Are you disabled and a fan of ‘the beautiful game’ and have found yourself thinking out loud that your clubs support for their disabled fans falls woefully short? This article may well interest you.
If you’re wondering why we’re only focusing on the Barclays Premier League, the answer is simple, if the top tier of English football cannot get it’s act together what hope do disabled fans of local and non-league football have?
With every single Premier League ground having had investment and/or has also been substantially rebuilt since the 1990’s, one asks why the grounds themselves fall drastically short? The former disabilities minister Mike Penning wrote to every professional club in the country to highlight their legal obligations.
But the whole process seems to be painfully slow.
More than a year ago now, in March 2014, a BBC report revealed that only three Premier League stadiums provided the required number of wheelchair spaces. The former disabilities minister Mr Penning had said at the time that a complete overhaul of grounds was required, “starting at the very top”. Yet the situation is still woefully inadequate and it is not only wheelchair access that falls short, it is also access for people with all kinds of impairments, even though Guidelines on how all football clubs in the UK should cater for disabled spectators have been in place since 2004.
The Accessible Stadia Guide sets out minimum standards that all new grounds have to meet in the provision, location, and quality of facilities for disabled fans. The number of wheelchair spaces a stadium should provide is based on its capacity.
It is the 23rd year of the Premier League yet for disabled fans access to their clubs is shocking.
Since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010, along with legislation that dates back to 1995, it has been illegal for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than other customers (this includes football clubs). Despite the prohibition against disability discrimination in the Equality Act, clubs have generally not made the required improvements. There is a huge divide between new stadiums that mostly provide decent facilities, and those with inadequate provision in many of the older grounds. In fact, clubs can be ordered to make reasonable adjustments, which can include providing induction loops for those with hearing impairments, audio-description facilities for those with sight impairments and free tickets for carers who accompany disabled fans at games.
Consider this: If you’re a disabled fan and your team are visiting Anfield, you could find yourself placed among home supporters!
Ultimately there is no authority calling football clubs to account.
It is time for radical change, football has become “stuck” on the subject of disability. At the time of writing, we understand that only two Premier League clubs, Swansea City and Leicester City, meet the minimum number of wheelchair places for the size of their stadiums, as recommended by the Home Office green guide for new grounds, and agreed by the 1998 Football Task Force to apply to existing grounds too. These numbers are cited in the Accessible Stadia Guide, with other reasonable adjustments clubs were recommended to make to ensure their grounds would comply with new legislation prohibiting discrimination against disabled people. But nothing has happened yet.
When you reflect on the £5.136bn TV deal for 2016-19 the Premier League triumphantly announced, it is only reasonable to argue that the clubs should and could easily use just a fraction of it to put things right once and for all! Disabled fans got a real taste of what is possible during the 2012 London Paralympics and they realise they’re getting a really raw deal. There is always an argument about new and and old stadiums, but, quite frankly, you can pretty much make any stadium accessible if you have the intention, some smart design and clear thinking.
So the challenge that we are levelling at all Premier League Clubs is this;
Show the footballing world you’re determined to be a champion for disabled fans.
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