Survey suggests away-day experience for disabled supporters needs attention

·5-min read

Disabled football fans are being put off attending away matches in England and Wales by poor views and discriminatory treatment, a campaign group has claimed.

A survey conducted by Level Playing Field revealed 43 per cent of respondents had experienced some form of abuse or negative attitude at an away game in the last five years, while almost 50 per cent cited blocked sightlines as barriers to travelling.

Chair Tony Taylor said: “It’s a sad situation that the access to live sport, which most supporters take for granted, is clearly not being provided in the same way for disabled supporters at away matches.

“The ability to watch a football game without blocked sightlines and fear of abuse or judgment is a basic expectation not being met.

“Clearly, there is a need for greater education within football. Level Playing Field will continue to take the lead in this by raising awareness amongst supporters and sharing best practices with clubs and governing bodies.

“We will be looking to these organisations and other fan-led groups to work with us to improve the issues highlighted in this survey, which continue to beset the away fan experience of disabled supporters.”

Of those supporters interviewed, 28 per cent said not being accommodated in the away end at grounds marred the matchday experience, while an additional 23 per cent reported a lack of disability awareness from other fans as a negative factor.

More than half of respondents who do not currently travel to games said they had done in the past, with Level Playing Field suggesting some disabled supporters are opting not to attend away games as a result of the issues raised.

Taylor said: “In recent years, there have been significant steps taken by many clubs to improve the matchday experience of disabled fans in general.

“However, this survey shows that there is still much work to be done and that the away fan experience, in particular, should be an area of focus for improvement by clubs.

“The away-day experience for disabled supporters needs considerable attention if football is serious about providing ‘access for all’.”

Premier League clubs have invested more than £125million to improve accessibility for supporters since committing to working towards the Accessible Stadia Guide in 2015, and the league carries out regular monitoring and evaluation.

In 2020, it commissioned Level Playing Field to undertake a review of the guide, and has also established an independent Disability Advisory Group.

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.

“Examples of improvements include ensuring away ends have accessible viewing spaces, installation of new accessible wheelchair viewing spaces and new high-level viewing platforms and lifts, as well as the development of sensory rooms and Changing Places facilities. New mid-tier and pitch-level viewing platforms have also been introduced.

A Level Playing Field campaign sign on the gates outside Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium
A Level Playing Field campaign sign on the gates outside Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium (Richard Sellers/PA)

“The Premier League is for everyone and we and our clubs will not tolerate discrimination. At the start of last season, league-wide bans were introduced for anyone found to have committed discriminatory abuse of any kind at grounds or online.

“Clubs will continue to consult with supporters and Level Playing Field to improve accessible facilities at grounds and ensure the matchday experience is enjoyable for all.”

Commenting on the report, David McArdle, the EFL’s head of equality, diversity and inclusion, said: “Through our new EDI strategy, launching over the summer, the EFL will reinforce our commitment to ensure that the voices of under-represented groups, including disabled fans, across our clubs, will continue to be heard, which will allow for effective and sustainable change.”

Wembley Stadium provides dedicated seating areas across all levels for both wheelchair users and guests with other disabilities, offers BSL interpretation at all major events including the 2022 men’s and women’s FA Cup finals, and recently became the first venue in the country to open two immersive sensory rooms.

A Football Association spokesperson said: “Making Wembley Stadium inclusive so that memorable events can be enjoyed by everybody is a strategic commitment for the FA.

“As part of our focus on disability, in 2021 we launched Football Your Way, our three-year plan to help develop, improve and raise awareness of disability across football in England.

“The first-of-its-kind plan covers seven key areas, demonstrating our commitment to ensuring that disabled people can engage and participate in football their way, from grassroots through to the elite end of the game.”

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