7-a-side football, a history

7-a-side football is the older of the Paralympic football events, first being played at the 1978 Cerebral Palsy Games held in Edinburgh.

Like the 5-a-side variant, 7-a-side football shares a lot of its characteristics with association football, which of course has a lengthy history – the first international match being played between England and Scotland in 1870.

There are, however, some important variations which make 7-a-side football the sport it is. Firstly, as the name suggests, each team only has 7 players, four fewer than association football, the pitch is notably shorter and the goalposts are smaller too.

7-a-side football, a competitive sport

Sports for those with cerebral palsy had been developing since the early 1960s, in particular through physical activity in schools for those with disabilities. In 1978, at the third International Cerebral Palsy Games hosted by Edinburgh, 7-a-side football featured for the first time. In 1982, the first World Championships were held in Denmark and won by Ireland.

7-a-side football, a Paralympic sport

Six years after it first featured at the International Cerebral Palsy Games, 7-a-side football debuted at the 1984 Summer Paralympics held in New York and Stoke Mandeville. The 1984 games were unique in that there were two separate 7-a-side football competitions: one held in Stoke Mandeville for athletes in wheelchairs, and another in New York for standing athletes. 7-a-side football has featured in every Games since but only in the standing format. 

Belgium won the first tournament, but the Netherlands dominated the sport for the remainder of the twentieth-century, winning gold in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Since the turn of the millennium, the medals have been shared by four nations: Ukraine (3 golds, 2 silvers), Russia (2 golds, 1 silver, 1 bronze), Brazil (1 Silver 2 bronze) and Iran (1 silver, 2 bronze). 

From its debut at the 1978 Edinburgh games the sport has only featured male athletes. 

7-a-side football has been played at all summer Paralympics since its introduction over thirty years ago until Rio 2016. However, it will not feature at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. In early 2015, when the announcement was made, The Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) described the omission as a ‘black day’. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), however, have explained that the sport does not meet the IPC’s minimum criteria for worldwide reach – sports must be played in a minimum of 24 countries and three IPC regions if they are to be included in the Paralympics. 

It remains to be seen whether 7-a-side football will be reinstated for the 2024 games.

7-a-side football at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1984 New York, USA/Stoke Mandeville, UK – 2 events, 6 countries, athlete numbers are not available.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 1 event, 5 countries and 51 athletes (51 men).
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 1 event, 8 countries and 53 athletes (53 men).
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 1 event, 8 countries and 87 athletes (87 men).
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 1 event, 8 countries and 88 athletes (88 men).
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 1 event, 8 countries and 95 athletes (95 men).
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 1 event, 8 countries and 95 athletes (95 men).
  • 2012 London, UK – 1 event, 8 countries and 96 athletes (96 men).

British 7-a-side football medal winners

  • 1984 New York, USA/Stoke Mandeville, UK
    Great Britain (Paul McGinty, Steven Varden, Norman Burns, Anne Trotman, Susan Stevenson, Carol Johnson, Anthony Honour, Alyn Haskey) - bronze in Mixed Tournament Wheelchair.
    Great Britain (Chris Hampshire, David Chalmers, Darren Rabin, Robert Bebbington, Paul Taylor, Andrew Ferguson, Anthony Griffin, Gerard McConnell, Gordon Robertson) - bronze in Men's Tournament CP.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea
    No medals.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain
    No medals. 

After Barcelona, Great Britain did not enter a team until the 2008 Beijing Games.

  • 2008 Beijing, China
    No medals.
  • 2012 London, UK
    No medals.

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

How 7-a-side football has evolved

The major way in which the sport has changed since it first featured at the Paralympics is the removal of the wheelchair competition.

Rules of 7-a-side football

7-a-side football is played according to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) Laws of the Game, with some modifications to make the sport more accessible for those with disabilities. As the sport features fewer players the pitches also have to be smaller and the standard size is 70m long by 50m wide. Additionally, there is no offside rule and throw-ins must be taken with one arm or the ball can be rolled into play, halves last only 30 minutes. 

As well as these modifications, there are rules specifying the classes of disability each team must have. 7-a-side football is played by players with cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injuries and are classed as FT1, FT2 or FT3 depending on the severity of impairment. Each team must field at least one FT1 player on the pitch at all times during the game and no more than one FT3 player.

Governing bodies

In January 2015, the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) became the governing body of the sport, independent from, but still working alongside, the CPISRA. There are over 40 national bodies which are members of the CPISRA. 

In England, 7-a-side football is governed by the Football Association (The FA); in Scotland it is Scottish Disability Sport (SDS); in Wales it is the Welsh Football Trust (FAW Trust); and in Northern Ireland it is the Irish Football Association (IFA).

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

England
A full list of clubs and sessions across the country can be found on Cerebral Palsy Sport’s website: http://www.cpsport.org/sports/football/clubs-sessions/

More information can also be found here on The FA website.

Scotland
https://www.scottishfa.co.uk/football-development/clubs/find-a-club/ 

Wales
http://welshfootballtrust.limegreentangerine.net/grassroots/community-football/where-play/ 

Northern Ireland
Contact information for Cerebral Palsy Football can be found here on The Irish FA website.

References

Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing.

https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1025461/explanation-for-exclusion-of-seven-a-side-football-from-tokyo-2020-demanded-by-cpisra
http://www.cpsport.org/
https://www.topendsports.com/sport/list/football-paralympic.htm
https://www.ifcpf.com/
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/paralympic-sport/8715591/London-2012-Paralympics-football-7-a-side-guide.html
https://www.paralympic.org/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/37000259
http://paralympics.codereach.co.uk/paralympicsports/football-7-a-side