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Blog: Disabled people deserve more from our national game

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of Scope has blogged for the Huffington Post on why disabled people deserve more from football.

Sport has the power to unite us all. Despite creed, colour, political belief or background, in football grounds we’re all the same. We’re all fans, united by our passion for our club. 

At least this is how it should be.

But for some people, for too long, football has been an exclusive ‘club’ that remains closed.

We’ve seen high profile fights to tackle racism in football and more recently to kick homophobia out of the terraces. But for disabled people, efforts to make our national game accessible and welcoming have fallen short. 

New Scope research with our partner, Virgin Media, shows that nearly 40% of disabled fans have experienced negative attitudes from other fans. Staggeringly, a third (29%) say they’ve been the victim of verbal abuse in stadiums because of their impairment. That is just not good enough.

Many will dismiss these complaints as merely the march of the PC brigade – snowflakes who can’t handle a bit of banter. But our new research paints a picture of match days where many fans feel unwelcome. From negative language about disability to their whole match day experience, disabled fans feel let down.

It’s important to understand what effect words like these can have on a person. Almost two thirds of disabled fans said these experiences had stopped them from going to a live match again.

Football unites us. It shouldn’t matter who you are, football is for everyone. Sadly, attitudes remain stubbornly resistant to change. All disabled fans want is a level playing field.

That’s why Scope and Virgin Media have teamed up to change attitudes and to help remove the barriers that stop people getting involved in our national game. Scope has been Virgin Media’s national charity partner for two years, working to help transform the lives of disabled people and their families. To help put disabled fans at the heart of the game, Virgin Media is donating its shirt sponsorship of Southampton FC to Scope for the Saints’ match against Manchester United on Wednesday. The team will wear the Scope logo front and centre on their strip.

We know it can be incredibly difficult for disabled fans to watch football live in stadiums. Too often, public attitudes, inaccessible venues and facilities and a lack of information mean disabled people are unable to enjoy sport like everyone else does.

Disabled fans want everyday equality and want to be able to enjoy sport like everyone else.

It’s only by talking about and raising awareness of issues like this that we can change the way that people think and behave.

These attitudes don’t just exist in football. We know in wider society that a third of Brit’s feel awkward around disabled people and, 85 per cent of disabled people say that attitudes in the workplace haven’t shifted in the last four years.Together, we can make football a more inclusive, safe, and enjoyable experience for everyone. There has been an improved picture in the UK in 2017 for racism and homophobia. Sadly the same cannot be said for disability. Now’s the time to change this.

 All the football for all the fans, no matter who you are.

From: Huffington Post

Related: Scope tackling disability discrimination within football as research shows problem within game