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Clubs are neglecting their responsibility to disabled fans

Disabled supporters continue to be forgotten by a number of professional clubs according to new research, with 55 of the 92 teams in the top four divisions forcing away fans to watch matches in home sections of support.

A study has shown that only three Premier League clubs provide the minimum wheelchair space in their grounds as recommended by the Accessible Stadia Guide – a number dependent on the size of the stadium – with Swansea, Leicester and newly promoted Bournemouth those who meet the requirements.

In April 2014 the government described the situation for disabled supporters as “woefully inadequate” but, before the new Premier League season starts, research from the office of Chris Bryant, the shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has laid bare the serious issues that fans still face.

With the top flight’s lucrative TV deal coming into effect this season, Labour is calling on the government to make sufficient wheelchair space a mandatory requirement, asking for a consultation process into the issue involving the Football Association and Premier League.

The analysis compares the cost of upgrading stadiums to the minimum standard for disabled seats with each club’s transfer spending this summer. Arsenal, who are the top disability seat providers after Swansea, Bournemouth and Leicester, would need to spend £140,000 to meet the recommended minimum number of wheelchair spaces, while it would cost Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United between £1.4m and £2.2m, sums that would amount to a fraction of the amounts spent on players during the current transfer window.


Wheelchair spaces at Premier League grounds

Spaces provided as a percentage of Accessible Stadia Guide recommendations,

and cost to upgrade (click on infographic to enlarge)

(For a more detailed breakdown of these figures in an accessible format, click here.)

Gary Siddons, a Chelsea fan for 20 years, said very little has changed in terms of disabled seating and that away supporters feel the brunt. “I’ve had to pick and choose away matches,” he said. “If you have to sit with the home fans it can be quite fractious. You have to temper your support. The powers that be wouldn’t dream of allowing a line of able-bodied fans within another section – it would never happen. But it just seems acceptable that disabled people can do that.

 “I had a terrible experience at an FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool at Old Trafford in 2005-06 because we had to sit with opposition supporters and had to leave at half-time. People’s attitudes to disabled people seem to be changing and there is more awareness now but in terms of the seating hardly anything has changed.”

Bryant, whose research has also found issues regarding the admission of guide dogs at certain stadiums, said: “With the money pouring into Premier League football it just isn’t right that disabled football fans are being forgotten by the clubs they love. Everyone should be able to go and watch a game if they want to but, even as the new season starts, Premier League clubs still aren’t doing enough to be inclusive and accessible for all.

“We need an end on the unfair and complex schemes for disabled fans to get tickets for matches, the lack of audio provision in stadia and the restrictions on guide dogs. It isn’t right that clubs are failing their disabled fans and we need to see real action and improvements this season.”

Article reproduced from The Guardian