By Paul Kitchin

Amid the furore over greed in the beautiful game, the fact that nearly 1/3 of Premier League clubs are expected to fail to meet a ‘Pledge’ they made to disabled fans gets lost in the old news section.  This unfortunately is not new, stories about the accessibility of sporting stadia seem to move to the back of the news-worthy queue when the timing of other “more significant” events occur.

So what is the pledge?

The pledge was a commitment by the Premier League clubs to comply with the Accessible Stadia Guide (2003) by August 2017. Essentially it aimed to increase the number of wheelchair spaces at each stadium to a standard level.  In addition to this standard quantity of accessible seats it also highlighted a commitment to quality, the view has to be as decent as another’s.

 

The context

The recent Inclusive and Accessible Stadia Report released by the DWP and DCMS in 2015 identifies that disabled people make up 1/5 of the population (11.9 million). Not all disabilities require adjustments to be made by service providers, in our area this is mainly football stadia, leisure centres and other sporting venues.  Nevertheless, despite the 13-year existence of the Accessible Stadium Guide the current provision for many disabled spectators appears for management to be a low-priority. Even at some of the best grounds in the competition, quality issues remain. Put into this the amount of money raised through the new Premier League broadcasting deal, the amount spent on player transfers and even the adaptations made by some clubs to ensure the broadcast regulations are met.

For many years a number of Disability Supporters’ Groups and advocacy organisations (like Level Playing Field, the Centre for Access to Football in Europe) have been campaigning for those that run the sport to do more to cater for the sheer diversity of disability.

In academia, an emerging body of work is examining the provision of services for disabled spectators.  This work is focused on regulatory structures, club and league policies and also, importantly the experiences of disabled spectators.  At present, the bulk of this work focuses mainly on the UK experience but future work could hopefully address this, ultimately leading to policy and management impacts.

 

But does it really matter?

Well yes. There is a clear business case in attempting to attract the purple pound, and with an ageing population it is an ever-increasing market.  This is clearly a moral issue.  In many facilities a disabled person has a less then favourable service offering than a non-disabled person.  This is simply discrimination.  As such, it is a legal issue too. The Equality Act 2010 outlines the need for ‘reasonable adjustment’ to be made by service providers to cater for the needs of disabled people.  The document outlines that if a service presents a substantial disadvantage to a patron on account of her/his disability then they will breech the Act.

Excerpts from Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 (Duty to Make Adjustments)

 (1) Where this Act imposes a duty to make reasonable adjustments on a person, this section, sections 21 and 22 and the applicable Schedule apply; and for those purposes, a person on whom the duty is imposed is referred to as A.

(2) The duty comprises the following three requirements.

(3) The first requirement is a requirement, where a provision, criterion or practice of A’s puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.

(4) The second requirement is a requirement, where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.

(5) The third requirement is a requirement, where a disabled person would, but for the provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to provide the auxiliary aid.

These elements could potentially comprise a range of situations.  An example of 3 could include inadequate training of stadium staff in meeting the needs of disabled spectators, while 4 would include seating spaces and sight-lines.  Finally, an example of 5 could include the provision of audio-commentary for Blind or partially-sighted fans.

The problem with the Equality Act (2010) is it is arguably weaker than the legislation it replaced.  This act allows service providers to make adjustments that are reasonable in a particular circumstance, thus allowing a certain subjectivity which lowers the threshold the previous Disability Discrimination Act (2005) required.  On top of this is allows them to ‘justify’ their decisions as attempting ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ (Part 14, 193, 2a, p. 121).  Additionally, it also maintains that it is the individual who believes they have been decimated against to take on the service provider through legal means.

 

Is it the full story?

No.  While the pledge would make a very good start, at its core this issue focuses mainly on the quantity of accessibility primarily for those with physical disabilities. While these spaces require good lines of sight, something that needs to consider that some fans stand up during a game (placing those that cannot at substantial disadvantage – see 4 above).

The experience of disability is of course more diverse than just wheelchair users, if we fail to understand this then we will focus too much on physical accessibility.  As a place to start it might be the best barrier to overcome, however it is only part of the picture.  What we do need is more research first on the diversity of disabled spectator’s experiences and then more on the service-providers difficulties in prioritizing these developments (in this case getting a more nuanced view than they are simply missing a pledge).  Forthcoming research (Garcia, de Wolff, Welford, Smith, 2017) has highlighted a need to take a wider perspective looking at inclusion as it relates to an expanded understanding of disability.

 

To contact the author email: pj.kitchin@ulster.ac.uk

For the authors bio and research and LinkedIN