A recent report by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee makes it clear that many sports clubs have not prioritised provision for disabled fans. At a time when Premier League clubs are receiving ever greater sums of money from television, advertising and other revenue sources it is astonishing that all fans are not properly catered for.
The Committee concludes “it is high time that sports clubs, particularly those with available finances such as those in football’s Premier League, change their mind-set. It is more a question of will than resources”.
What Issues Do Sports Fans With Disabilities Face?
It is clear that the problems are far greater than simply availability of suitable seating arrangements. There are a number of clubs where the ticket booking systems for disabled people are unclear. This includes websites that do not provide information and do not provide for booking a wheelchair space online. Transport, parking and stadium accessibility continue to be issues raised by disabled fans. As far as the availability and siting of seats is concerned there continues to be very limited space available at some football grounds for wheelchair places and spaces often have poor sight lines. Many clubs also provide very limited support for deaf and blind supporters.
How Is The Premier League Improving Disabled Access?
Agreement has been reached with the Premiere League that clubs will improve access for disabled supporters by August 2017. However the House of Commons report makes it clear that at least five clubs are likely to miss the deadline for improvements. Three recently promoted teams have been told that the deadline does not apply to them. The report does highlight a number of clubs which are cited as being examples of best practice. These include Derby County, Wrexham, Tranmere Rovers and Egham Town. However as the report says “it is striking that none of the examples cited for overall excellence is from the Premier League”.
The Premier League told the Committee that it would consider imposing sanctions on clubs that fail to provide sufficient accessibility. However concerns have been raised about the willingness to impose suitable penalties. The Committee also welcomed the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s indication that it would be minded to start legal proceedings against football clubs if necessary.
What is clear is that there are serious issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
David Philpott – Specialist Criminal Defence Solicitor
Written by David Philpott. David heads up the firm’s Magistrates’ Department and specialises in the defence of football related offences. He regularly represents clients in connection with Public Order Act offences, alcohol and ticketing related matters arising from football matches.