Football has “failed disabled people”, and its troubled world governing body must now place disability at the heart of its reform process, according to a leading UK campaigner.
The Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFÉ) has written to the committee appointed to reform FIFA – which has been hit by repeated allegations of corruption – raising concerns about the failure of its draft proposals to include any mention of disability.
Joyce Cook (pictured), CAFÉ’s managing director, and David Bernstein, CAFÉ’s chair and former president of The Football Association – English football’s governing body – wrote this week to members of the FIFA reform committee to express their concerns.
Their letter says: “Football is at a crossroads, it has failed disabled people and other minorities at every level of the game and for too long.”
They say the sport worldwide has to become “more accessible and inclusive” to the millions of disabled people who want to enjoy football as spectators, coaches, players, administrators and volunteers.
They point out that disabled people are the world’s largest minority group, and yet FIFA’s existing statutes fail to include disability in their article on non-discrimination.
Cook, who also chairs the UK’s user-led, disabled fans’ charity Level Playing Field, said she was “disappointed” that the reform committee had not made a single reference to disability in its preliminary recommendations.
She said: “Disability should be at the forefront. It’s not even in as an afterthought.”
The FIFA reform committee is due to finalise its recommendations at a meeting today and tomorrow (19 and 20 November), before they are examined next month by FIFA’s executive committee (EXCO), with final recommendations to be put to member organisations in February.
Cook contrasted FIFA’s commitment with that of UEFA, European football’s governing body, which is “putting everyone else to shame” and showing “a real commitment” to disability and inclusion.
The letter calls for FIFA’s executive committee (EXCO) to include disabled members “so as to properly reflect and represent this largest of all minority groups”, and to ensure that at least 30 per cent of its members are “truly independent”.
It adds: “FIFA cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of its forefathers with largely old white men or for that matter in the new order, old white women and men, appointed to the top table.
“The women and men appointed to EXCO must come from much more diverse backgrounds based on disability, ethnicity, gender and so on.”