10.The most popular spectator sport amongst the fans who responded to the Inclusive and Accessible Stadia survey was football, but rugby, cricket, tennis athletics and swimming were also mentioned often. Other sports highlighted included equestrian events, motor racing, ice hockey, basketball, American football, cycling, golf and darts.
11.Responses came from people with a wide range of disabilities: mobility (those in wheelchairs and those who had problems with walking), hearing, sight and mental and memory problems. They suggested that all types of disability were inadequately catered for by the sporting authorities.
12.The difficulties highlighted in the responses to the consultation were echoed by those who sent written evidence to us. The paragraphs below represent what disabled people may have to deal with if they wish to attend a sporting event.
13.Their experiences of difficulties start when they begin to think of attending an event. Some clubs have online booking systems that do not meet current best practice guidelines for accessibility for disabled people. Others have confusing websites which make it unclear whether wheelchair spaces are available and, if so, how one goes about booking them. Most club websites do not provide for booking a wheelchair space online: disabled fans have to call a premium phone line, send an e-mail or visit a ticket office in person. It is not always explained what provision has been made for those supporters who need someone to accompany them. Some websites do not bring together information about transport links, parking provision and disabled facilities at the stadium. The lack of information about facilities available caused particular difficulty for away fans. We were told that even the Premier League’s recently launched fan app was not accessible to people with some disabilities and was having to be retro-fitted.
14.While transport frequently presents problems for people with disabilities, some venues provide little to help reduce the difficulty. There were complaints of a lack of parking provision, of people with mobility difficulties being expected to use carparks at a considerable distance from the stadium, of disabled parking facilities being sited in multi-storey parks with inadequate lift access. We heard that Wembley Stadium, which has been a shining example of design and operation with the needs of disabled spectators in mind, is expected to have its current open plan car park replaced with a new multi-storey car park. The lower levels are designed for parking coaches, while spaces for blue badge holders would be on level 2. This is likely to result in long queues for people with disabilities to use the car park lifts. We were told that ‘away’ supporters travelling to the Newport ground (mainly the elderly and people with disabilities) were parked 15 minutes’ walk away, and that, because no police escort was provided at the end of the match, they got lost in pouring rain.
15.Where people are travelling via public transport hubs at some distance from the stadia, while some clubs provide vehicles to take people with mobility difficulties to the stadium, others expect them to make their own way. Distance is not the only factor: steep slopes and uneven ground may also cause problems. There were numerous complaints about the failure of clubs to provide help for people in difficulty both in the vicinity of and inside the stadium.
16.Building Regulations state that, where reasonable, the permanent wheelchair provision for audience seating in venues where there are between 600 and 10,000 seats should be 1% of total seating capacity, rounded up.
17.Most stadia have a limited number of wheelchair places (one Premier League football club, which was not named by the Inclusive and Accessible Stadia report, was said to have only three for away supporters). Where they make provision for carers to accompany wheelchair users, they usually provide space for only one carer per wheelchair user, which leads to family groups being split up. Moreover, wheelchair spaces are often grouped together, frequently in the home part of the ground, with home and away fans seated together. Even in newer stadia, such as Plymouth Argyle’s, the spaces may be pitchside. When at the front of stands, they are exposed to the weather and may have poor sightlines. Where they are further up in the stands, the view of the pitch may be lost when people in the rows in front stand up. Overall, Level Playing Field has received reports of extremely poor sightlines for disabled spectators at 50% of Premier League clubs.
18.Inability to find appropriate seating is not limited to those with severe mobility impairment. Those with other mobility difficulties (for example, walking with sticks) often find it difficult, too: insufficient legroom is allowed, or they are not placed close enough to the end of the row, or there are few and distant lifts to the appropriate level. Walking surfaces are uneven. Access to toilet facilities and refreshments is often inadequate. Supporters also commented unfavourably on the cleanliness of toilets, the absence of basic washing facilities, and the failure to allow access to disabled toilets (for example, by RADAR key) for those without a disability impairment. Carers of people with autism and other mental health problems commented on the lack of quiet places to act as refuges if people became agitated by the crowds and noise.
19.There is limited or no support for deaf spectators: no hearing loops, no subtitles on the screens round the field, difficulty in viewing the big screen at some stadia and some clubs show only replays, not live action, on the big screen. For those with visual impairments, 65% of the 92 top level football clubs provide no Audio Descriptive Commentary of the match, though some provide the less satisfactory substitute of access to a hospital or local radio broadcast. Joyce Cook told us that clubs even objected to the presence of assistance and guide dogs.
20.The main problem, though, was seen to be lack of awareness among staff: often club officials and stewards were inadequately trained in the needs of people with disabilities, especially those with ‘non-visible’ disabilities. This led to unpleasant experiences among disabled spectators, and even deterred some from attending sporting events at all.
21.Lord Holmes of the EHRC summed up: “I do not think we have an inclusive culture. We do not even have a culture of compliance from Premier League clubs and the Premier League.” What was required, he thought, was more openness about current failings, more leadership from the Premier League and a far more positive mindset about inclusivity. He noted:
If you compare the Premier League rulebook, pages and pages on what needs to be done in terms of facilities, positions for broadcasters …… but on disability access, one line. If changes need to be made for broadcasters when HD cameras came in, they are made within weeks, not decades. That is absolutely right, but a similar zeal should be there to want—the club to want—the sport to be accessible, to be inclusive for all sections of the community.
22.Disabled spectators are not asking for a large number of expensive changes. They love their sports and wish only for their needs to be taken into account in the way sports stadia are designed and operated. As we go on to describe, a number of clubs are already providing disabled supporters with a good experience when they attend matches, and more could do so. It is high time that sports clubs, particularly those with available finance such as those in football’s Premier League, changed their mindset. It is more a question of will than resources.
10 () (Level Playing Field)
11 Q 196 (EHRC)
12 Qq 55–59 Wembley has 310 wheelchair accessible spaces with an equal number of adjacent seats available for personal assistants. It also has 100 enhanced amenity seats for ambulant disabled visitors, or visitors with assistance dogs. The seats are situated on all five levels of the Stadium, and are available in all areas of the seating bowl; including halfway line, corner and behind the goals. There are lifts to all five levels. The Stadium also has 147 disabled toilets accessible via RADAR keys and a further 193 ambulant toilets which are available on all levels. It provides a match commentary service for blind and partially sighted supporters.
13 () (Plymouth Argyle Disabled Supporters Association)
14 Approved Document M of the Building Regulations, Volume 2–Buildings other than dwellings:
15 For example, at Aston Villa (see ())
17 As with Blackburn Rovers (See ())
18 Chelsea and Charlton were cited: ()
20 See, for example, () (Shippey Campaign) and () (Helen Ellis)
21 () (Level Playing Field)
23 Qq 196 and 200–201
24 Q 202
13 January 2017