Dear Secretary of State
I am sure you are aware that Level Playing Field (a registered charity) actively campaigns and represents the views of disabled fans across a number of sports. The majority of our work is, of course, football-based.
May I say I welcome your comments regarding the appalling scenes we witnessed at the Champions League Final. We are grateful for your request to UEFA for a full and thorough investigation of what could have potentially been a catastrophic sequence of events.
We have now seen crowd trouble at two major finals (Euro 2020 and the Champions League Final). Unfortunately, it was reported that disabled fans were caught up in the issues witnessed pre-game at both of these major sporting events. We wish to ensure that relevant questions and observations around disabled fans’ safety are appropriately made and considered, and we would be pleased to discuss this with you.
We also wish to raise another serious issue with you relating to the Champions League Final. The Stade de France capacity for wheelchair users is 550 spaces. For the final, UEFA allocated a paltry 38 spaces for Liverpool and Real Madrid. Additionally, some wheelchair user spaces were sold directly by UEFA to non-Liverpool or Real Madrid fans making the total available wheelchair space at a major European final equate to just 93 spaces. This left 457 Wheelchair user spaces unaccounted for.
We had serious concerns with this and raised several questions and requested assurances from UEFA ahead of the final. We are aware that UEFA deemed certain spaces as not fit for purpose. Some of the questions we posed to UEFA included the following.
We understand from speaking to our associates at the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (of which I am also a director) that tickets for some of the spaces are not being sold due to poor infrastructure. Does this mean that UEFA considers that 474 spaces of the 550 wheelchair user spaces at the Stade de France are not fit for purpose?
May we please have your assurances that these wheelchair user spaces are not being used for camera/media positioning or given to corporate partners that do not have a disability?
Level Playing Field considers that it would be far more appropriate to invest in delivering more accessible spaces – especially for a final of this magnitude – rather than restricting the rights of disabled people to attend by reducing the capacity. We fully understand that the match was transferred to Paris at relatively short notice, given events in Ukraine, but the stadium in Paris is a significant one, and we would expect it to be fit for purpose, particularly for a country that is presumably in the final stages of preparations for the Olympic Games.
The response we received from UEFA was as follows :
“We would like you to know that we acknowledge the situation and state that we agree that the number of seats available to disabled and low mobility supporters is insufficient. We constantly work to ensure the best possible conditions to eliminate barriers to access to UEFA competition matches.
For the UEFA Champions League final – and all other UEFA club competition finals and final tournaments – UEFA offers two types of accessibility tickets – Wheelchair User tickets and Easy Access tickets. All accessibility tickets come with a complimentary companion ticket, if needed.
Due to operational challenges, linked in particular to the change of venue for the final on short notice (Stade de France replaced Saint Petersburg only on 25 February), UEFA was able to assign 93 wheelchair positions (76 allocated to the fans of the two clubs) which fulfil the quality sightlines UEFA aims to offer to disabled spectators and 128 ‘easy access’ seats.
For an event of this size, UEFA would usually aim to identify a higher number of positions, but due to operational constraints (e.g. security, poor view, etc.) and the short preparation time, it was not possible to implement optimal solutions for more wheelchair positions.
Regardless of this year’s specific situation we will continue to work to improve accessibility to UEFA’s matches.”
We specifically asked UEFA again why was it that 457 wheelchair user spaces at the Stade de France were not fit for purpose?
We have also asked if disability inclusion was ‘factored in’ when choosing the final stadium for this year’s tournament? We appreciate that the situation in Russia has caused issues; however, the final is being hosted in a stadium that even UEFA consider to have “insufficient” wheelchair user spaces.
UEFA has chosen a stadium which boasts 550 Wheelchair user spaces; however, it would seem only 96 are fit four purposes. They state ‘it’s not possible to ‘implement optimal solutions.
Finally, UEFA did not provide any assurances that wheelchair user spaces were not being used for camera/media positioning or given to corporate partners that may not have a disability?
UEFA rightly promote their #EqualGame campaign to promote a vision that everyone should be able to enjoy football. Their actions – or inaction – regarding this years Champions League final suggests that #EqualGame means Equality, provided you are not disabled.
We are sure that, like us, you will have seen evidence that wheelchair bays were being used for the press and media the final, evidence was shared, indicating that wheelchair bays were being used for press and media, something that UEFA could have declared to us in advance had they been so minded.
I know that you are in contact with UEFA about events at the final, but I would ask you to raise our concerns as it is clear that disabled Liverpool fans, in particular, were not considered and discriminated against.