Premier League football clubs would be guilty of a “scandalous” failure if they do not use some of a multi-billion pound TV rights windfall to improve access at their grounds, according to the equality watchdog’s disability commissioner.
The Conservative peer Lord [Chris] Holmes spoke out in a blog for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in the wake of the announcement that the Premier League had secured more than £5.1 billion from the sale of live UK television rights for the three seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19.
Lord Holmes, who chairs the commission’s disability committee, wrote in his blog: “Previous research has shown of the 20 clubs in the Premier League, when it comes to access, eight fail to offer even half of what they should under national guidelines – a situation that has remained largely unchanged for several years.
“Given the windfall the Premier League has just enjoyed, it would be scandalous if clubs don’t do more.”
He said that people were right to ask “whether Premier League football clubs are failing disabled fans”, and added: “Whether it is access to tickets, spaces for wheelchairs or the views of disabled supporters – the beautiful game can be an ugly experience for some.”
The Premier League is the organising body of the top tier in English football, and is owned by its 20 member clubs.
Only last week, during a mini-debate in the House of Lords, Lord Holmes praised Championship sides Derby County and Cardiff City for their work on access, as well as Premier League clubs Swansea City and Arsenal.
But he also asked the government what should be done to clubs “which choose actively to flout the law and not make their stadia accessible”, and added: “If it is good enough for [Arsenal], it should be good enough for any club.”
Last summer, the disabled peer and retired Paralympian Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told fellow peers that Manchester United was one of the worst offenders when it came to access, as it provided only 42 per cent of the number of spaces for wheelchair-users that it should.
Level Playing Field (LPF), the user-led organisation that works to improve access to sporting venues, has also appealed to the Premier League “not to forget its disabled fans when distribution of this new revenue stream begins”.
Joyce Cook, LPF’s chair, said: “Disabled fans have endured poor conditions at many top clubs for far too long.”
LPF called on the Premier League to ring-fence one per cent of its new funding for 2016-17 to spend on improving access for disabled people at grounds in both the Premier League and the lower professional leagues.
The comments by Lord Holmes were part of a discussion in his blog of how the commission is addressing the “significant inequality of opportunity” across sport, both for participants and spectators.
It has secured £1.9 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to work on inclusion in sport, part of which will be spent on improving access to stadia for disabled people.
Although EHRC has had “initial discussions” with the Premier League about a possible partnership, “no final decisions have yet been made in relation to football”.
Lord Holmes added: “We will also not be afraid to criticise national bodies or the clubs when we don’t feel they are pulling their weight or meeting their legal responsibilities.”
The Premier League has so far failed to respond to Lord Holmes’ comments.