If you follow us on social media, you probably know by now that on Saturday, Feb, 18th the “Most inclusive game in the world” will take place at the Benito Villamarín Stadium in Sevilla, home of Real Betis Balompié. This inclusivity initiative, born at World Football Summit, partners Real Betis Balompié club with Integrated Dreams and World Football Summit to accomplish the goal of breaking the attendance record of people with disabilities watching a football game.
On this occasion, we reached out to Real Betis Balompié’s CEO, Ramón Alarcón, for an exclusive conversation to discuss this incredible initiative, why football needs it, and how any club in the world can take a step forward into inclusivity programs.
This article features as part of the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.
World Football Summit (WFS) What makes Real Betis the ideal club/stadium for this event?
Ramón Alarcón: The Benito Villamarín is one of the few stadiums in LaLiga that reaches full capacity in almost every game. In fact, last season only Atlético de Madrid and FC Barcelona surpassed us in average number of attendees. With a capacity of 60,721 spectators, the Villamarín had an average of 41,652 fans in the 10 home games played by our team. We believe that the large number of people that occupy the seats of our stadium and the social community that engage with Real Betis will make our home the perfect scenario to amplify the message we want to send to society and all football teams: to make visible and claim that people with disabilities can enjoy 100% of a soccer match.
World Football Summit (WFS) Can you describe some of the actions that will take place during the match?
Ramón Alarcón: Among other things, as the players warm up, they will wear bibs with the colorADD code, which will allow colour-blind people to know what color these bibs are. In addition, when they take the field, the players will be accompanied by children with disabilities and will wear the jersey with the number in Braille. In addition, the anthem in sign language will also be shown on the video scoreboards. There will be exhibitions of adapted sports both inside and outside the stadium.
World Football Summit (WFS) Why does the football industry need this initiative?
Ramón Alarcón: We believe that football is a tool with an unmatched power of social, emotional, and economic impact, so we have to take advantage of it and make initiatives like these that promote inclusion and equality and become an example to follow for the millions of followers that our sport has.
“Clubs should be rivals on the field of play, but when the referee blows the final whistle, we must unite and face the challenges facing society together.”
World Football Summit (WFS) What is the role that your commercial partners play in this initiative? How are they involved?
Ramón Alarcón: Our partners are also characterized by their social commitment. In fact, we work with them as well on actions related to Forever Green, our environmental sustainability program. When we told them about the World’s Most Inclusive Match initiative, they did not hesitate to join us. For example, Finetwork, our main sponsor, will be the leading actor behind the photo of the starting eleven prior to the start of the match with the jersey in braille, and they have conceded their space on the advertising billboard along to help promote the main claim of the event “The most inclusive match in the world”. In addition, Reale will also lend its space at halftime so that players from an Andalusian amputee team can make a small exhibition.
World Football Summit (WFS) How will you try to maximize fan involvement in this fantastic initiative?
Ramón Alarcón: The announcement of the match has had huge visibility and impact, both on social networks and in the media. We are getting calls from many fans with disabilities interested in coming to the match and also on the first team’s social networks we are encouraging ticket sales. In addition, with the push that World Football Summit is giving us, we are sure that we will have high participation of fans.
World Football Summit (WFS) How can they help make fans with special needs have a great experience along with them in the stadium?
Ramón Alarcón: We have been working to improve the experience of fans with functional diversity for 6 years, since the Disability Department was created at the Club, being one of the only teams in LaLiga to have this specialized department. Since that time, we have been improving access to the Benito Villamarín Stadium and incorporating services such as the sensory kit for people with autism, the ‘We take you to your seat’ project for people with mobility or orientation problems, and the creation of a specific volunteer corps that helps people with disabilities, among other issues. During this season, we are incorporating the audio-description service so that visually impaired people can follow the matches in detail. This service is being made possible thanks to the audio description of the Sports Events Degree that Real Betis has promoted at a university in Seville.
Real Betis will continue working to improve the experience on Match Days and aims to inspire other clubs to incorporate all these services for their fans.
World Football Summit (WFS) What will it take to break the record? What are the main drivers that will lead to success?
Ramón Alarcón: Real Betis has 1,300 members with disabilities, and the record number of people with functional diversity attending a match is 1,074. We think that by adding the members with disabilities who can attend the match together with the fans who will join the most inclusive match, we can surpass this figure.
World Football Summit (WFS) Are there any small steps that any football club in the world can take to start becoming more inclusive? Any advice that comes to mind?
Ramón Alarcón: As we have mentioned, we have been taking small steps to become a more inclusive club. The sensory kit for people with autism or training volunteers to accompany people with disabilities are two easy and inexpensive actions that bring football closer to people with functional diversity and make it more accessible. But undoubtedly, the biggest and most decisive step was the creation of the Disability department that listens and attends to the needs of these people. We think this is something that all big clubs should have.
World Football Summit (WFS) Where can people find out more about the match? How can they contribute?
Ramón Alarcón: Information about the match can be found on the Club’s official website and after the game, we will publish an audiovisual with the best images of this historic event. One of the best ways to contribute would be to attend the match and fill the stands with people with disabilities to make it visible and claim that they too can enjoy football. For all those who finally cannot travel to Seville, we would love it if you could share the images of this historic event to inspire the rest of football clubs and all sports disciplines.
To end things on a great note, here are a few words from Ramón Alarcón from the Benito Villamarín, the home of the “Most inclusive match in the world”!
If you want to read more about this inclusivity initiative, we also interviewed José Soares as well, Chief Association Executive at Integrated Dreams!
The “most inclusive match in the world” will make history for sure! Regardless of the match’s result or if the record is broken, we’re confident this initiative has the power to motivate other clubs and federations to push more actions to guarantee all football fans, regardless of their mobility situation, to enjoy football in an equal way! In the fight for inclusivity, this match is already a winner and we’re very proud to be a part of it.