The Premier League has been accused of failing to live up to a promise to guarantee match access to wheelchair-using fans.
The charity Level Playing Field, which campaigns for the rights of disabled sports fans, says the number of Premier League clubs providing suitable wheelchair user spaces has fallen over the past five years, despite a pledge in 2015 that all clubs would meet a nationally recognised standard.
Seven top-flight clubs, more than a third of the league, are understood not to reach the benchmark, which was determined by the Accessible Stadia Guide, a good‑practice guide for the design of sport facilities to meet the needs of disabled spectators.
The figures come on the fifth anniversary of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which observed work undertaken by top‑flight clubs to make stadiums more accessible. The EHRC then found 17 of the 20 clubs in 2018 had reached the ASG criteria. Of the 14 remaining clubs from that period, two do not reach that benchmark, according to Level Playing Field. Five of the six clubs promoted since also fail.
In 2015, following campaigning by Level Playing Field, Premier League clubs committed to complying with ASG recommendations by 2017. The target was missed, but real improvement was acknowledged by the EHCR.
“The reports which followed the pledge from Premier League clubs showed an immediate impact from that commitment,” the chair of Level Playing Field, Tony Taylor, said.
“It is deeply concerning to see that this momentum has not carried across to many of the clubs promoted since then.
This emphasises the need for continued oversight. Clubs must be mandated to reach a required set of standards for accessibility, or in many cases it will not be a priority.
“The Premier League has made great strides in this area and has the potential to be the undisputed global leader on accessibility in sport. Five years on from the culmination of this groundbreaking project, we hope they take up that opportunity.”
Possible solutions to the question of oversight could be to introduce the ASG recommendations into the Premier League rulebook. Or, alternatively, that the mandate for insisting upon the benchmark could fall under the brief of a new Independent Regulator for English Football.
A Premier League spokesperson said: “All Premier League clubs are committed to meeting the Accessible Stadia Guidelines and have undertaken substantial work to improve disabled access for home and visiting fans. This is a priority for the League and significant investment has been made in stadium improvements to ensure they are accessible and welcoming environments for all.”