It will be in Spain, this Saturday, counting for the 22nd round of the Spanish League. O “most inclusive game in history” of football puts Betis and Valladolid face to face and hopes to bring together several thousand people, many of them with some degree of disability. And it has a Portuguese finger.
The meeting, which aims to raise awareness of stadium accessibility, is signed by Integrated Dreams, an NGO created by José Soares and Joana Cal, whose objective is to integrate people with physical disabilities into the professional sports sector. The initiative arises from the collaboration with the Football World Summit (annual conference on the football industry) and Betis, the club where the Portuguese internationals William Carvalho and Rui Silva play and that every season, in Seville, dedicates a game to this group – different – of supporters.
Numerous actions are planned for before and during the match. Upon arriving at Benito Villamarín Stadium, for example, disabled supporters will be accompanied to their respective seats by volunteers. In turn, people with autism have reserved sensory rooms, in which they are protected from outside noise and agitation.
During warm-up, home athletes promote visual inclusion through vests with ColorADD codes, a system designed for color-blind people and created by designer Portuguese Miguel Neiva.
Minutes later, when the teams take to the field, the players will be accompanied by children with disabilities, and those from Betis will wear a different kit, on which the numbers are printed in Braille. After the match, the jerseys will be auctioned in order to raise funds for the Real Betis Foundation.
Among the various planned initiatives, the president of Integrated Dreams, José Soares, looks forward to singing the Betis anthem at the Benito Villamarín, when the stadium screens will be occupied by sign language interpreters.
The collaboration with Betis and the Football World Summit came about through the Football for All Leadership programme, promoted by the Portuguese NGO. José Luís Falcon, who had participated in the program and collaborates with the Spanish club, made the bridge. And, according to José Soares, the stars aligned to make the association’s will come true. “It started as a dream and now we are hours from reality. We are not going to change the world alone, but with other institutions we contribute to an inclusive world”, he declared to PÚBLICO.
On the horizon of organizing the “most inclusive game in the world” is breaking the record set in 2018, when 1074 disabled fans attended a Polish League match.
In Portugal, despite recognizing the growing sensitivity of national entities, José Soares regrets the lack of sensory rooms and evacuation measures for people with disabilities in sports venues.
In addition, the leader of the NGO created in 2017, which collaborates, among other entities, with FIFA, the Johan Cruyff Foundation and the European Union and, in Portugal, with the FPF and Benfica, calls for a review of accessibility in stadiums and in surrounding areas, as well as in clubs’ digital venues: “This is an opportunity for organizations to grow their fan base and revenue. If a person with a disability cannot go to the game, then they do not buy a ticket or jersey.”
For the future, Integrated Dreams also assumes the objective of expanding initiatives to neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
Text edited by Jorge Miguel Matias