Professional football, rugby and cricket clubs across Britain have been urged by the government to improve facilities for disabled spectators after two surveys found most clubs and grounds “dispiriting” and “a stain on our major sports and leagues”.
Tracey Crouch, the sports minister, and Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, have written to all 223 clubs surveyed for a government report, Inclusive and Accessible Stadia. Calling on clubs to improve the overall experience for disabled supporters, the ministers have said: “We know there is some good practice out there and some spectator sports clubs are making a real difference to the experience of their disabled fans. But depressingly these are still the exceptions rather than the rule. The stories of bad and dubious treatment of disabled spectators seem to be never-ending and are a stain on our major sports and leagues.”
The surveys, one of disabled supporters, the other a questionnaire sent to all 223 clubs – only 88 replied – found that disabled supporters’ barriers to attending sport went beyond the most publicised issue, which is that most Premier League football clubs provide fewer wheelchair spaces than recommended in their own Accessible Stadia guide.
The ministers stressed that 11.9 million people in the UK have a disability, one in five of the population, yet they experience challenges to being able to enjoy sport, due to the failure of clubs and grounds to adequately cater for them.
The letter urges clubs to consider providing better information on their websites, enabling disabled fans to buy tickets online, ensuring disabled supporters can sit with their families, making other physical adjustments to grounds, providing enough seats for home and away disabled supporters, and training stewards, and staff at levels of the clubs in disability awareness and confidence.
The Premier League, which has been criticised for failing to ensure that all its clubs comply with the Accessible Stadia guide, promised this week to do so by 2017, a victory for campaigners including the Level Playing Field organisation whose chair, Joyce Cook, said it had taken 14 years. In their letter, the ministers welcome the Premier League’s move, but warn: “This is not an excuse for complacency. We challenge all clubs, across all sporting disciplines, to bring spectator sport into the 21st century by making sure they are inclusive and accessible to all spectators. And, in particular, we call on our higher-level and wealthier clubs to set an example and act as fast as possible.”
The Football League told the Observer that its clubs are focusing on improving the matchday experience, rather than on providing more spaces, because disabled spaces are on average only 49% occupied. The league said 87% of clubs now have dedicated staff to assist disabled fans, and 97% provide accessible parking or drop‑off points for disabled fans.
“We will continue to work with our clubs, Level Playing Field and the government to ensure that clubs continue to raise these standards and deliver the matchday experience that disabled supporters deserve,” a league spokesman said.
Premiership Rugby said it has commissioned Level Playing Field to conduct full audits of disabled access and facilities at all its clubs’ grounds, as part of the Rugby 4 All initiative with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. The England and Wales Cricket Board is also commissioning an audit of all county grounds in partnership with the EHRC, which will then inform changes counties need to make. An ECB spokesman said: “The audit is part of a wider initiative to address the needs of disabled cricket fans and ensure our sport is as inclusive and accessible as possible.”