A message from Level Playing Field Chair, Tony Taylor:
“We have never seen a year like this one. The coronavirus has been front and centre and has impacted us all over the past 10 months.
I have been really pleased to see how Level Playing Field has responded to the pandemic and have focused on playing an active support for both fans and clubs. As a charity we have responded by reaching out to fans and capturing their feelings and concerns about a return to stadia to better assist clubs in their matchday plans, whilst also understanding challenges people are facing now.
Our Covid-19 survey which took place in June this year gave valuable insight and shaped our response where we could indeed offer wellbeing support for fans through some new programmes such as Talking Sport, The Level Playing Field Podcast and much more.
This work is only possible with the committed and passionate staff we are lucky to have at Level Playing Field. Their ability to adapt, like we all have had to do, during this period should be commended and equally something we should look to harness going forward.
The charity has gone through a lot of change during the past several years and whilst we thought things were settling down, the Covid -19 pandemic landed and provided some new challenges to face, which we have tackled head on and dealt with very well. I would like to thank my fellow trustees who continue to offer their support and guidance. It really has been a team effort.
Whilst we are still in the middle of the pandemic, we set our sights going forward. 2021 will see us again living alongside the Coronavirus, however we must continue to offer support and when we are back watching live sport, we are back better than ever and this is something we must build towards.”
National Forum Film
2019 was a hugely successful year for Level Playing Field (LPF). With a number of new staff recruited and a full team in place, the charity organisation was in a position to host its debut National Forum.
MK Don’s ‘Stadium MK’ would be the destination LPF would invite Clubs, DSAs, Fans, partner Organisations and its members from across England and Wales to meet to discuss access, best practice, and share the great ideas we all have to provide a better match day experience for disabled sports fans.
Working alongside Stanley Road Film and Media Limited, LPF produced a ‘National Forum Film’ that captured a significant day in Level Playing Field history.
Weeks of Action 2020
The coronavirus outbreak, unfortunately, left Level Playing Field with no option but to postpone its third and final weekend of the Weeks of Action campaign, despite it lining up to be the busiest with clubs from all over the country preparing for their dedicated match days.
However, this year’s campaign was still the biggest to date. The stats showed a 17% increase in Clubs, DSAs, and partner Organisations taking part, with the total number involved rising to 144.
Clubs from the Premier League to the Northern Counties East Premier Division showed their support with dedicated match days and events, demonstrating the vast celebration and recognition for access and inclusion in sport across England and Wales.
Back in January, Level Playing Field staff travelled to Old Trafford neighbours ‘Hotel Football’ in Manchester to conduct a handful of short films in the build-up to the Weeks of Action 2020 campaign.
We spoke to Tranmere Rovers Disability Liaison Officer Christine Roberts, Preston North End fan Brian, and Plymouth Argyle fans Joe and Claire about their experiences in football.
Level Playing Field Pub Quiz
Once the world had ground to an abrupt halt by the Covid-19 pandemic, Level Playing field stepped in to provide a little entertainment and virtual community for its followers, and for those who might need some social interaction during this period of uncertainty.
LPF Fans Liaison Officer launched the ‘LPF Pub Quiz’, a weekly 30-minute quiz via social media and Facebook Live.
The quiz was made up of three rounds, ‘General Sport Knowledge’, ‘Disability Access and language’ and ‘Picture round’.
Word spread and clubs started to offer prizes to the winners, including tickets to matches when is football safe to return, which hopefully they will be able to enjoy in 2021!
Football Fights Back
During the suspension of sport, we noticed plenty of clubs working hard in and around their respective communities, especially with disabled supporters.
Most clubs were communicating with fans by reaching out on the phone, some clubs had club legends getting involved! Ex-Wolves’ man Steve Bull checked-in with some of the club’s fans, offering his assistance with groceries or prescriptions.
There was a lot of good going on up and down the country, so LPF decided to do some research and create a video, on how football fought back.
Covid-19 disabled fans survey
The survey was the first of its kind to measure the current impact of COVID-19 on disabled sports fans in England and Wales and to also look forward at particular challenges.
Fast-forward to June, we published the results of the survey which saw close to 600 responses from disabled fans.
Some of the Key findings found that:
- 43% of the people who took part in the survey stated that the suspension of live sport had a significant impact their mental health while 62% of supporters stated that if they were unable to return to sport next season, they fear it would have a huge impact on their own personal wellbeing.
- 79% of supporters were in the government’s ‘high risk’ category for COVID19, but 81% of fans intend to or already have renewed their season ticket for the, 2020/21 season despite the Coronavirus Pandemic.
- 86% of supporters expected clubs to provide live streaming services when asked what adjustments or alternatives they would like to see if government guidelines state that ‘vulnerable’ supporters cannot attend live games next season. 50% stated they would request alternative matchday viewing spaces.
The survey finds that there is a significant concern from disabled supporters about returning to watch live sport. In fact, 12% of respondents state that they’d been put off attending live sport ever again.
However, the majority of supporters’ passion for live sport is still high and expect provisions to be put into place so disabled supporters can return to live sport as soon as it is safe to do so.
Tony Taylor, Chair of Level Playing Field:
“There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our way of life. As an organisation that represents disabled sports fans it is important that we can measure the impact; ensure that disabled fans’ views are not being overlooked and provide information to clubs, leagues and government as they plan their way through this unprecedented situation.
Our survey results from nearly 600 fans have endorsed what Level Playing Field already knew – how important attending live sport is for so many disabled people. But even we were shocked by the extent of the fear and anxiety expressed by some of the responders.
Level Playing Field will ensure that this is shared widely with clubs and governing bodies. I am confident that they will find the data from this survey will support them in decision making and planning as sport begins to resume.”
Membership Steering Group
Ahead of the 2020/21 season and the Level Playing Field membership renewals, we decided to put together a ‘Membership Steering group’ made up of current LPF members and DSA members, to help develop the three membership types we offer.
As an organisation, LPF believe its members and fans have continuously been at the heart of the work it does. It is important to continue to make sure that it is the voice of supporters that’s driving its work now and in the future.
We recruited eight members and had a successful first meeting at the beginning of the current season. The initial plan is to meet every six months (virtually, until safe to meet at LPF HQ) and review the success of the membership programme.
Level Playing Field are always on the look-out for more contributors. If you are interested, please contact Ben on email@example.com.
Similarly, to the LPF Pub quiz launched in March, we decided to introduce a new initiative to encourage social interaction, combating loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although fans were still unable to attend live sport, thankfully, events and matches were able to safely get back underway behind closed doors and give us something to talk about!
We invited fans to get in touch with us for a session of sport discussion. The feedback we’ve received has proved to us just how important it is to reach out to fans in these periods of isolation.
This is an ongoing initiative and we’re actively encouraging those who fancy a chat to get in touch with us! There’s loads of sport to feast our eyes on over what’s set to be a very different Christmas period, and with large parts of the country included in the ‘Tier 4’ section of the Governments tier system, what better time to talk sport!
Contact our Fans Liaison Officer Liam for more information firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Miller MBE becomes Level Playing Field Ambassador
Six-time Paralympic medallist Stephen Miller became the latest to join the organisation as an Ambassador in the summer of 2020.
Level Playing Field were delighted to announce the signing of Stephen Miller MBE as the latest to join what is growing to be a fantastic list of ambassadors.
Stephen was a founding member of the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association, also known as NUDSA, an association that is now in its 22nd year of continuous service to represent the views improve the matchday experience of disabled supporters visiting St James Park.
It is this passion the key reason for Stephen wanting to work with Level Playing Field as an ambassador in supporting the charity in its work and vision: A world in which all disabled fans can freely access and enjoy live sporting events.
Stephen said: “As a founding member of NUDSA, we’ve always worked with Level Playing Field and always had a good working relationship and the work the charity do sits with what we do at NUDSA, To help to improve access, improve equality, to help more disabled people enjoy football and enjoy watching sport. The rights of disabled people must be put forward to the football club and take it seriously. The opportunity to be the new Ambassador is one I’m very excited by and I’m looking forward to supporting Level Playing Field as it continues to move forward to bring about better access and inclusion.”
We revealed the exciting news with a Q&A video session with Stephen.
Return of Supporters into Stadiums
When the government announced plans to have fans back in stadia as early as October, Level Playing Field announced it would be working with the SGSA (Sports Ground Safety Authority) to bring fans the latest on what this might look like for spectators.
SGSA inspector Rick Riding took the time to explain some of the SGSA’s guidance available for sports clubs to enable stadiums to effectively plan for the readmittance of supporters, with a focus on how these changes might affect disabled supporters moving forward.
Some of the key notes from the presentations were…
- There is no set % of the total capacity, each stadium will need to follow the SG02 guide (Clubs and supporters can find the final version of the ‘SG20 Planning for social distancing at sports grounds guidance’ via this link) to determine a Social Distance capacity. This capacity will vary at every stadium dependent of ingress, circulation, egress, and local transport capabilities.
- Supporters may be asked to arrive at staggered times to avoid overcrowding but clubs should allow flexibility.
- Any social distancing planning should not impact on the movement of disabled supporters.
- All fans attending the game should sign up to a Track & Trace system.
- Wearing of masks/face coverings is for the club to decide and operate but there needs to be flexibility depending on the supporter’s needs
- SGSA will be hosting more webinars (open to all) in September.
Although the initial October plans were scrapped and fans have only just started to return in select stadia across the country dependant on the tier system in place.
Revisiting the webinar will be helpful for fans and clubs to have some understanding of the current return to stadia.
During September, Level Playing Field arranged several DSA and Fan forums to discuss the return of disabled supporters to stadiums, and what part Disabled Supporters Associations (DSA) can play in the process.
“As none of us has ever worked through this before, we need to come together to share good practice and learn from one another about unexpected consequences to give all disabled fans the best possible experience at these very difficult times.” – Jo, MK Dons supporter.
Alongside active DSAs, we explored how DSAs can use this season to move forward, take the initiative, building on its membership.
“I am always looking for the ideas and thoughts of others, this way I can support my DSA moving forward” – David, Yeovil DSA (YDSA).
With representation from the Premier League to the National League, attendees spoke about their DSAs work during the COVID-19 pandemic, which included virtual coffee mornings, socially distanced visits to stadiums and training facilities, as well as maximising the use of social media to create monthly competitions.
Several DSAs spoke about the difficulty they’ve faced with the switch to new technology, trying to maintain contact with its members, and gaining information from their respective clubs due to furlough and staff cuts.
Other subject matters such as face coverings/masks, personal assistance, and accessible bathrooms were just a couple of the subject matters also discussed.
Match of the Day… Before!
Continuing our work around Covid-19 and keeping fans engaged during this difficult time, we decided it was time for another Level Playing Field initiative; Match of the Day… Before!
The idea of this was to discuss the latest football topics every Monday after a weekend of action.
We knew from our ‘Talking Sport’ work that having the opportunity to speak about subject matters that we have a passion for can have a positive effect on a person’s mental wellbeing, therefore we decided to introduce a group initiative instead of just a one-to-one option, where people can meet, chat and engage with the latest sport news together.
Match of the Day Before sessions are still running every Monday. The link to the open-invitation zoom chat is shared on social media (Twitter and Facebook) every week before the session begins, but you can register your interested and introduce yourself to Liam, who runs the group at email@example.com.
The Level Playing Podcast: A podcast for all
In what has probably been Level Playing Field’s biggest introduction of 2020, the long-awaited Level Playing Field podcast is now live.
The first two episodes have dropped, featuring a quality range of guests from across the sports community, discussing disability subject matters regarding sport in England and Wales.
“This is going to be a podcast that’s going to talk about key areas that impact disabled people and their matchday experience. If you want to find out what the real-life experience is, subscribe to the podcast. If you want to find out about ways that can improve the matchday experience for disabled supporters, subscribe to the podcast. If you want to find out about the good work that clubs are doing in England and Wales, then subscribe to this podcast” – Owain Davies, Chief Executive
The podcast will be available on Apple Podcast, Spotify and Google Podcasts as well as other podcast streaming services.
TV Sports Streaming Survey – for disabled fans
Level Playing Field’s second survey of the year focussed on TV Streaming Services, such as Sky Sports, BT Sport, iFollow, Prime Video or any other platform fans have used during the time sport has been played behind closed doors.
Level Playing Field wanted to know if these streaming services are accessible to everyone. Some websites and services are not compatible with assistive technology like screen readers, which read text to blind and partially sighted users, or speech input so that people can talk to their computer instead of using a keyboard. It is estimated that 4.3 million disabled people click away from inaccessible websites each year.
The survey ran for 5 weeks from 13 November to 18 December, gathering roughly 300 responses.
The TV Sports Streaming Service survey results will be published in the new year.