As the football season draws to a close Emma Satyamurti comments on access to the sport for disabled fans
The fact that many rich football grounds fall (in some cases, woefully) short of providing even the minimum number of wheelchair spaces recommended by the Home Office speaks volumes. It sends a clear message that disabled fans are not as welcome as able-bodied ones. It is striking that football stadiums lag so far behind other entertainment venues. Given that sport is all about physical ability and prowess, I can’t help wondering whether there is some kind of body-machismo at play here. What is clear is that, with notable exceptions such as Swansea City, I believe Premier League clubs are letting disabled supporters down badly.
And proper access isn’t just about being able to get into the ground, it’s about the quality of the experience once there. Disabled fans report many ways in which their enjoyment of the game is compromised by the conditions of their access. These include having to sit with supporters of the other team (with all the exposure to hostility that can come with that), not being able to see because of fans in front of them standing up, not being able to sit with other family members due to number restrictions in designated wheelchair areas, and having to sit behind the goal in the direct line of fire.
Level Playing Field is a charity campaigning for improved access for disabled spectators at live sports events. Their activities include ‘weeks of action,’ an annual two-week period during which they encourage clubs to showcase what they are doing for disabled fans. This year’s week of action (23 April – 3 May) is in full swing. We thought this was a good moment to stop and look at the current state of play, and how far clubs still have to go if they are to score the all-important goal of meaningful equality for disabled fans.