The UK’s biggest and richest football club has finally admitted that it has less than half the recommended number of spaces for wheelchair-users in its huge 76,000-capacity stadium.
Manchester United hit the headlines earlier this month when the disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson highlighted the club as one of the worst offenders in the Premier League when it came to access for disabled fans.
She told a House of Lords debate that the club refused to sell season tickets to wheelchair-users and provided only 42 per cent of the number of spaces for wheelchair-users that it should.
The club cast doubt on her figures at the time but refused to say how many wheelchair spaces there were in the ground, Old Trafford, or to clarify whether the club allowed wheelchair-users to buy season tickets.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has pushed the club to reveal exactly how many wheelchair-accessible spaces there are in the ground.
A club spokesman finally admitted this week that there are just 120 wheelchair spaces, whereas the official Accessible Stadia guidance suggests there should be about 280.
The Manchester United spokesman said there was potentially an extra wheelchair space outside each of its 89 executive boxes, which could be used by those hiring the boxes.
He admitted that wheelchair-users were not able to buy season tickets because the spaces available were handed out free, with fans on a rota supposedly guaranteed tickets for one out of every three games.
But the spokesman has yet to say why the club has so few spaces available and whether it is planning any action to increase this number.
Baroness Grey-Thompson, a retired Paralympian herself, told DNS: “I don’t think they are treating disabled fans fairly.”
She said she was “unconvinced” by the club’s claim that wheelchair-users on the rota were given a ticket to one in every three games – having been contacted herself by Manchester United fans – and was “uncomfortable” with the idea of a football club giving away free tickets to disabled people.
She said: “There is something slightly disabling, or handicapping, and slightly beholden about it. It’s all a bit too charitable.
“I think we are beyond assuming every disabled person doesn’t have money.”
She said the club’s initial press response suggested she had got the figures wrong, but she said: “Actually I am happy that I did quote an accurate figure.
“I just think that a club of that size and scale with such a huge support base should be doing what’s right for everybody, and at the moment they are not.”
31 July 2014