An introduction to disability football at The FA

Get involved, whatever your ability level


 There are 9.4m people in England with a long-standing limiting disability, illness or condition which equates to 18 per cent of the population – almost one in five.

The good news is that there has never been a better time to get involved and play football, whatever your ability level.

The FA believes there should be flexible, inclusive and accessible playing opportunities for everyone, whatever their level of ability.

We want to deliver a range of opportunities that sustain and grow opportunities for disabled people to participate and excel through football. We are committed to creating positive environments in which football happens For All.


Disability football – a potted history

Prior to 1999 the development of disability football was limited and had no coherent national strategy.

The creation in 1998 of the Activity Alliance, the umbrella organisation for the eight national disability sports organisations, and the establishment by The FA of the football development department a year later, led to the development of the first disability football initiative: ‘Ability Counts’.

After a period of extensive consultation with its stakeholders and in response to the various government policy documents, The FA produced its football development strategy in 2001, providing a strategic framework for football development in England from 2001 to 2006.

The football development strategy’s key objective was to increase participation, quality and enjoyment of football using four key strands.

One of these, ‘opportunities for all’, committed The FA to ensure that everybody had the opportunity to play, coach, manage, referee and spectate regardless of their race, culture, religion, gender, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or social status.

Complementing this, the maiden FA disability football strategy (2004–2006) was the first step in integrating disability football into the mainstream.

The FA ;

The strategic position

Today disability football is embedded across our 2020-24 Time for Change group strategy as well as our 2020-24 Survive, Revive, Thrive grassroots football strategy, ensuring the further development of disability football remains as one of The FA’s imperative goals.

Our philosophy is clear and guides all of our work within disability football. We believe:

- Appropriate opportunities (formal and informal) should be made available to all people whatever their level of ability;

- Disabled people should be playing in mainstream football, however we realise that some disabled players may be better provided for in settings such as ‘pan disability’ or impairment-specific football on a temporary or permanent basis and;

- Player development pathways should be available from grassroots to the elite level for various impairment groups, and that the resulting competitions structures should support the player’s development.




Safeguarding adults in open-age disability football

Our safeguarding framework has now been extended to support adult open-age disability football, providing policy, procedures, regulations and guidance.

While it’s important to recognise that adults may be at risk anywhere in the game, we've developed guidance notes that focus on disability provision.

Being an adult in disability football doesn't automatically make a person an ‘adult at risk’ however there may be additional vulnerability for some. The guidance notes cover various aspects of safeguarding adults in open-age disability football, such as the appointment of a club welfare officer (adult disability teams) and the adoption of a templated policy.

They also signpost access to free online learning. There are also some easy-read documents written by and for people with learning disabilities.

This is all part of providing a robust safeguarding framework around football, which is a fundamental aspect of our role – and that of its affiliated members.

Dispensation policies

The FA dispensation policy
The FA’s rules, specifically the standard code of rules for youth competitions (SCORY), prescribe age groups for children to play in which are designed to ensure that they compete with peers of similar size and development.

However, for some children with a disability or significant physical development delay (SPDD), playing in the prescribed age group would put them at a substantial disadvantage to their non-disabled team mates, discouraging them from being involved or making it impossible for them to access football altogether.

The FA dispensation policy enables disabled children to play football in an age group other than that prescribed by their date of birth, providing all necessary criteria of the dispensation policy and assessment process is met.

(You can download a dispensation application pack and guide for parents in the resources below)

Mixed-gender dispensation
A pilot dispensation policy exists, specific to adult disability football competitions, in order to ensure there are still opportunities for females to play their own impairment specific format of football, even when there are not enough female players for a single-sex team or competition to be formed.

Adult disability competitions, such as the pan disability county leagues and the national impairment specific leagues, can request special dispensation to allow mixed-gender teams as a temporary measure, until the numbers become sufficient to have female-specific teams and competitions.

For more information about the adult mixed-gender dispensation policy for disability football please contact your local County FA, details of which can be seen here

The FA ;

Use of a Prosthesis

Players with an amputation are able to play with their prosthesis in mainstream, pan-disability and amputee specific football providing approval has been given by The FA in advance.

Applications must be made through the players local County Football Association (CFA) as CFAs are the only organisations who can request a dispensation for a player with an amputation wishing to wear a prosthesis playing in FA sanctioned football matches.

For details on how to do this you can download our 'Playing football with a prosthesis' guide for players and referees.  

Age ranges

Youth disability football has dispensation to operate using a four-year age banding as opposed to the maximum two-year age banding within mainstream football. This is to ensure adequate player numbers to be able to establish disability teams and competitions across all areas of the country.

This means that an U16 competition could see players aged U13, U14, U15 and U16 playing together.

As teams and competitions become more established they are encouraged to revert back to the standard two-year age banding.

How to get involved

You may be an enthusiastic grassroots player who likes nothing more than a kickabout with your friends and enjoys the social aspect of this participation.

Others may have ambitions to develop as a player and to play competitively in a league or cup competition, and some may have ambitions of playing for their country.

The good news is that the systems and pathways are in place for you access football at the level that meets your needs and aspirations.

You can find football local to you by using the find football search or by contacting your local County FA.