By Jeremy Wilson, Deputy Football Correspondent, The Telegraph
The Premier League and some of its leading clubs are facing a parliamentary grilling over the projection that a pledge to meet minimum standards for disabled fans will be broken next year.
Bill Bush, the Premier League’s executive director, will answer questions from members of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Oct 18 after it was revealed earlier this month by The Telegraph that some of football’s richest clubs no longer expect to honour the collective promise.
Only three out of 20 Premier League clubs – Leicester City, Manchester City and Swansea City – currently meet minimum numbers for wheelchair space. Other clubs have been working towards meeting the pledge by August 2017 but, despite annual turnovers of more than £250 million, Liverpool and Chelsea have already indicated that they will not meet the guidelines.
Premier League club wheelchair spaces against their pledge
ClubDedicated wheelchair spacesMinimum guideline% metExpected to meet pledge by 2017?
No. Only 10 places are on raised platforms and the rest are pitchside and not easy access
Yes. Arsenal intend to raise their wheelchair spaces to beyond 250
TBC. Working towards being compliant within 12 months. Promoted clubs have been given until 2018
No. Club only say they will meet minimum standards if and when they build new stadium
Palace dispute the 38% figure but have not provided an alternative. They say they are working towards meeting pledge
Yes. Club says they have commissioned work to meet the pledge
TBC, but Premier League now say newly promoted clubs have until 2018
Yes. Already met.
No. Despite expansion and increased hospitality, phase 1 of Anfield rebuild did not meet guidelines
Yes. Already met.
Yes. Work commissioned to meet pledge.
Yes. Middlesbrough say they have 221 potential spaces for wheelchair users if they include those at pitchside
Yes. The club are confident of getting their numbers up in time for the deadline.
Yes. Work commissioned to meet pledge.
TBC. No further information provided
Yes. Already met.
Yes. Club will move to Wembley in 2017 and new stadium should meet guidelines
Yes, Club say they have a plan and will meet pledge
West Bromwich Albion
Yes. Club are working towards target and confident of meeting it
West Ham United
TBC. Club say numbers are already met but disputed by Level Playing Field, who say they include flexible seating in hospitality that can be used for general admission
The charity Level Playing Field has commissioned experts to project the costs of making the necessary changes at Anfield and Stamford Bridge and its average estimates range from between £1.4 million and £1.7 million for each stadium. Liverpool have just spent more than £100 million on their new Main Stand but, despite increasing wheelchair space, still fall significantly short of the minimum recommendation.
They only plan to meet the guidelines when they renovate the Anfield Road End but there is no timescale on that work. Chelsea are currently offering 50 per cent of the recommended wheelchair space. They say that they are constrained by a “restrictive” old stadium and that they will meet guidelines in a proposed new ground, although there is no planning consent or definite timescale on that project.
There are also concerns about others, including West Ham United, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, while the Premier League has also now given additional leeway to promoted teams and an extra year, until 2018, to meet the guidelines.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has written to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to ask that individual clubs, as well as the Premier League, are held to account over their progress.
When the promise was made in September 2015, the Premier League said that all clubs would “achieve compliance with the Accessible Stadia Guide by August 2017”.
These guidelines were first set in 1998 by the Football Task Force, of which the Premier League was a part, but the clubs have consistently failed to make the changes.
The Premier League is trying to help the clubs and is likely to underline the progress and improvement that have been made. Campaigners, however, want to know if the Premier League will take any action with those clubs who do not comply.
The EHRC has said that it will consider its legal options if clubs do not comply. The 2010 Equality Act says that all service providers are legally obliged to make “reasonable adjustments” so that disabled fans are not disadvantaged.
“Premier League clubs are working extremely hard to improve disabled access in their grounds,” said a Premier League spokesman. “The commitments made in this area are wide-ranging and will set new standards for sport and other sectors.
“They have challenged all clubs, some of which will have significant logistical and built environment issues, involving old stands, planning issues and new stadia.
“All are working towards making their grounds meet the appropriate standards in the agreed timescale and improving the experience for their disabled fans.”
Chelsea: The old stadium argument
Chelsea have not specifically said they will not meet the Premier League deadline but it was hard to reach any other conclusion from a statement that again mentioned the age of their stadium and simply restricted their pledge to offering “outstanding, accessible facilities for all visitors to Stamford Bridge” only when it is redeveloped. One problem. The planning application might have gone in but there is currently no timescale on whether a new 60,000 stadium will even win approval from the council, let alone be constructed. What has changed at Chelsea in the year since being part of the Premier League commitment is unknown but it all suggests that wheelchair users must continue to put up with the status quo which, as well as just 108 spaces, includes sightlines which have been strongly criticised. Chelsea’s repeated reference to the difficulties of their stadium will infuriate campaigners. No-one disputes that the work is almost always more difficult and costly at an older ground but the idea that it still constitutes a reason for inaction is roundly dismissed as an “excuse” by campaigners. “If you can make the Cambridge College that I went to accessible, with buildings that date back to the 15th century, it is entirely possible to solve this problem,” said Paralympic swimming champion Lord Chris Holmes. An insider at another Premier League club was also adamant. “Just about anything can be done inside a stadium – and certainly add about 100 spaces for wheelchair users – it just depends if you really want to do it,” he said.
Liverpool: A hole in the new stand
It was one of those great Liverpool occasions at Anfield last week. The new 8,500 seat Main Stand was unveiled and, as the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Jurgen Klopp, Ian Rush and owner John W Henry stood to celebrate the milestone, one serious oversight was forgotten. Liverpool were also missing a golden chance with this £114 million renovation to finally meet the pledge that had been made last year to their disabled fans. And so, amid an expected increase in matchday income to beyond £59 million, they no longer expect to reach minimum guideline for wheelchair space until phase two of the stadium project is complete. The catch here, however, is that there is no timescale for that part of the project in Anfield Road and only outline planning permission. Although the situation has certainly improved upon what was a fairly dreadful previous ratio, there is also some ongoing dispute about the claim now of 193 wheelchair spaces. Level Playing Field believing that 11 per cent of those spaces are in hospitality areas and not permanently dedicated disabled spaces. Liverpool would not comment yesterday but did point to improvements in other disabled facilities in the stadium. Disabled fans at Anfield have previously complained of having their view obstructed. As well as the minimum numbers, all clubs have agreed to appoint a Disability Access Officer and to give urgent attention to wheelchair bays, steward training, websites, ticketing policies and parking. Minimum disabled bays in the away sections of grounds have also been promised by August 2017.
Reproduced from: The Telegraph
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