The Football Association (FA) has become the latest organisation to discriminate against disabled people taking part in a government programme of events that is testing how post-lockdown crowds can safely return to sports and cultural venues.
At least two of the events – the world snooker championships and a live music event organised by Festival Republic – have already banned anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) to COVID-19, in breach of government guidance.
But disabled campaigners now say the FA also discriminated against disabled people in advance of last weekend’s Carabao Cup final at Wembley Stadium (pictured).
The FA made it clear in advance of the event that all fans had to wear face coverings, and that those who were exempt were required to provide evidence from a “GP or suitable medical practitioner”.
This is a clear breach of government guidance, which states that those exempt from having to wear a face covering “do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering”.
The disabled-led campaigning charity Level Playing Field (LPF), which represents disabled sports fans, said it was “disappointed that, yet again, disabled fans and clinically extremely vulnerable fans are not having a fair and equal experience during these event research programmes, despite clear guidance which has been in place throughout this pandemic”.
LPF pointed out that securing evidence letters from GPs often costs money, while it also takes time to obtain, and this “puts at risk the ability to attend if a fan doesn’t receive the evidence in time”.
It added: “The additional strain that this measure puts on medical surgeries and practices is entirely unnecessary, inconsiderate and reckless.”
The FA has been unable to explain this week why it went ahead with such discriminatory actions.
But it said in a statement: “Nobody was prevented from attending the fixture and our priority at all times is to protect the health and safety of all attendees visiting Wembley Stadium.”
It claims that there was a medical professional at the stadium on Sunday to help fans who were not wearing a face covering “to find a solution so they were able to enter the stadium”.
But it has refused to state what those solutions might have been, or to say if the government gave it permission to breach the guidelines on face coverings.
In an earlier statement, the FA said: “For events being hosted by Wembley Stadium as part of the government’s Events Research Programme, our priority remains the health and safety of all attendees.
“With this in mind, we are asking all attendees to wear a face covering, or to provide evidence from a relevant medical practitioner that they are exempt from wearing one.
“We appreciate that this may be an additional challenge for those attending, but our priority remains keeping visitors to Wembley Stadium as safe as possible during medical test events amidst the global pandemic.
“We continue to invite fans to engage with us so we can ensure their experiences at Wembley Stadium are wholly positive and safe.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is overseeing the Events Research Programme, had not responded to a request to comment by noon today (Thursday).
Meanwhile, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which organises the BRIT music awards, another part of the Events Research Programme, has made a change to its website to make it clear that CEV people are not banned from its event.
The “what should I do if I require an accessible ticket” section of the website had originally stated: “Please be reminded that anyone that is Clinically Extremely Vulnerable is unable to attend the Event.”
But after being asked about the statement by Disability News Service, BPI apologised for the error, which has now been corrected, and made it clear that CEV people were advised not to attend – which follows government guidance – but were not banned.
A BPI spokesperson said it would be left to those attending to decide if it was appropriate to do so, based on their health status and susceptibility to infection, and that of members of their family, social bubble or support bubble, and their attitude to the potential risks.
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