A report by the Culture Media and Sport Committee has found that Premier League clubs, some of the richest sporting organisations in the UK, have failed to carry out even basic disabled adaptations to stadiums in over 20 years.
As part of a government investigation into the lack of Disabled Access in Sporting venues, the Premier League advised the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee, that "it would consider imposing sanctions on clubs that fail to provide sufficient accessibility."
AS MANY AS 8 OUT OF 20 PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS COULD FAIL TO MEET ACCESSIBLE PLEDGE
I recently advised that Watford football club had backed out on a pledge to meet the accessible stadia pledge set by the Premier League back in August 2015.
Now according to this latest report clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth have also advised that they are likely to miss the deadline.
Add to that Recently promoted Watford, Burnley and Middlesbrough have been told that the deadline does not apply to them even though some of the Guidelines relate to Building Regulations and Accessibility guidelines that have been published for over 14 years. Instead the Premier League insist that these clubs should have another year to achieve the improvements.
Clubs that were part of the pledge including Newcastle, Aston Villa, and Fulham who also promised fans of changes by August 2017 yet were relegated to the Championship have also managed to shy away from carrying out changes promised, as the pledge relates to Premier League Clubs only.
West Ham most shockingly who moved into the Olympic Stadium have reduced provision for disabled supporters since they took over the Olympic Stadium. A stadium which was seen as the turning point of British Paralympic successes and was meant to leave a legacy, now fails to comply with basic accessibility criteria, as seats that were intended for Wheelchair and Disabled users have been replaced with Hospitality seating areas. Clear proof that clubs are interested in Profits more than morals.
The report states "that given the huge public investment in converting the Olympic Stadium into a Premier League football ground it should be expect the ground should become exemplar regarding disabled access". In response to these finding West ham state that ""These spaces will never be allocated to another fan at the expense of a disabled supporter,"
BARRIERS DISABLED FANS FACE
Disabled fans have put up with poor facilities for long enough now, and often face barriers at games such as:
- Insufficient number of wheelchair spaces resulting in lack of seating availability.
- Supporters find booking tickets online difficult at many clubs;
- Poor provision for disabled parking;
- Locations and views provided in grounds are often poor often resulting in obscured views,
- Lack of adequate Changing Places toilet, and accessible toilet facilities
- And poor training of staff resulting in poor understanding of disabled fan's needs.
Premier League executive director Bill Bush explained to the Culture Media and Sport select Committee, that if a club was in breach of League Rules then "depending on the severity of the case, the Board of the Premier League could impose a wide range of sanctions, including fines of up to £25,000".
He went on to state that:
"More serious breaches might result in the matter being referred to a specially appointed independent panel which would be able to impose heavier fines or, potentially, deduct points from clubs".
Access requirements have been in place for over 20 years now through the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and its successor the Equality Act 2010 which require those providing services to the public, such as a sports stadium, to make a 'reasonable adjustment' so that people with disabilities are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to people without disabilities.
Many clubs and the Premier League themselves ignored this until they made a pledge in August 2015 to make all Premier League clubs accessible Stadia Compliant by August 2017.
Placing a £25,000 fine upon a Premier League club would have little effect, this often wouldn't pay a players weekly wage so would have little effect on a club. Instead there are now calls for the Premier league to class the non-compliance of accessible stadia guidelines as a "Severe Breach of Premier League rules" where clubs will suffer a point deduction. A petition is available calling on the Premier League to impose a points fine on clubs that carry on failing disabled fans after the August 2017 deadline.
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 and these guidelines have in fact been in place for over 14 years now.
The Premier League says it will submit a report to the EHRC and the parliamentary committee by the end of the month on the progress its clubs have made, and said in a statement:
"Premier League clubs are working extremely hard to improve disabled access in their grounds. Some [clubs] will have significant logistical and built environment issues, involving old stands, planning and new stadia. All are working towards making their stadiums meet the appropriate standards improving the experience for their disabled fans."
Many disabled groups, fans and the EHRC themselves are fast running out of patience, and Lord Holmes, the disabilities commissioner at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, has threatened the Premier League and its clubs with legal action under anti-discrimination legislation if they don't comply with minimum standards, and the Culture media and sports committee says it would support this action.