What is G-football?
The idea behind G-football is that playing football is a universal right, just as much for non-disabled people as for the ones living with a disability. Dave Van Houtte – now coach of the G-football team of Royal Knokke Football Club -perfectly encapsulates it: ‘Every person has the right to take part in sport, in particular football. This is a fundamental human right, regardless of age, race, faith, gender, sexual orientation or ability’.
A G-football club is a club where people with disabilities are 100 percent welcome and their possibilities are taken into account. It can range from a recreational activity to high level sport.
G-football is the name given to ‘Football for All Abilities’ in Flemish, since we cover Belgian clubs in this article, we have kept this appellation here.
All sorts of teams and all sorts of cool adaptations.
There are all sorts of different G-football teams and small adaptations have meant that everyone can enjoy playing their favorite game.
Teams include people living with mental disabilities, with physical disabilities, with autism, cerebral palsy or brain injury. There are also teams with people with amputations, people in a wheelchair; blind, deaf /hearing impaired players. For each team, the game is slightly modified so the players can perform to the best of their abilities. For instance, wheelchair teams will play on a basketball pitch for easier movement, blind players use a ball which has sound emitting ball bearings in it so they can ‘hear’ the ball.
The rules of the game are often slightly adapted too, with the number of players and the length of the game in particular being modified so players can play their best. Teams are put together based on possibilities- rather than age for instance for kids- to ensure the game stays challenging and exciting for all.
The wellbeing that comes from playing football.
As one of the Belgian Blind Devils players accurately put it, the game provides the same elation for disabled and non- disabled people, the same passion and joy.
‘I used to play football with a regular football club, but when my sight deteriorated at around 17 -18 years old, I could no longer play (…) At first, I didn’t really believe in it and was even a bit embarrassed to play with a blindfold. However, I improved and really got the hang of this extraordinary discipline. (…) I like the team spirit: we win and lose together.’
Playing team sports is a deeply social and interactive activity which has been shown to improve mental and physical health for the people who play it. It is also a passion which resonates deeply with players and fans. It is essential that people living with a disability have the possibility to enjoy playing the sport too, and benefit from the personal and sporting development that goes with it. To this intent, the UEFA has been supporting the expansion of G-football- or Football for All Abilities as it is sometimes called – across Europe.
G-Football league and competitions.
As early as 2010, Clubs for people with disabilities started getting set up in Belgium – and other countries in Europe – with huge success. Several organizations including the Football Federation Flanders, S-Sport Recreas, Special Olympics and the provinces decided to set up a country wide competition and matches. Interest grew, and by 2015-2016, the competition had 28 teams – including 10 kid’s teams – playing in it. And the numbers just keep growing. The Royal Belgium football association is also actively promoting G-football and access for people and kids with disabilities to high level competitive, or recreational, adaptive training. Every year, in September, they organize the Football Kick-offs which boasts over 950 participants. Two of the famous Belgian teams are the Belgian Blind Devils and the Belgian Deaf Devils who play at international level in their respective disciplines.
Kids with disabilities play football too.
Kids living with disabilities are no strangers to the sport too. Many teams have popped up aimed at children. Sport is shown to have a great positive effect on kids’ social interactions and in improving their overall wellbeing; and this is all the more important for kids who are often socially isolated due to their disability. The families too benefit from being part of a community and cheering on their offspring’s successes on the pitch. Parents often volunteer and a strong authentic social network is born around the clubs.
Kortrijk’s Kids G-football club success story.
This is the case of the kids G-football club in Kortrijk. Originally supported by the town of Marke, the club had such success that the city of Kortrijk has now helped to finance it and give it better facilities for its growing number of players and families. The club now also has its own social media app. made by the company Dividis, which allows better communication and includes visual tools similar to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to help keep everyone connected. Another advantage of the app. is that it helps fund G-football Kortrijk since more than half the profit generated by the socially responsible advertising on the app. is given back to the football club, providing ongoing income.
One of G-Football Kortrijk’s motto is
‘We do not see ‘being different’ as a stumbling block, but as an added value.’
We would all do well to live by this philosophy and keep being inspired by the G-football community, its passion and spirit and its ability to adapt to, and overcome, challenges.
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