Government blows the whistle on disability discrimination in football

14 Apr 2014 02:36 PM

Ministers show the red card to unfair access at every level of the game. 

The Minister of State for Disabled People has called on Britain’s football leagues to take urgent action to redress the ‘woeful’ lack of appropriate support and space for disabled spectators at many stadiums across the country.

Mike Penning has written to every professional football club in the country to remind them of their obligations under law to provide adequate room and adjustments for disabled fans.

Research shows that nearly half of Premier League football clubs – including the likes of Manchester Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea – don’t offer even half the wheelchair space they should for disabled people.

It is believed the situation is even worse in lower leagues in England, Wales and Scotland. And Mr Penning has asked for urgent talks with the Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke to stamp out discrimination in all football leagues across Britain.

Mike Penning said:

I’m blowing the whistle on discrimination against disabled people by football club bosses. Football is part of Britain’s heritage – it runs through our blood – so the fact clubs across our land are putting up barriers preventing a fifth of our population from enjoying the sport is a complete disgrace.

We need a complete overhaul of grounds and of how disabled fans are supported at every level of the sport – and that should start at the very top. The situation is currently woefully inadequate and it is not only wheelchair access that falls short, but access for people with all kinds of impairments. Changes must be made now so that we show the red card to illegal and unequal treatment of disabled people – to make sure every one of us can enjoy the beautiful game.

Guidelines on how 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.

Since the Equality Act in 2010 and legislation dating back to 1995, it has been illegal for service providers, including football clubs, to treat disabled people less favourably than other customers. And clubs with older stadiums are not exempt – with a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to ensure everyone can access their services.

Former Liverpool footballer and amputee, Terry Nelson, said:

Disabled fans got a real taste of what is possible in the sporting arena during the London Paralympics and when they go to many football grounds they can see they are getting a raw deal. Something has to be done to improve access for people – whatever their disability.

The law means clubs should be making reasonable adjustments for people with all sorts of disabilities. This includes providing induction loops for people with hearing impairments, audio-description facilities for people with sight impairments and free tickets for people who support disabled people to come to a game.

The research of Premier League football grounds was carried out by BBC Sport, in conjunction with the charity Level Playing Field.

Chair of Level Playing Field Joyce Cook said:

The experience of disabled football fans varies across the country. It can be hard to get tickets, especially for away games and if you’re a wheelchair user. And when you get there, the sight lines can be so bad they would have got a better experience watching it on TV. That’s not acceptable and it’s time all football clubs took their legal obligations seriously.

More information

Mike Penning has written to Chairmen of every professional football league club in England, Wales and Scotland.

How do Premier League clubs perform? This league table is sourced from a study on the number of wheelchair spaces provided as a percentage of Accessible Stadia Guide:

  1. Swansea 121%
  2. Southampton 104%
  3. Cardiff 102%
  4. Arsenal 96%
  5. West Brom 89%
  6. Hull 89%
  7. Manchester City 88%
  8. Newcastle 73%
  9. Sunderland 70%
  10. Stoke 68%
  11. West Ham 60%
  12. Everton 56%
  13. Norwich 49%
  14. Chelsea 47%
  15. Liverpool 45%
  16. Manchester United 43%
  17. Crystal Palace 40%
  18. Aston Villa 39%
  19. Tottenham 28%
  20. Fulham 24%

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