During question time in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson insisted that the Government must do more to make football clubs cater for disabled fans.
This followed a question tabled by Level Playing Field Vice-President, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, in which he asked Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to ensure that professional sports clubs follow the Accessible Stadia Guidance.
The debate proceeded as follows:
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as vice-president of the charity, Level Playing Field.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that all spectators have enhanced and appropriate access to sporting venues and services, and that professional sports clubs are aware of their responsibilities towards disabled spectators. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the Department for Work and Pensions on a range of measures to ensure that the rights of disabled spectators are met by professional sports clubs.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Does the Minister agree that, although some sports are making a real effort, the situation with professional football is, as the Minister for Disabled People said when he wrote to all professional clubs in April, “woefully inadequate”, when it was revealed that only three clubs in the Premier League, the richest league in the world, comply with the requirements for the number of spaces for supporters in wheelchairs? Does he not think that the time has now come for equality law to be properly enforced and the guidelines, which have been in place since 2004, properly implemented and clear new instructions issued to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, first, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s tireless work on ensuring that there is greater access for disabled people. Importantly, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority is currently in discussion with Level Playing Field on a revision of the guidance to ensure that it takes account of legislative, technical and other advances that have occurred over the past 11 years. Premier football clubs have considerable means and I think that they should be looking to do very much better.
Lord Holmes of Richmond: My Lords, I draw my noble friend’s attention to the work which will be undertaken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in which my interest is declared in the register, to address this specific point: to ensure that when a disabled spectator goes to football, rugby, cricket or whatever sport in this country, we guarantee that they have an inclusive spectator experience. I am sure that my noble friend will agree.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend is leading on that initiative of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to deliver the sports equality standard programme. Across all sports, we need to ensure that there is an improvement in physical and cultural accessibility. It seems to me that it is a basic right of disabled people to have as much enjoyment from sport as those who are not disabled.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, is the Minister aware that certain Premiership football clubs such as Manchester United refuse to sell season tickets to wheelchair users and that it has only 42% of the accessible seating that it should? At other clubs, it is impossible to buy one because of the lack of accessible seating. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure a fair ticketing policy for all spectators and fans?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, first, the Equality Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people in the provision of goods, facilities and services. That is precisely why my right honourable friend Mike Penning, the Minister for Disabled People, and the Minister for Sport are so keen to ensure that, in their discussions with all sporting bodies, it is absolutely a fixture on the agenda of those meetings that this greater access is addressed and that clubs which ought to know better do better.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Is the Minister aware that there is a country which is better than we are at access for disabled people, better at training young people in football, cheaper as far as access to the stadia is concerned and better in terms of all the facilities in the stadium, and whose example we could well follow? That country is the Federal Republic of Germany.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, it was quite an extraordinary match last night and, clearly, there are lessons to be learnt for many countries from the ability of those German players. However, it is very important that this country picks up on what we were so successful at in 2012 with the Olympics and Paralympics, as that legacy needs to transcend all sporting stadia.
Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I speak as a season-ticket holder at Southampton Football Club, which is one of the four that meet the requirements. Should training for staff also be ensured? As an away supporter, I often have to sit with home fans, which can be quite difficult, but you can always tell when you are with someone who understands the issue of someone who is in a wheelchair or has other disability problems.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point: that disabled people—their rights being the same as those who are not disabled—should be sitting among the supporters of whichever side they wish. That is a perfectly sensible and correct thing to do. Clearly, training people is also an important part in providing the facility, as is providing carers to attend with disabled people, which many clubs are undertaking. That is the way forward.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, do the Government consider the existing equality legislation sufficient to bring about real change in accessibility and the provision of facilities for disabled supporters, particularly at our larger football stadia and arenas? If the Government do so consider, why is that legislation not being used? If they do not consider existing legislation sufficient to bring about real change, how much longer do they intend to wait before passing further legislation that will achieve the desired objective for disabled supporters? I declare an interest as a vice-president of Level Playing Field.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, obviously, no one would rule out further legislation if it becomes necessary. I know from looking at the exchanges of correspondence that this is something which the previous Government thought through. Clearly, it is the responsibility of each club to look at how it is dealing with access for disabled people. We think that is the best way to go because legislation can very often be a blunt instrument. We know that the Premier clubs are particularly well able to ensure that they have the necessary adaption, whereas perhaps some other clubs would find difficulties. That is exactly why the Equalities Act 2010 was couched in the way that it was.
Watch the debate on Parliament TV which began at 1502.
Joyce Cook OBE, LPF Chair said,
“It is worth reflecting on London 2012 with accessible venues and services provided across the Olympic Park and Gamesmakers on hand to ensure an inclusive welcome to all. That experience has given disabled people a taste of just what is possible when there is a real commitment to ensuring sporting venues that are fit-for-purpose.”
“Level Playing Field has been calling for change for over a decade and has proposed a very sensible plan to ensure proper access for disabled fans. It’s very straightforward; create a short-term football stadium improvement fund (for clubs in lower leagues that may need help); provide working examples and expert guidance to clubs; and regulate through mandatory access audits by making this a requirement of club licensing.” “The governing bodies should oversee these actions as a part of their remit to ensure that stadiums are safe and fit-for-purpose for all fans and to ensure that their member clubs are fulfilling their legal obligations. This already happens for other governance matters such as financial fair play and safety.”
“How can it be that the corner shop has to abide by the Equality Act to ensure that disabled people are welcomed and not discriminated against, yet the football club at the end of the road seems to ignore disability legislation?” “This shouldn’t be left to individual disabled fans to have to challenge on their own – that can’t be right – football is our national game.” “Of course some clubs are doing a good job, but let’s be clear, there is still a great deal to do.”
“The RFL and FA of Wales have already set a precedent in this respect with club audits and accessibility reviews underway.”
“Given the collective wealth of football, this could be fixed in one end-of-season period. We have some great examples of smart, low cost adaptions, implemented by forward thinking clubs such as Derby County FC and there are expert architects on hand to assist with this process. What a great legacy of London 2012 that would be, to be able to say that football has met its own minimum standards and is leading the way in providing a truly inclusive match day experience for all fans.”
“It is time for lasting change. The (DDA) legislation has been in place for almost 20 years – disabled fans have waited long enough!”.
There have already been a number of media stories around the debate including interviews by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on Radio 4, Radio 5 and BBC Wales. Level Playing Field will share links to the interviews when they become available.
Listen to the interviews with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on the morning show on BBC Radio 4 at 2 hours and 52 minutes into the broadcast and on the morning show on BBC Radio 5 live at 2 hours and 25 minutes into the broadcast.