The genius of Felipebol

The Felipebol was created by many hands, so that all students can play together.  

I am a physical education teacher at a public school on the edge of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil – the Integrated Centre of Public Education (CIEP, in Portuguese) Padre Paulo Correia de Sá. The school is located at the Padre Miguel neighbourhood, a region known for its high levels of poverty and violence, affected by drug trafficking and criminal groups. There are many challenges.

Boys on hands and knees, playing
UNICEF/BrazilFelipebol in action!

We have about 800 students and 2 per cent of them have some kind of disability. Together with the school staff and the students, we started thinking about how we could promote inclusion. We began trying and testing various games and sports – such as basketball, volleyball and soccer. None were perfect. Then, we created a new sports modality: the Felipebol. The name is a tribute to Felipe, a student with cerebral palsy who always partially participated in all proposed games, but in a very shy way. Even if he played with the kids, he was rarely the leader. It was only through Felipebol  that he was able to be fully integrated in the game, becoming a star-player.

We deconstructed some rules and concepts of the regular sports activities and developed something tailored where Felipe could really play with the others. In fact, throughout the experience we have noticed that this new activity also included many others students with and without disabilities.

A group of kids playing, one in a wheelchair.
UNICEF/BrazilThe gang playing Felipebol.

The game is split in two halves, five minutes each. Everyone must be in the same position as Felipe, using hands and knees to get around. The exception is for the goalkeeper – as a strategy for the inclusion of another student: Maicon. He could not get on his knees because of a backbone impairment. The object of Felipebol is for a player to get the ball into the other team’s goal by using any part of the body, especially the hands, with a simple rule: if any player stands-up it is a foul and a throw-in is awarded for the opposite team.

Felipe himself expresses his joy after being able to play: “Before I played football still in my wheelchair. Now, I play for real, I participate much more: I roll, dribble and score a lot of goals that I celebrate together with my friends.”

The reality of the physical education classes in which Felipe and all of my students participate been changing every year. The Open Doors for Inclusion course, implemented by Rodrigo Mendes Institute in partnership with UNICEF and the FC Barcelona Foundation was a turning point. The training was of great value to boost new ideas that were emerging in every meeting and towards ensuring accessibility and inclusion as everyone’s rights.

After 2013, the first year of the project, Felipe has left our school as he advanced in his education. However, what makes this project even more special is that he still plays Felipebol at his new school, sharing what is ours.

All this work was possible only because I counted with the support of the school’s board, teachers, employees, managers and students. Without this great community involvement of the entire school, it would not have been possible to implement this project. Moreover, that is how inclusion works, with support and participation.

Professor Luiz Gustavo Firmino is a teacher at the Ciep Padre Paulo Correia de Sá school in Rio de Janeiro.

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