Football’s Premier League has been branded dishonest by the equality watchdog’s disability commissioner, over its attitude to access and inclusion.
Lord [Chris] Holmes told MPs that there had not been “anything like an inclusive culture” in the Premier League and in Premier League clubs, which was “a great shame when it is our only national game”.
He said the Premier League “needed a completely different mind-set” and pointed to the “pages and pages” devoted to broadcast arrangements in the Premier League rule book, compared with “just one line” on access.
He said that changes required for television broadcasters, when new technology was introduced, were carried out “within weeks” rather than the “decades” it has taken to make access improvements.
Lord Holmes, disability commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and himself a retired Paralympian, was giving evidence to the culture, media and sport select committee as part of its inquiry into access to sports stadiums for disabled people.
He contrasted the Premier League’s attitude to that of Premiership rugby union and county cricket, which had both worked closely with the watchdog to improve access and inclusion.
Asked by Tory MP Nigel Huddleston what he saw in those sports that was different to football’s Premier League, he said they were “collaborative, open, honest, prepared to share”.
He then added, in response to a follow-up question from Huddleston, that it would be “delightful” in the future to be able to use the same words to describe the Premier League.
Lord Holmes said that some clubs had done “as good as nothing” for more than 20 years to improve access.
And he warned that the commission could take legal action under the Equality Act against individual clubs, and even against the Premier League itself, depending on the progress demonstrated in the next few months.
He said: “I don’t think we have an inclusive culture. We don’t even have a culture of compliance from Premier League clubs and the Premier League.”
The Premier League’s executive director, Bill Bush, had earlier told the committee that he could not yet name the clubs that were set to break their promise that they would meet guidelines on access laid down 13 years ago in the Accessible Stadia Guide.
The Premier League said last year that all of its clubs had promised to meet the guidelines by August 2017, but Lord Holmes told the committee that probably more than a third of the clubs would fail to meet that pledge.
Bush said he was not “hiding” the names of the clubs, but that it would not have been fair to name them at this stage because the Premier League had so far only carried out a “dipstick test” of their accessibility, which was not “definitive”.
He said the Premier League would publish a club-by-club account of progress in January.
Lord Holmes said that this refusal to release the names of individual clubs until January was “not entirely helpful”.
He also pointed to a new mobile phone app that has been launched for football fans by the Premier League, even though it was not accessible.
He said: “It clearly demonstrates that if that thinking is going on, there is no sense of an inclusive culture and there’s no sense of embracing the positive opportunity that exists here.”
Lord Holmes praised smaller clubs like Wrexham and Tranmere Rovers, both in the fifth tier of English and Welsh football, and both of which have improved access despite their grounds being more than 100 years old.
Bush claimed that Premier League clubs took the issue of access “very, very seriously” and none of them had ever said they could not afford to carry out access improvements.
He claimed that any delays were due to other factors, such as the “disruption” caused by the major building work necessary to put in lifts and viewing platforms.