, whether that’s for fun or through pan-disability or impairment-specific football, to enjoy the game and reach your potential.”
Edleen John, The FA’s International Relations, Corporate Affairs and Co-Partner for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Director, said: "We want to inspire future generations by showcasing the many opportunities on and off the pitch available to disabled people, whether they want to work for our organisation, develop as elite players or coaches or just play the game for fun with friends.”
“By working together as one united team with a common purpose and vision, we can achieve this ambitious plan for the development of disability football and increased understanding and awareness across England."
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted on participation levels, and this plan will help those affected by providing a platform to overcome setbacks and bring people back together. Speaking on the impact of disability football is England international and Merseyside VIFC Blind footballer, Azeem Ameer.
He said: "Being able to play football at a high level with other disabled players has been an amazing opportunity for me. Football has made a significant difference to my life and to the lives of those I play with at every level. I hope The FA’s new plan, Football Your Way, can help raise awareness of disability football and provide significant opportunities to inspire people to play the game, from kids who are giving it a go for the first time, to fellow internationals on the world stage."
For further information on The FA’s new plan for disability football, which is available for download in various accessible versions, please visit The FA's website. Information on grassroots football opportunities in Essex can also be found in the menus above, by following @EssexCountyFA on Twitter and by searching for ‘EssexFootball’ on Facebook.