Premier League clubs warned over needs of disabled fans

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Urgent changes must be made for disabled fans at football grounds, a House of Lords committee has heard.

 

In responding to the recent BBC news stories and yesterday’s Olympic Legacy debate in the House of Lords, Level Playing Field President, David Bernstein CBE said: “We welcome the BBCs interest and hope that the issues highlighted in their news story, concerning the many access difficulties facing disabled football fans, will add further momentum to our works. We will be discussing the issues raised in upcoming meetings with the Premier League, government and associated parties with a view to finding the most effective way forward.”

 

Bernstein's comment follows a BBC report which revealed that only three Premier League stadiums currently provide the required number of wheelchair spaces.

 

The BBC report revealed only Swansea, Southampton and Cardiff provide the required amount of disabled (spectator) spaces and added that eight of the 20 Premier League clubs fail to offer half that number. Current guidelines on how football clubs in the United Kingdom should cater for disabled spectators have been in place since the 2003 Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG).

 

"If football is to avoid having to face scores of claims for damages under the Equality Act, action is needed now," Lord Faulkner of Worcester insisted.It is not acceptable for clubs to neglect the needs of disabled fans."

 

Lord Faulkner, who is also a Vice-President of both the Football Conference and Level Playing Field, addressed an Olympic and Paralympic Legacy committee debate on disabled supporters at football grounds.

 

For convenience we have quoted Lord Richard Faulkner of Worcester and Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson's full speeches from the debate and highlighted the relevant sections to our topic. These can be found here.

 

(Alternatively the House of Lords video stream is available here starting at 9.13pm and the full Hansard text here.)

 

"Taking all 92 professional football clubs into account, only 14 provide the minimum recommended number of wheelchair user spaces, and many clubs offer only very few away spaces for wheelchair users, some as few as three," he said. "This is not good enough and something has to be done."

 

"First, there needs to be an access audit review into what has to be done at each ground to ensure that every club meets at least the minimum requirements of the ASG."

 

"A strict timetable must then be established for the implementation of the necessary work. This programme should be overseen by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and funded, if necessary, by the Football Stadia Improvement Fund".

 

"However, given the amount of money within football today compared with 20 or so years ago, and with clubs prepared to pay players up to £300,000 a week, it is not acceptable for the clubs to plead poverty and to continue to neglect the reasonable access needs of their disabled fans."

 

"They have had more than 20 years to make the necessary changes."

 

Former Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson, now a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords, said it was "completely unacceptable" for opposing disabled fans to be forced to sit together and "strongly disagreed" with specialist pricing programmes and ticketing policies which she said would mean they were "further excluded from watching the sport they love".

 

"London set the most amazing standard for inclusion for spectators. For the first time ever I went to a sporting event and was able to sit with the people with whom I had bought tickets. My family were not sent 10 rows in front of me and my daughter was not sent to sit in another stand completely. The sightlines were amazing and you could see everything that was going on. The platforms were built in such a way that when everyone jumped up at the start of the 100 metres, we were still able to see. There were some very simple things: for example, the toilets were in appropriate places and the access to food was amazing. In addition, the Games makers were trained to be positively helpful.”

 

“……. I strongly support Joyce Cook from Level Playing Field when she said that the clubs need to react to the DDA and Equality Act legislation. It is not as if they have not had a decent amount of support. Information that the clubs have been given goes back as far as 1995 and they still have not done enough to rectify this.”…. "I also do not think that it is acceptable for fans who are wheelchair users to have to sit with the opposing team. That is completely unacceptable. But I also strongly disagree with clubs that offer either a specialist pricing programme or a different way of accessing tickets. What that usually means is that disabled people cannot just buy a ticket the same way as anyone else: they are reliant on a smaller body within the club to allocate them tickets. That is not always a terribly fair way of allocating them. It also means that a disabled person cannot complain. If they complain about the sightlines or lack of access to toilets or food, they will not get tickets next time and they will be even further excluded from watching the sport they love. I was therefore delighted when the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, mentioned that the EHRC will be helping those sports that require to be pushed in a slightly more positive direction.”

 

To read the BBC Sport article from today click here.

To read the BBC Sport article from 18th March, click here. You can also view the BBC News story from the 18th March by clicking here.

 

Public letter dated 25th March from Lord Bates, Government Whips’ Office, House of Lords to Lord Harris of Haringey on the questions raised during last week’s Olympic and Paralympic Legacy debate can be seen here.