Words by Niall Christie

Despite the many criticisms of preparations for this World Cup to be held across Russia, hundreds of thousands of people are set to descend on Eurasia’s largest nation. Add to this the millions who will tune in to the matches throughout, and you could say that the World Cup this year will be open to more people than ever before.

But with technological advances continuing to take place, and with global communications moving forward, it is a shocking reality that large-scale events such as these are closed off to certain members of society. The experience of Paul Letters, an ex-pat, now living in Hong Kong with chronic nerve pain, is testament to how a whole community is being let down by a system that makes access more difficult for them than it already is.

Paul, along with his wife Joanne and eight-year-old son James, regularly travel to some of the most prominent sports tournaments and events across the world. Unfortunately, the provisions on offer for Paul are by no means consistent and often leave him feeling very much let down. One of those not providing as they should be are the organisers of the World Cup later this year, where the family of three had hoped to enjoy this spectacle together.

Paul said: “I suffer from chronic nerve pain which means that if I walk for more than a few metres I can end up in agony, sometimes for days or weeks.  As a result, when we were looking to get tickets in the FIFA ballot we decided to look at the ‘easy access’ seats. It appeared that only one carer can accompany the disabled person, and so we decided to request two “Easy Access Standard” seats, plus one carer seat so that we could sit together as a family.

“If Joanne was my carer, and then if we had applied separately for a ‘normal’ ticket our son, James, would have been sitting on his own, probably far away from us. The whole set up must put off many families (with a disabled member) from applying at all, because – as it has proven – it is not possible to get seats together.”

This example is but one in a string of problems for Paul and others around the world. While some have been lauded for their accessibility, many remain far behind in terms of opportunities available. The Commonwealth Games, for example, were mentioned by Paul as an understanding organisation who were happy to accommodate individual’s needs. Representatives at FIFA, however, were less helpful.

Paul said: “FIFA debited our credit card and asked us to supply them with more details. I explained the situation to them first online and then in detail when they telephoned me in early November. We had left it with FIFA to sort out – the person I spoke to in that initial call gave the impression that it wouldn’t be a problem.

“After that confirmation email from FIFA and the debiting of our card we booked our flights to Russia and hotels. Imagine our surprise when at least three weeks later we get a call from FIFA telling us that we cannot have the seats they have allocated to us because only one member of our group is disabled and disabled people are only allowed one carer with them.”

After what we are told was a lengthy discussion, Paul was given a simple choice between cancelling his ticket requests altogether or leaving one of his family members on their own. But even then, tickets have now been on sale for months and leave little chance to get any at this late hour. Paul asked us, “Is it okay that families who have a disabled member are not allowed to sit together whereas non-disabled families can have up to four tickets together?” We don’t think so.

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