12 Apr 2014

Football clubs ‘failing disabled fans’

It is time to cough up some cash to improve access to football stadiums for disabled people, Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning MP tells the big clubs.

Football stadiums 'woefully inadequate' access for disabled people (Getty)

Just three Premier League stadiums – Swansea City’s Liberty stadium, St Mary’s in Southampton and the Cardiff City stadium – provide the required number of wheelchair spaces.

The worst offender is Fulham’s Craven Cottage, which only provides just under a quarter of what it should under national guidelines.

Of the top 20 clubs, eight don’t even manage to offer half of what is required, a report by the BBC found last month.

And that is not good enough, says Mike Penning, the minister for disabled people, who has now written to all the top-flight clubs to remind them of their responsibilities to disabled people – and warning that he could prosecute if they continue to forget them.

“I’m blowing the whistle on discrimination against disabled people by football bosses,” he said.

I’m blowing the whistle on discrimination against disabled people by football bosses. Mike Penning MP

“Enough is enough. I’m a football fan and my club, Spurs, is right at the bottom of this league table [on disability provision]. There’s so much money in the Football League, why can’t [disabled] fans go and see their games the same way you and I can?

“What I’ve said is ‘sort your act out’. Sadly if you don’t, the legislation is there for me to take prosecutions if I need to.”

The Accessible Stadia Guide is a “good practice guide” for sporting facilities to meet the needs of disabled spectators and other users. It sets out minimum standards all new grounds have to meet in the provision, location and quality of facilities for disabled fans.

Since the implementation of 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.

No Go Britain

But the unequal situation will hardly come as a surprise to many disabled people – it’s a scenario which, in other walks of life from transport to gigs, Channel 4 Newshas covered as part of its No Go Britain series.

Back in 2012, organisers pledged that one of the true legacies of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games would be a change in attitudes to disabled people. So far, that doesn’t seem to have reached the terraces – but Mr Penning says it can.

The Tory MP for Hemel Hempstead said: “It’s not just about wheelchair access. You can get wheelchair access in but if you just plant them around the edge of the game, they don’t feel part of the game, they don’t feel part of the atmosphere.

“I want to build on the legacy from the Paralympics and football clubs need to use a piece of their loose change.”

Mr Penning has also written to the Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, about the situation.

The Premier League said higher standards of access are generally at new grounds, including Arsenal’s Emirates and Swansea City’s ground.