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Hansard transcipt House of Lords Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Committee Debate 19th March 2014

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab): My Lords, in common with every other speaker in this debate, I express my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey not only for securing the debate but for the brilliant way in which he led the Select Committee. It was a pleasure to serve on it and I, too, thank our excellent clerk and special advisers who ensured that we covered the ground thoroughly and delivered the report on time. I also express my appreciation to my noble friend Lady King for suggesting the report’s title, Keeping the Flame Alive: The Olympic and Paralympic Legacy. It was an inspired choice which nobody else has mentioned this evening.

I remind the House of two relevant unpaid interests. I am a vice-president of the Football Conference and of Level Playing Field, formerly known as the National Association of Disabled Supporters. I shall be speaking mainly about football this evening.

Three aspects of our inquiry and recommendations are relevant. There was one issue on which we could make virtually no headway and the Government’s response has been virtually non-existent—the future of Great Britain’s Olympic football teams. We recommended that the British Olympic Association should continue to field at least a women’s GB team in future Games, and that efforts be made with the home nations’ football associations to field men’s teams in the Olympic under-23 tournament. I am aware that there are complications and sensitivities here, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, reminded the committee of some of those during our deliberations, particularly over a men’s team. However, given how important the Olympic Games are to women’s football across the world, it is regrettable that the Government have effectively washed their hands of this issue and said that this is a matter entirely for the football authorities and the BOA. In my view, Britain’s women footballers deserve better and would welcome some encouragement from the Government.

The second football issue was the one that attracted some media interest, and certainly the most colourful exchanges with witnesses. I refer of course to the future of the Olympic stadium and the dispute between West Ham United and Leyton Orient football clubs. Members of the committee will recall that on 24 July

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we took oral evidence in succession from Barry Hearn, chairman of Leyton Orient, and Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham United.




reports me at question 263 as asking Mr Hearn:

“on the ground-share, are you saying to the Committee that if the proposition was put forward that Leyton Orient would share the stadium with West Ham, you would welcome that?”.

Hansard goes on to report his reply, which was:

“Welcome it? My friend—excuse me for being familiar—I would welcome it. I would kiss you, right, and I do not normally kiss men”.

That exchange was picked up by the media, not just in this country but abroad.

While a number of members of the committee were surprised by just how favourable a deal West Ham had received, we did not examine that in detail. Our main concern was to ensure that the Olympic stadium should be available for community use in addition to becoming the home of West Ham. In the committee’s view, that should certainly include occasional use by Leyton Orient. I envisaged that that would be for matches such as major cup ties when their own ground at Brisbane Road was reckoned to be too small to cope with big crowds. The Government’s response to our report said that the London Legacy Development Corporation had arranged a meeting with Leyton Orient to discuss this issue, and I spoke to Mr Hearn yesterday—the first time that I had done so since that exchange in July. I was told that that meeting has now happened. However, bearing in mind that West Ham will be only a tenant of the stadium, not its operator, there seems to be room for some further discussions about a long-term ground share with Leyton Orient in order to help maintain its role as a community club and the stadium as a community facility.

I revert to the question of how to maximise benefits to the taxpayer. Your Lordships may have seen media reports that the present owners of may be planning to sell its controlling interest in the club, which would be at a profit enormously inflated by the deal to occupy the Olympic stadium. I should therefore like to ask the Minister whether he can give an assurance that if such a sale materialises the taxpayer will receive a fair proportion of that enhanced value.

On the third of the football-related issues that we covered, I am hopeful that we will eventually record a success—in meeting the need to provide appropriate standards of access and facilities for disabled supporters, which is covered in our recommendation 13. The context for this was set by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who is going to speak to us in a moment, in her oral evidence to the committee on 3 July. She contrasted the provision of facilities for disabled supporters at the Olympic and Paralympic Games with the situation in most Premier League football grounds, which she described as, “pretty shocking if you are a wheelchair user”.In response to questions, the noble Baroness agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that it should be illegal for football clubs to discriminate on the basis of a disability, and with his analogy of clubs having to comply by law with safety requirements, in providing disabled access.

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We returned to this issue when the committee questioned the Secretary of State, Maria Miller, on 9 October. We drew attention to the success of the Paralympic Games and the change in public attitudes towards disabled sport generally. However, as far as access to sports grounds is concerned, the situation is patchy at best and scandalous at worst. I referred to recent reports that places for disabled supporters at some Premiership football grounds had been taken out to make way for more television camera positions. By coincidence, the BBC screened an item on its TV news bulletins yesterday, reporting on the findings of its own investigation into disabled access at Premier League grounds. It centred on the experience of Mr Anthony Joy, an Arsenal fan and wheelchair user. The BBC reported that only Swansea, Southampton and Cardiff City comply with the recommendations of the Accessible Stadia guide, and that eight clubs, including Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham, do not provide even half the number of wheelchair spaces laid down in the guide. Mr Joy said that at West Ham, Aston Villa and Liverpool the limited number of spaces meant that he had had to sit with the home fans.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. This is not good enough and something has to be done. As Level Playing Field said in its evidence to the Select Committee, it is,“unacceptable within an industry that remains collectively wealthy with record-breaking resources including the new Premier League TV broadcasting deal for 2013/14 which is reported to be in excess of £5.5 billion”. I was pleased to see that in their response to our report the Government said that they agreed that,“disabled people should be provided with appropriate standards of access to football and other sports grounds, to continue the successes around accessibility at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Equality Act 2010 requires providers of services to the public, including sports grounds, to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in accessing those services”. If football is to avoid having to face scores of claims for damages under the Equality Act, action is needed now. 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, similar to what happened in the aftermath of the Taylor report into the Hillsborough stadium disaster, when clubs in the top divisions had to go all-seater within a specified timeframe. 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 under the DDA.

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 My final question to the Minister is a simple one. Given the positive nature of the Government’s response to the Select Committee and the encouraging nature of the Secretary of State’s answers to the committee, will he confirm that they are serious about seeing the necessary programme through, that they will, if necessary, hold football’s feet to the fire and legislate if necessary to make it all happen?9.24 pm

Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB): My Lords, I very much welcome the debate tonight and commend the work of the committee. It has produced a very detailed report covering many areas, but I hope that the detail of the report and some of the challenges that the committee highlighted mean that this matter will not be ignored in the future. I have said repeatedly, both before and since the London 2012 Games, that we cannot just expect legacy to happen, but there are many different ways in which we can encourage it.

I have a number of interests to declare. Everything is listed on the register but the most pertinent ones for tonight are that I sit as a board member of LLDC and Transport for London. I did work with LOCOG and am a trustee of SportsAid.

Tonight, I shall cover several areas of the report. The Paralympic Games were amazing. They exceeded every expectation that I could possibly have had. On day 1 of the athletics, at 9.50 am, with the session starting at 10 am, the stadium was packed with 80,000 people. Going back to the days when I competed in Atlanta where we could literally name the crowd, I never thought that we would get to a Games where the public would engage in such an amazing way.

Looking back, it perhaps seems that some of those things were easy to achieve. But there were many challenges along the way and a number of people deserve praise, not least the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for his work in integrating the Paralympic Games into the organising committee. I also worked closely with the diversity and inclusion team, which should be congratulated on the incredible work that it did in employment, procurement and volunteering, which will have a long-term effect, although some of the challenges are difficult to measure.

I am convinced that the Paralympic Games changed the attitude towards Paralympians, but I am not sure that it did much to change the attitude towards disabled people in general. We only have to look at the disability hate crime figures, which when last reported were the worst they have been in 10 years, to see that there is a mismatch between how the public view Paralympians and disabled people.

I strongly welcome the new Sport England targets on disability participation. This is the first time that any governing body will be seriously measured on what it does for disabled athletes, although it has been included previously in various plans. We need to be careful about how we measure participation and that we do not have double or triple accounting, and that we genuinely measure the number of disabled people who have opportunities.

In terms of how we measure equality within sport, I would be interested to find out how many of our Olympic and Paralympic national governing bodies

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employ disabled people. These data are probably not available now but, in terms of disability rights, we spend a great deal of time talking about co-production, and the idea of working with disabled people and them being part of the decisions that affect them. From what I see of our national governing bodies, we do not have enough disabled people working in the bodies, coaching or volunteering. With a little effort, that easily could be achieved. Through my work with the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, we know that there are not enough women on sports governing bodies. It is my guess that the representation of disabled people is even less.

Wearing my LLDC hat, I am really pleased that there are no white elephants, although I have to say that all that work was done before I joined the board. However, 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.Where we are now was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, as regards spectator seating in football clubs, which is not good enough. To have three clubs that provide decent access is poor. We are missing out on a massive opportunity. 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. The Government provided a detailed, self-explanatory response, so I do not expect the Minister to respond on this matter. But I would strongly support any work that the Government were going to do in that area.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.

Transport at Games time was amazing. Last week, I helped to launch “turn up and go” for London Overground, which is about disabled people not having

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to book 24 hours in advance to travel on the overground in London. The booking system that exists whereby wheelchair users have to book 24 hours in advance makes some sense to me, but disabled people need flexibility in their lives and should be able just to turn up on public transport and travel whenever they wish. I really hope that this will expand out across the whole of the rail network.

Just last week, I was invited to take part in a radio interview with a disabled businesswoman called Sarah Rennie. She was on a train but found out that the only accessible space was in the quiet coach, so she was not able to work. Just a couple of days later, I found myself in exactly the same position when I was travelling from London to Cardiff. I also found out that on a two-hour journey there were no accessible toilets. That particular train company, First Great Western, has since said that on those services it does not have accessible toilets in that particular carriage. It is hard to see that disabled people in the areas of transport are not experiencing some level of discrimination, and I plan to write to the Department for Transport on that particular matter.

In terms of participation, there are some really good things happening, but it does not always feel like that work is joined up. In terms of a living legacy, associations such as SportsAid, which has been around for a very long time and will continue to be around, is doing great work in terms of helping talented athletes, but also working with them to find the next generation of practitioners, strength and conditioning coaches, physios, and sports psychologists, and finding different ways to develop young athletes’ skills. But I firmly believe that we need to have other schemes that do not have such a huge profile, such as the talented athlete scholarship scheme, which helps athletes stay in education while they are training to make sure that when they leave sport they have other things to go on to.

That leads me to my view on elite sport. I sat on UK Sport for two terms and I also sat for one term of “Mission 2012”. I completely understand and accept that the “No Compromise” situation for London was okay, but we need to think differently about how we support our sports teams and how we enable them to get up to a decent international level. Over the years, I have seen many national governing bodies have several attempts to get it right. The sports that are now successful were not immediately so when lottery funding first came in. Gymnastics was one sport that was funded, then not funded and then funded again. It was a maelstrom for athletes and coaches who did not know where they stood. I wonder whether there is anything we can learn from history. By now, we must know quite a lot about performance planning and about how to be efficient with money. I do not think we are talking about huge sums in terms of helping athletes to be the best that they can.

I was really disappointed to learn that water polo, basketball, goalball, synchronised swimming, visually impaired football and wheelchair fencing today lost their appeal. Particularly on water polo I received a huge number of e-mails—possibly the largest number that I have ever received in the time that I have sat in your Lordships’ House—from young girls who want

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to play water polo saying that they do not know where to go. That is the sport that they want to play and they do not want to be talent transferred to another sport, but they do not feel that they have any options.

At the moment, we are in danger of telling people who have an aspiration to be an Olympian or Paralympian that they cannot do the sport they love. I understand that lots of sports such as lacrosse do not have much funding, but they are not Olympic or Paralympic sports. At the moment, we are consigning these sports to little chance of international success. David Owen, the journalist mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has been vocal about this—he tweeted this evening that we should,

“think about medallists, not just medals”.

Team sports can create many role models but bring in only one medal. I think that the current view is short-sighted. I do not want to be where Australia was in London 2012. I enjoy the friendly rivalry with the Australians and I love beating them, but I like to beat them when they are good, not when they are bad.

Finally, I would like to talk about physical activity. I thank the Select Committee for mentioning my work chairing the schools and physical activity task and finish group on the role of PE in Welsh schools, and I pay tribute to the members of that group who were all experts working on the ground. I worked hard on the project and it led to quite a radical report that made one single recommendation, which was to make PE a core subject. The idea behind it is about physical literacy and balancing that between literacy and numeracy. It is also about influencing teacher training and measuring equality of experience. It is not about measuring how high children can jump or how quickly they can run but about measuring the core skills they acquire. So I was delighted to learn yesterday that the Welsh Assembly Government have announced £1.78 million for a new physical literacy programme and a further £2.35 million has been agreed in principle to continue this work, subject to review.

In England, the money that has been confirmed for English schools is welcome, but I wonder whether the Minister can explain what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to help teachers make cost-effective use of that money. I have seen amazing teachers working in primary schools, but most of the time it feels like it is down to luck—it is because of the sporty teacher, the person who wants to do it. Some teachers find it a struggle and some head teachers may not understand the benefits of sport. They will not make the best use of this money. The situation in schools is this: if our children were being taught maths by someone who stopped engaging with maths at the age of eight, had a really bad experience of it, and then went to teacher training college where the tuition on how to teach the subject lasted four to six hours, there would be universal outrage, but that is happening in PE. I accept that that is a gross generalisation of the worst of the worst, but how can we expect our children to acquire the correct skills if we do not equip teachers to help them in the best way they can? I firmly believe that our children deserve better.

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The Games alone cannot change the world. They did a huge amount to move things forward, but we still have an opportunity to do better. I am sure that we will return to this debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.