Who has been to a Premier League football game – or any sporting event for that matter – and been left disappointed with the stadium’s disabled facilities?
You’ve probably struggled to find a disabled parking spot and had difficulty gaining access to toilets or even to the stadium itself, to say nothing of the rarity of getting a good view at a game.
If you have faced these barriers, you won’t be surprised to learn that 8 of the league’s 20 clubs do not provide the minimum legal number of wheelchair spaces for fans as determined by the Accessible Stadia Guide, according to the latest parliamentary report. The culture, media and sport committee has even gone so far as to recommend legal action under anti-discrimination laws in order to force clubs to comply with the minimum provisions.
Rugby clubs and cricket venues have come in for criticism too, although campaigning body Level Playing Field did commend these sports for doing more to comply with the regulations than Premier League football clubs.
Premier League clubs have improved over recent years. The BBC reported in 2014 that as many as 17 clubs failed to provide the appropriate number of accessible spaces in their venues, whereas that figure is now 8. And Swansea’s Liberty Stadium, for example, has an excellent record for providing wheelchair spaces.
But more must be done to meet basic standards, and not just when it comes to accessible areas inside the stadium on match days.
According to Level Playing Field, Premier League clubs should offer:
- A dedicated Disability Liaison Officer, with any staff coming into contact with fans and customers to received Disability Equality Training
- Ticket allocation handled by clubs and not supporter associations, and the same season ticket policies for disabled and non-disabled supporters
- Induction loops and text phones installed in ticket offices and other points of sale
- Audio commentary on match days
- Separate home and away facilities for disabled supporters
- Weather protection for disabled fans in exposed areas
- Minimal obstruction to views from pitch-side seating areas, with reduced foot traffic passing in front of these supporters
- Full access to websites, club publications and other media, including TV channels
- Access to information about facilities for disabled supporters.
The Premier League has committed to making sure all clubs offer the minimum provisions by August 2017 after years of complaints by fans and campaign groups. The clubs could be fined up to £25,000 or even face a points deduction if they are found to be in breach again. But the expert opinion suggests that the 8 clubs currently in breach of the rules, including the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, will not have the sufficient provisions in place by August.
When there’s as much money floating around in top-flight football as there seems to be, and the players themselves make so much money, can it really be that hard for clubs to aim for the bare minimum in stadium accessibility for their loyal supporters?