Thomas Williams - Disability Consultant: Insights February 2017
In this issue of the Digest, MEI have asked me to consider the ramification of the recent Select Committee Report (Jan 2017) into football accessible stadia, in particular the Premier League.
The Select Committee(1) said “It is very clear that sports clubs, notably many of those with very considerable income and resources, have not given priority to sports fans with disabilities in recent years, despite the increase in income many of those clubs have received” (Introduction to “Conclusions and recommendations”)
During the 2014-15 season, I undertook a study into accessibility at the then current Premiership grounds. Whilst there are many measures of accessibility, which I will talk about later, a simple basic comparison is to consider the number of wheelchair accessible places at each stadium. Data obtained from either direct conversation with the Clubs’ DAO or from Level Plying Fields(2) data as published on their website. The Premiership average compliance was 62.65%.
Recommended number of wheelchair spaces according to stadium size against actual number, 2014-15 season
I recently re-viewed the situation, again using the data available on Level Playing Fields website. Whilst there has been a change in the clubs making up the Premiership, it is clear that in the two years, there has been little change or no change in the overall success in meeting the percentage of seats for wheelchair access recommended as a minimum requirement by a number of clubs. This minimum requirement is based upon the capacity of the stadia. Some clubs have exceeded their requirements, noticeably in the 2016-17 season, newly promoted AFC Bournemouth, who have nearly double the recommendation at 188%. This is interesting as Bournemouth is an older stadium than others with the smallest capacity in the Premiership, therefore, you would assume that their overall capacity had to reduced quite significantly to accommodate this customer base. The average compliance is now 76.65%.
Recommended number of wheelchair spaces according to stadium size against actual number, 2016-17 season
The quantity of wheelchair users spaces is only one identifier of good practice, others include; Changing Places facilities(specially adapted oversized rooms with hoists and beds for those needing a changing facility), accessible parking, positioning in the stadium(pitch level being blocked by stewards etc walking along the touchline and raised positions being blocked by fans standing during periods of excitement, even the London Stadium, the 2012 Olympic Stadium, new home for West Ham United suffers from positioning wheelchair users in a “wind tunnel” creating a chill in the winter) which was also highlighted as a problem by the Select Committee, wheelchair users from the visiting Club being placed with the Home fans. As disabled access has been highlighted with such importance, I hope that the Premier League will stick to their rhetoric that they will apply sanctions to those clubs failing to achieve their targets without valid reasons, but it is up to us, as members of the MEI community to prioritise this in the thoughts of our potential customers and current clients when building or making adaptations to stadiums, to think about the value of the “purple pound” (valued at £80billion by the UK government in 2012 and significantly higher when the household id considered).
The numbers are also only part of the experience for the wheelchair fan; many talk about the quality of training given to stewards in supporting them. Given the problems of inherited structures that a number of Clubs face, this is one area that all clubs could learn from best practice and implement cheaply.
1, Select Committee Report on “Accessibility of Sports Stadia”, https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmcumeds/62/6202.htm
2, Level Playing Field, “Promoting Good Acces for all Fans”, http://www.levelplayingfield.org.uk/