Am I disabled enough to play football?

Am I disabled enough to play football?

In this blog, Osman Ahmed talks through some of the key aspects of classification within disability football, and he gives some basic tips to help with the process.

My current role

Having been involved in Para Football for almost 20 years as a Physiotherapist, I was appointed to the role of Para Classification lead in March 2022. As part of this role, I help to manage the classification of players throughout the elite Para Football pathway as well as having input into classification at the grassroots level of Disability Football too.

Classification- why is it important?

This can probably be summed up by one word- “Fairness”! Both the grassroots game and the elite Para Football programme provide opportunities for players with a disability to play in an environment with individuals who have similar impairments to them. Many players seek out disability football as they are unable to play in mainstream leagues due to their disability, and so it is important that there is a roughly equal standard between the players who participate in these disability football teams, leagues, and international tournaments.

As well classification ensure that individual players are eligible to play, it also helps to ensure that the teams themselves are roughly equal in terms of impairments. Disability affects individuals in different ways, and so classification rules are in place to make sure that each team has a balance of players that can be both significantly impaired and also slightly less impaired.

How does classification differ?

Classification takes many shapes across the different formats of disability football. One thing that is in common is that some form of medical documentation is needed in order to prove that each player has an eligible medical condition. Depending on the format of football, this may be from a neurologist or paediatrician (for Cerebral Palsy football), from an ophthalmologist (for Blind and Partially sighted football), or an audiologist (for Deaf football).

In terms of the classification processes themselves, this is often (but not always) done at major international tournaments at the elite level. Here, international federations will bring together classification panels to review players who may be new to the sport or have a “review” status (meaning that their classification is not final). Provided the player meets the criteria they are then passed to compete in the tournament and are allocated a class/category.

Depending on which format of disability football is and the player involved, this testing will involve different tests. This is always linked the disability in question- for Cerebral Palsy and Powerchair Football this will be linked to their muscle control and movement ability, whilst for Blind and Partially Sighted players this is related to their vision and how much they can see

Playing fair is everything

An important part of all the classification processes is that players will always be observed in competition by the classification panel, as well as being assessed by the relevant medical professionals as outlined above. This is a way of double-checking that the impairments that were obvious on the physical testing are also having an affect on the player whilst they are competing.

Classification is essential to the integrity of all of disability and Para sport, not just football! It is vital that players undergoing classification are not trying to cheat the system by over-exaggerating their disability to the classifiers, in order to gain access to a class/classification that they are “too good” for. In essence, misrepresentation in classification can be thought of in similar terms to anti-doping- it is gaining an unfair sporting advantage using illegal means. 

Grassroots vs elite classification

At grassroots level. pan-disability football is the largest format of disability specific football (participant wise) as it sees players with a broad spectrum of impairments and health conditions play together. Eligibility for the pan-disability format is based upon meeting the equality act (2010) definition of disability:

‘A physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’.

There’s no formal classification system within pan-disability football as by its very nature, it allows players with a broad spectrum of impairments to play together. However, the game still needs to be a fair and enjoyable experience so, when numbers permit ability banding is used, particular in competition settings. 

Impairment specific football also exists at grassroots level and sees individuals with the same impairment play together and examples include some of the formats mentioned earlier in this blog (blind, partially sighted, deaf football for example). Classification and rules for impairment specific formats at the elite/international level must be rigid, eligibility is wider at the grassroots level to facilitate participation.

An example of this is in Cerebral Palsy Football; in the National Cerebral Palsy Football League, the “FT4” category is present for players who would not be eligible to be classified at an international level, but who have Cerebral Palsy or an associated traumatic brain injury and so can still participate. Processes such as these enable disabled players are still able to play in leagues and competitions alongside others with similar impairments.  

Impact on talent identification

As coaches, you have an important role to play in potential talent identification for future Para Lions. Many players across all levels of the pathway have been identified from their participation in mainstream football, and it may be that you encounter a player who you feel is eligible for one of the many Para Football pathways. Within your networks you might also have discussions with other coaches who have come across a player who has an impairment- if so then please do signpost them towards the FA or your local County FA and we would be delighted to help them towards our respective pathways!  

Key take-homes:

  • Classification is the basis that Para/Disability football (and all disability sport) is built upon.
  • Processes for classification vary across the different formats of Para/Disability football and at the elite/grassroots level.
  • Medical professionals lead upon and finalise classifications, but coaches may be able to assist with identifying players for the Para / disability Football Pathway.

If you've got any further questions regarding classification in Para Football, please contact Osman Ahmed at: