17 Jan 2017
Premier League football clubs’ neglect of disabled fans
The House of Commons Culture Media and Sport select committee has today released a report which calls for legal sanctions to be taken against the rich football clubs of the Premier League who fail to cater for their disabled fans.
The select committee opened an inquiry into access to sport stadia last year because, among other reasons, of high profile media reports which underlined the poor provision of access to sport grounds in the Premier League and Football League.
Other professional sporting stadiums were also examined, such as rugby and cricket, but it was the UK’s top tier of football which the enquiry has found unacceptable.
Loughborough academic Dr Borja García-García, a senior lecturer in sport management and policy, at Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, played an important part in the completion of the select committee’s report.
What is the reason behind the report?
Dr García-García: "The report follows an inquiry of the CMS select committee that was set up at the committee’s own initiative, but it was certainly influenced by recent, within the last 18 month, press reports from the Guardian and BBC, which highlighted the poor provision of access to sport grounds in the Premier League and Football League.
"The stern work of campaign NGOs such as the charity Level Playing Field also contributed to shape the mind of MPs, as well as a survey of disabled supporters’ experiences done by the government’s Department for Culture Media and Sport
"In order not to single out any special sport or league, the enquiry was set up as researching access to sport grounds, but the report focuses tremendously on football."
What does it recommend?
"The report’s highlight is the recommendation to bring legal action against resourceful (i.e. rich) clubs that fail to adapt their facilities to make them accessible and inclusive to football supporters.
"The report is especially very critical of Premier League clubs, who are accused of 20 years of inactivity despite having extraordinary income levels.
"The report singles out Wet Ham and the new London Stadium as a case in hand that, even with public money, fails to cater adequately for disabled supporters.
"More in general, the report recommends clubs to start with the most cost-effective measures that could improve disabled supporters experience quite cheaply.
"The report also recommends a much more holistic approach to disability, which is often simply understood as a person in wheelchairs.
"And it not only looks at access to the grounds, but at the whole of the facilities, from parking, transport, ticketing systems or toilet facilities."
"The report, however, does not recommend any special legislation or regulation, which is regrettable in my opinion"
How did your work contribute to the report?
"I submitted written evidence to the enquiry, which is now public in the website of the House of Commons select committee.
"That evidence was based on our research with disabled supporters within the Football Research in an Enlarged Europe (FREE) Project.
"The FREE Project was a three year international project researching the importance of football in citizens’ everyday life. It was funded by the European Commission FP7.
"The research on disabled supporters was participant-led and qualitative in nature. It has been published recently in a top international academic journal, the European Sport Management Quarterly. My recommendations to the Select Committee follow very closely what we already presented to European authorities in the FREE Project policy brief."
What similarities are there between the report’s conclusions and recommendations and your research?
"There are a number of similarities. The main similarity is the acknowledgement that clubs fail to understand both access and disability.
"Those concepts need to be understood in a more holistic way, so access does not mean only getting into the ground and disability does not mean only a person in a wheelchair.
"The other similarity is the agreement in the poor state of facilities in general, whilst at the same time acknowledging some pockets of excellent practice.
"That is the main analysis, which is shared by both and, from here, there are similar recommendations, although the Committees are more general and perhaps not as strong as we would have liked.
"The recommendations to look into ticketing systems, transport, parking, toilet and catering facilities are very similar to our recommendations.
"In other words, both our research and the report share the opinion that the problem lays in the fact that clubs are simply ticking boxes of wheelchair seats provision.
"But that does not mean the experience of disabled supporters is more inclusive, even if it is more accessible for some.
"Other similarities include recognising the work and good practice of disabled supporters associations and Level Playing Field, recommending the need for legal action if policies and guidelines are not implemented."
Do you agree with the report’s findings?
"Yes, I agree with the findings because they reflect the reality of disabled supporters in the UK."
"They are often forgotten and neglected, despite clear legislation against that.
"There are many guidelines and recommendations already published by UEFA or the FA, but clubs simply fail to observe those.
"There is much more that could be done, and it can be done in conjunction with supporters themselves.
"One area that the report does not touch much upon is how important football is for disabled supporters.
"For many, it provides the only opportunity to socialise and get out of their house.
"If facilities are not appropriate, these supporters are therefore deprived on an important social experience that contributes to their integration in the wider community, to their social and mental well-being.
"I agree mainly because the report is very clear and provides for strong criticism of those responsible of the current situation.
"I think the recommendations could be could be stronger, though- Especially in terms of regulation and legislation, the report accurately describes the current state of affairs, it identifies the main conceptual reasons for that and it also identifies those responsible for it. But it seems to rely too much on self-regulation of the clubs and leagues, whose inaction to date is noticed in the report itself
"On the other hand, the report provides for comparison between different sports (something our research does not do) and also highlights some areas of good practice that deserve to be known by others.
"In general I share the report’s way of thinking, although I would argue that the recommendations could be stronger and more specific."