Disabled sports fans are increasingly likely to be confronted by negative attitudes when they attend live sport, according to a new survey.
The survey found the proportion of disabled fans who identified the attitudes of others as a barrier to watching live sporting events had nearly doubled in a year (from 15 per cent to 28.5 per cent of respondents).
Level Playing Field (LPF), the disabled-led charity, which represents disabled sports fans in England and Wales, said this figure was “worrying” and “something that we need to address”.
Owain Davies, LPF’s chief executive, said these disabling attitudes could come from club stewards or other staff, other fans, or people on the approach to the ground.
Earlier this year, another Level Playing Field survey found that more than two-fifths (43 per cent) of disabled fans who responded said they had been subjected to verbal abuse, or disability-related offensive songs, chants or gestures at an away game in the last five years.
Level Playing Field’s second annual survey was sent out to disabled supporters through their associations, club contacts and via social media, running from 5 July to 5 August.
Most of the 1,309 respondents were football fans, with 44 per cent supporting a Premier League club, although about seven per cent supported cricket or rugby teams.
The survey found an increase since last year in the proportion of disabled fans experiencing each of 13 barriers, including physical access to stadiums (an increase from 31.5 to 36.5 per cent), difficulty purchasing tickets (up from 17 per cent to 24 per cent) and a lack of information (a rise from 11 to 16 per cent).
Davies said he believed that physical access at stadiums was improving, despite the survey results*.
He said: “The physical access facilities from 10 years ago have definitely improved, but it’s not consistent across all clubs and we believe this is one reason for the survey results.”
He said there were other areas where access appeared to have regressed, including in attitudes, ticket sales and access to information.
He said the move towards online-only ticket sales was likely to be creating barriers for some disabled fans, while the emphasis on digital ticketing was also likely to be causing problems for fans who want to speak to a staff member to obtain access information.
LPF is working with the English Football League – which runs the second, third and fourth tiers of English football, which include a small number of Welsh teams – to ensure online access information is updated more often, particularly by clubs further down the leagues.
More than a third of survey respondents (36.5 per cent) said there was at least one sport or venue that they could not attend because of a lack of access for disabled spectators, an increase from 30.5 per cent in 2021.
One disabled fan said: “I need to be hoisted from my wheelchair and should not have to lay on the floor to have my pad changed.”
Another said: “What I need is patience and understanding from others, including occasionally other fans.
“I should not need to explain that I suffer stress and major anxiety issues and occasionally need a longer time to absorb situations.”
A third respondent told LPF: “Often, non-disabled spectators crowd into areas that are for people with disabilities, making it difficult to manoeuvre one’s wheelchair… and feeling very awkward and embarrassed when wanting people to move.”
Tony Taylor, LPF’s chair, said: “Of course, the results of the survey are concerning, particularly the increased barriers experienced by fans compared to last year.
“The standout being the 36.5 per cent of fans who said that there are sporting venues they are simply unable to attend due to a lack of access (a six-point increase).
“In 2022 this is quite simply unacceptable, and a laser focus must be applied across all sport to ensure that this is addressed.”
He added: “Delivering access and inclusion for disabled sports fans simply cannot rest at the feet of individuals at clubs – there must be a collective mandate for change from the boardroom to customer-facing staff, from fans to governing bodies, and from other stakeholders.
“Together, we must turn the tide on the issues identified and drive higher standards.
“We are fortunate, however, that there is a lot of good work taking place across sport with clubs delivering often innovative work to ensure that disabled fans’ voices are heard, providing clubs with the opportunity to reflect the communities which they serve.”
*A higher proportion of wheelchair-users took part in this year’s survey, a possible explanation for the increase in those concerned about physical access
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