11-19 March - the 11th consecutive Action Week by the Center for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE)
Since 2013, the Center for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) has been inviting people from both amateur and professional sports to join the annual accessibility and inclusion events, which celebrate the important role people with disabilities play in both football and in society as a whole.
People with disabilities are a key part of the global sports scene as fans, sports industry workers, volunteers and leaders, so everyone should have equal opportunities to contribute in an accessible, inclusive and welcoming environment.
CAFE's Week of Action is the largest event that gives disabled fans, parafans, clubs, stadiums, leagues, national associations, NGOs and everyone interested in accessibility and inclusion the chance to come together to promote the initiative for equal opportunities # TotalAccess.
Before the full-scale war, the UAF worked fruitfully with the Center for Access to Football in Europe to improve the accessibility of football for Ukrainian fans with disabilities. Tickets for the matches of the national team of Ukraine for fans and their companions were constantly distributed upon prior request, appropriate audio description commentary was provided, and accessibility training was conducted for club specialists in working with fans with disabilities.
Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, fans with disabilities have been in particularly dire need of support from their clubs and the football community. Unfortunately, the main team of Ukraine is forced to play away matches.
Despite everything, UAF supports fans with disabilities and provides free tickets for Ukrainians who were forced to seek refuge abroad and their companions.
We spoke with one of these fans, Artem Zhinkin.
— Artem, first of all, tell me, which club do you support and how long have you been a fan?
— I am a fan of FC Dnipro. The total fan experience is more than 25 years. But if you take my experience as a fan in a wheelchair, then I have been leading it since 2012, from the Euro Ukraine - France match at the Donbass Arena. It was then that I entered the stadium for the first time as a fan in a wheelchair.
— How often did you attend the matches of the club and the matches of the national team of Ukraine?
— Due to the fact that I do not live in Dnipro itself, I was not able to attend as many matches of my club as I would have liked. But I tried to use every opportunity to get to the Dnipro game.
As for the matches of the national team, there are even fewer of them in my account due to the fact that even if home matches were played, their geography covered the whole of Ukraine. Of course, I tried not to miss the games that were held in Dnipro and Donetsk, but I started visiting Kharkiv and Kyiv only in 2017. And in 2021, I even managed to attend the match of the national team in Odesa.
— What difficulties arise when attending matches for a fan who uses a wheelchair?
— The main problem is the distance and the road to the stadium. By the way, I have a personal record that I do not want to break under any circumstances - 34 hours on the way to the national team match in Bucharest.
— How did your life change after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine? Is there room left for football?
— After February 24, 2022, nothing has changed psychologically for me, because I, like all Ukrainians, have been living in a state of war since February 2014. But geographically, the changes were drastic - I moved to Poland.
A place for football remained thanks to Shakhtar, Dynamo and the national team, because they play their international matches in Poland. And Polish stadiums during these matches look like our home, like in Ukraine.
— Your plans for the future and wishes for fans.
— There are few plans for the future - to return home and celebrate the victory. I wish all the fans the victories of their teams and our national team! And I also wish a speedy victory to our most important team at the moment—the Armed Forces of Ukraine!
We would like to add that regional football associations joined the CAFE Action Week by supporting the information campaign or organizing events for the youngest fans.
We believe that after our victory, great football will return to the stadiums of Ukraine, and all Ukrainians will be able to enjoy the game of millions!
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