A new survey by a disabled-led charity has highlighted the continuing barriers disabled supporters face in accessing sports venues.
Almost a third (30 per cent) of disabled fans who took part in the survey said there were some sports or sporting venues they felt unable to visit because of access failings.
And a similar proportion (32 per cent) said that physical access at stadiums was a barrier to them attending live sport, with 17 per cent highlighting the difficult of buying tickets as a barrier, and 16 per cent pointing to inaccessible public transport.
The survey of disabled fans across England and Wales was the first to be conducted by Level Playing Field (LPF) and will now be carried out annually.
Most of the respondents reported their experiences at football grounds, with about a third saying they supported Premier League (31 per cent) and Championship (34 per cent) football clubs, and another fifth (22 per cent) following League One teams.
More than 1,400 disabled fans took part in the survey, with individualised results being sent to each club that was mentioned by a supporter.
One of the disabled supporters who responded told LPF: “Never underestimate the need for good signage and people to ask.
“I don’t want to get lost because I then have to walk further than necessary and get tired.”
Another highlighted the need for “a room to take insulin – not very hygienic having to use a toilet”.
Many of those who took part in the survey – which put questions to fans between 20 May and 20 June – also raised concerns about returning to watch live sport now COVID-19 restrictions were easing, although nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) said they would want to watch a match “right away” once they were allowed to do so.
But many of those responding highlighted the COVID safety measures they would need clubs to introduce before they would return to watching live sport.
More than three-fifths (62 per cent) said there would need to be sanitising stations, and more than two-fifths (43 per cent) said there would need to be mask-wearing among those attending (except for those who were exempt), while more than a third (35 per cent) said they needed the club to admit only fans who had been vaccinated against the virus.
One question asked which services and facilities disabled fans could benefit from inside stadiums.
Nearly half mentioned accessible toilets (46 per cent), while many others suggested easy access seating (40 per cent), additional legroom (38 per cent) and priority use of lifts (28 per cent).
Tony Taylor (pictured), LPF’s chair, told Disability News Service that the answers to this question did not necessarily show that such facilities were not available at sports grounds.
But he added: “Having no access to essential facilities such as accessible toilets and other services should never be an option.
“If this is what fans are experiencing then we are deeply disappointed and those who are charged with delivering these facilities need to be held to account.”
He said that football clubs had “by and large come a long way in terms of access but there is still a lot to do”.
He said LPF had been working with the National League, the fifth tier of English football, on an access charter, while both the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) both offer guidance on access issues to clubs.
He said: “We encourage clubs to work with their disabled fans to make ongoing improvements.”
Taylor said the individualised survey results sent to clubs would “give those clubs a clearer idea of their fans’ experiences and of the improvements they need to make.
“They will also be able to compare their access and inclusion rating against the national average, which we hope will provide the impetus for change.”
He added: “Over the past four years Level Playing Field has worked hard to develop relationships with nearly all clubs across the Premier League and the EFL and we need to utilise this now.”
On COVID, he said it appeared that measures were being put into place to protect fans.
But, he said, “government guidance is not clear and some clubs appear to be waiting for advice from their respective leagues and safety groups”.
He added: “We believe that clubs must engage with supporters and mitigate their concerns about spectating in a safe, secure environment.
“We have heard of clubs providing blocks of seats/areas where there is a greater focus on social distancing, mask use and other safety measures – all of which (certainly in the short term) we would encourage.”
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…