Weeks of Action - How Level Playing Field changed the game for disabled fans
With the 12th Annual Level Playing Field Weeks of Action now underway, we take a moment to look back at a brief history of Level Playing Field and how our works have been a ‘Game Changer’ for disabled sports fans…
The idea of a national body representing disabled sports fans was first conceived by a group of friends sat at a kitchen table in 1998. Frustrated by the lack of even basic provisions for disabled fans at the time, Level Playing Field (or as we were then known, the National Association of Disabled Supporters) was born.
Now almost 20 years on, we look back with pride as to the scale of the achievements we have had in transforming the landscape for disabled sports fans.
Before Level Playing Field, disabled fans were simply an afterthought at sports stadia. Dedicated viewing areas for wheelchair users, easy access seating for ambulant disabled fans, accessible transport links, dedicated disability access and liaison officers, accessible toilet facilities were at best scarce, and in many cases non-existent. Sports stadia were simply not fit to accommodate disabled sports fans and their accessibility requirements.
With barely anything in the LPF bank, a team of passionate and dedicated volunteers set about changing the game for disabled sports fans. The first step was to gain an idea of the state of the game for disabled supporters throughout England and Wales, and after a painstaking effort 114 Premier League, Football League and Non-League clubs were audited on the accessible services and facilities they offered. The result – ‘A Guide to Grounds for Disabled Football Supporters’ was published, a ‘Game Changer’ at the time.
With a better understanding of where the land lay, we set about in our quest to improve access for disabled fans, to get the topic at the top of the agenda and ensure discrimination against disabled people was treated in the same manner as all forms of discrimination.
A major breakthrough in our work came with the publication of Accessible Stadia in 2003, a document that sets out the minimum standards for disabled access at sports stadia that clubs are expected to comply with. This important document informs much of our work, including our successful Access Audit programme.
With Accessible Stadia standards in place and LPF establishing relationships and working with clubs to improve access and inclusion, it was important to gain support within Parliament to further our cause and to keep the topic of access and inclusion right at the top of the agenda.
With the support of Lord Rosser of Ickenham and later Lord Faulkner of Worcester making the case for improved access for disabled spectators in Parliament, this gave LPF the gravitas and public support necessary to develop our important works. This included Lord Faulkner tabling the Accessible Sports Grounds Bill in the House of Lords.
We now had a team of full time staff working hard to deliver better access for disabled fans, and we saw the growth of our highly successful Working Together project where we work to establish and maintain Disabled Supporters Associations (DSAs). We now can count 12 DSAs set up as part of the project – a massive ‘Game Changer’ for disabled fans where these independent, user led organisations have a voice within their clubs.
In 2014 LPF, alongsode our sister organisation and good friends Centre to Access to Football in Europe (CAFE), were on the move and relocated from offices in Chester to London, where we are currently situated next to Wembley Stadium.
The hard work continued and everyone was absolutely thrilled in August 2015 when the Premier League announced that all of its member clubs would be compliant with Accessible Stadia minimum standards by August 2017. This news vindicated all of the blood, sweat and tears over the years to make such a situation possible – LPF had proven a massive ‘Game Changer’ for disabled sports fans. We had changed the game and in the process had changed people’s lives.
Level Playing Field realise however there is still much work to do to improve access, remove barriers and ensure true equality and inclusion for disabled sports fans.
In our day to day works we continue to work closely with clubs, venues, disabled fans and their advocates and are as ambitious as ever about what we aim to achieve.
Our Access Audit programme is ever expanding and we have recently introduced Disability Inclusion and Etiquette Training (DIET) to be delivered at sports clubs and venues. We are also actively working to expand our reach across all sports to ensure that all disabled sports fans can enjoy their matchday experience whatever sport they follow.
Meanwhile our Working Together project and Weeks of Action campaign, which is currently taking place, continue to thrive and play a big part in changing the game for disabled sports fans.
We look forward to continuing to work with clubs, fans, DSAs and other stakeholders in the future where we are determined to continue our role as ‘Game Changers’ in access and inclusion for disabled sports fans.
Join us this Weeks of Action and celebrate the Game Changers and get involved in the digital campaign here
Tweet us @lpftweets using hashtag #GameChangers to show your support for this years Weeks of Action campaign.