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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Premier League clubs face legal threat unless disabled access is improved

Date: 2/2/2017
Summary: Premier League clubs’ failure to provide minimum levels of access for disabled supporters has been described as “disappointing” by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which has again threatened legal action if they do not comply.

The warning followed a Premier League report which revealed that 13 of its 20 clubs’ grounds do not incorporate the minimum number of wheelchair spaces set out in the accessible stadia guide (ASG) and that nine of the clubs will not make the necessary improvements in time for the league’s own self-imposed deadline of this August.

David Isaac, EHRC chair, responded in an uncompromising statement: “[The] Premier League promised that disabled access would be improved by the start of next season, so it is disappointing that a number of clubs will fail to meet that deadline. The time for excuses is over. Clubs need to urgently demonstrate to us what they are doing to ensure they are compliant with the law and how they are making it easier for disabled fans to attend matches. If they don’t, they will face legal action.”

The ASG provides official guidance for sports clubs on the disability access needed to comply with the Equality Act 2010, which requires organisations to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people so that they can enjoy the same quality of experience as non-disabled people. Following years of campaigning by disabled supporters and groups led by the organisation Level Playing Field, and the first threats of legal action by the EHRC from March 2015, the Premier League pledged in September 2015 that its clubs would comply with the ASG by the start of the 2017-18 season. Earlier this month a critical report by the parliamentary committee for culture, media and sport said it would support legal action if the clubs fail to meet the pledge.

The detailed progress report on the work being undertaken by all 20 clubs notes that most of those currently not providing the minimum number of wheelchair spaces or recommended facilities have appointed architects to consider how to comply. However, only four of the 13 which fall short – Liverpool, Stoke, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion – are planning to make the necessary improvements, which usually involve significant building work and displacement of seats, by the August deadline.

Tottenham Hotspur, who will move to Wembley next season, say their new stadium at White Hart Lane will be fully compliant with the ASG when it opens for the 2018-19 season. Chelsea pledge to incorporate full disability access to the new 60,000-seat stadium at Stamford Bridge for which the club was recently given planning permission and say they are seeking to address the significant current shortfall of wheelchair spaces in the short term.

The clubs promoted last season whose stadiums do not comply, Hull City and Burnley – Middlesbrough say their Riverside stadium does – have been given a further year to make the necessary improvements.

Arsenal, Everton, Leicester City and Manchester United have pledged to carry out the necessary works and improve their facilities for disabled supporters, but not by the deadline of August this year. Watford, whose Vicarage Road ground has 61 wheelchair spaces, substantially short of the ASG recommended 153, have issued a detailed public statement setting out that 31 more spaces are to be built by August, and more phased in over time. The club and its disabled supporters group WFC Enables have said the new total of 92 will exceed current demand.

The Premier League said its clubs had come to a recognition that “more could be done” to welcome disabled supporters to its grounds and said “cost is not a determining factor” in the difficulties of complying.

Clubs are facing challenges of planning, construction and the disruption to other supporters, the league said in a statement, saying of the planned work: “It is almost certainly the largest and most ambitious set of improvements in disabled access undertaken by any group of sport or entertainment venues in the UK.”

Tony Taylor, the chair of LPF, said in response: “We do recognise that a lot of work is going on and we have made incredible progress in the last few years. However, it has been a long time coming, these levels of provision for disabled supporters are just a minimum legal requirement and we expect all clubs to comply as quickly as possible.”

Source: The Guardian

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