A new survey has uncovered “concerning” increases in the impact of verbal abuse, inaccessible public transport and lack of support from staff on the ability of disabled supporters to enjoy live sport.
The annual survey by the disabled-led charity Level Playing Field (LPF) received nearly 1,800 responses, the highest number yet.
Among the findings, the survey shows the percentage of disabled fans saying that inaccessible public transport has been a barrier to them attending live sport has increased year-on-year from 16 per cent in 2021 to 17.5 per cent in 2022 and now to 20 per cent in 2023.
There was also an increase in the proportion of disabled fans who said that “disability abuse” was a barrier, rising from 5.5 per cent in 2021 to 6.5 per cent last year and seven per cent this year.
LPF – which campaigns for disabled fans attending live sport in England and Wales – described the rise in barriers caused by abuse and inaccessible transport as “troubling”.
The survey also found an increase in the proportion of disabled fans saying that a lack of support from club staff had caused a barrier, from seven per cent in 2021 to 10 per cent in 2022 and now to 11 per cent in 2023.
One survey respondent said: “Every week, we get challenged on where we access the stadium [the accessible entrance] as my son’s disability is not visible.
“Every week this causes unwanted distress. [We] have also been shouted at numerous times.”
Another said: “I may want to take medication while I’m at the ground and find that difficult if I’m not allowed to bring in a bag.”
LPF called on clubs to act on inaccessible transport, disability abuse and the lack of support from club staff, and said these trends were “particularly concerning”.
Most of the survey responses related to football (with 90 per cent of responses relating to the top four English football leagues), but there were also some relating to cricket (0.6 per cent), rugby league (7.4 per cent) and rugby union (0.5 per cent) and, for the first time, women’s football (0.9 per cent).
The charity also asked in the survey about the impact of smoke bombs and flares, following incidents involving disabled supporters.
LPF chair Tony Taylor has previously highlighted how fumes released by smoke bombs can affect respiratory conditions, trigger panic attacks and seizures and cause sensory overload, while also creating danger for disabled supporters who may find it difficult to evacuate an area.
Nearly a third (31 per cent) of those responding to the survey said they had been affected by the use of flares, smoke bombs and other pyrotechnics at a live sports event, with more than 120 disabled supporters rating the impact as “10 out of 10” for severity.
There were some positive results from the survey, with the proportion of respondents saying that physical access had created a barrier for them falling by seven percentage points to 29.5 per cent since last year’s survey.
But the survey also found that 54 per cent of respondents said they faced extra disability-related costs in attending live sport, usually in relation to travel and parking or the additional cost of paying for a companion or personal assistant to join them at an event.
The average additional disability-related costs were £66 for a home game and £111 for an away game.
One respondent said: “I struggle financially as I can’t work.
“The club charge blue badge holders for parking and eventually I will have to stop going – just can’t afford it. I only wish I could park elsewhere and walk.”
Following the survey, each of the 118 clubs mentioned have been sent a report with just their own supporters’ responses.
Taylor said: “Inaccessible public transport and disability abuse have both seen year-on-year increases in the percentage of disabled fans for whom they act as a barrier when attending live sport.
“These are key areas of work for Level Playing Field to focus on, and the results provide us with unquestionable evidence to utilise in discussions with other stakeholders, in order to bring about meaningful action.”
Picture: Cambridge United captain Paul Digby and two autistic fans wearing ear defenders at the club’s Level Playing Field day in March
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