Friday 29 December 2023, 12:30

FIFA helped make football accessible to all at FIFA Club World Cup 2023™

  • FIFA prioritised accessibility initiatives in Saudi Arabia for FIFA Club World Cup 2023™

  • Audio Descriptive Commentary allows partially sighted and blind people to follow the match while taking in the atmosphere

  • Sensory rooms are one of a range of accessibility features at FIFA competitions

There are many ingredients that cause fans fall in love with football: the atmosphere, the colour, the passion, the noise – not to mention what happens on the pitch. But for some supporters, they are unable to see, hear or experience these ingredients, and for others these ingredients can be too overwhelming.

FIFA’s ambition to make football truly global and accessible to all has led to a number of developments at the FIFA Club World Cup 2023™ that enabled supporters with disabilities to enjoy FIFA competitions.

“Football is our passion, it’s our love, and it’s something that we want the whole world to be a part of and to share,” said Hala Ousta, FIFA’s Senior Diversity & Accessibility Manager. “Accessibility has been a key feature for FIFA and we’ve been working towards making sure that our events and our tournaments are more inclusive, more safe, more barrier-free to make sure that everybody is involved and included.” One major initiative is Audio Descriptive Commentary which has been in operation during recent FIFA World Cups™ – including Qatar 2022™ and Australia & New Zealand 2023™.

“Audio Descriptive Commentary services is for partially sighted and blind people, and it gives an extra opportunity in terms of listening to the game in live time and explains the detail of what is happening on the pitch, the colours that the players are wearing, the expressions of the fans. It really gives that whole experience for them so that they can enjoy the games.”

Along with Audio Descriptive Commentary, FIFA has also assisted accessibility through wheelchair escorting, mobility assistance, golf carts (where available), an increased range of accessibility seating, and sensory rooms.

Easy Access Amenity tickets enable people with limited mobility who do not use wheelchairs to enter stadiums comfortably, and Easy Access Standard tickets have minimal step-access and are situated close to accessible amenities. A dedicated FIFA Volunteer team and accessibility lanes outside the stadium were all part of a package specifically designed to make the matchday experience memorable for all football fans.

Volunteer Nader poses for a pictures with his daughters Sara and Yara

Both venues that staged matches – the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium – had sensory rooms installed so that supporters with sensory issues can get away from the fervour of the match when they need to.

“Sometimes the stadium environment can get a bit overwhelming with the noise, the sound and the fans. So, it’s somewhere that they can retreat to, where they can take some time and space and then come out and enjoy the game again. The sensory rooms are somewhere they can relax and go back to enjoying the beautiful game,” Ousta said.

General view inside the stadium during the FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 match between Al Ahly FC and Al Ittihad FC

The colourfully decorated rooms are sound insulated and contain stress-relieving items that help people with sensory processing issues enjoy the match along with their football-loving family. Noise-cancelling headphones are also available if required when they return to their seat in the stadium. Sensory rooms have been a feature of previous FIFA tournaments after being introduced at the FIFA Club World Cup 2019™ in Qatar. Since, they have been deployed at other competitions, notably the FIFA World Cup 2022™ and FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, but the spaces in Jeddah were a first for Saudi Arabian football, and definitely not a last.

“Whenever we can, we try to make it a legacy in terms of something that stays beyond after we’ve gone,” Ousta added. “And we’re happy to say that as part of the Saudi FIFA Club World Cup, it will stay as part of the past stadium beyond the tournament, so that more people can come and enjoy.”

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