Premier clubs get yellow card over disabled seating
A large majority of Premier League football clubs are failing to provide the number of seats for disabled supporters that were promised almost 20 years ago, a prominent disability rights campaigner has said.
Paralympic swimmer Lord Holmes of Richmond, a non-executive director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, called on the football community to "discover its moral compass", contrasting their reluctance to provide seats for disabled fans with the speed with which stadia are adapted for VIP boxes or TV cameras.
Just three of the 20 Premier League sides currently meet promised levels of disabled access, but bringing the whole league up to the required standard would cost just £8 million, he said.
Lord Holmes said the EHRC was keeping "all options, including potential litigation" on the table, saying : "We need leadership from the Premier League. We need leadership from the chairmen of these clubs."
Lord Holmes was highlighting the issue in a debate in the House of Lords on the Accessible Sports Grounds Bill, a private member's bill which would enable local authorities to deny safety certificates to stadia which do not comply with accessibility standards.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme ahead of the debate, Lord Holmes said: " It's extraordinary that over 20 years into the Premier League, only three clubs currently meet the standards which the League agreed on in the late 1990s.
"They are woefully short. We all know who lifted the Premier League trophy, but if you look at the league table for the provision of disabled seats, you see Chelsea in 12th place, Liverpool in 15th and Manchester United in 16th slot. It's a very different table to points on games won.
"The access guide for stadia sets out minimum requirements for the number of disabled seats which should be provided and the clubs in the Premier League were all part of that taskforce which came up with those numbers."
Lord Holmes said clubs regularly cited the age of their stadia and the cost of conversions as an explanation for why they were falling short on accessibility.
But he said: " I went to a Cambridge college that had buildings dating from the 15th century, and they managed to make them accessible. So to say that some of the richest clubs on the planet can't make their stadia accessible is extraordinary, particularly as even those that have old grounds have pretty much redeveloped them from the inside out with increased VIP facilities.
"When new cameras are needed for 3D, space is made in a matter of days. It's an extraordinary situation. I think football really needs to discover its moral compass. It's a game which came from the community, it needs to reconnect with the community.
"Disabled spectators have an equal right to be at Premier League football as any other supporters.
"It would cost around £6,000 per position and the overall cost to bring all grounds up to the minimum level would be around £8 million, which is an amount of money - don't get me wrong - but let's set that against the £5.14 billion which was received just in broadcast rights, never mind the other sponsor money and gate which comes in to the game."
Elliot Dunster, head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said: "Many disabled football fans are being let down by Premier League clubs.
"We hear from fans who are unable to get hold of tickets, or are unable to sit with their disabled children, because the club they support doesn't have enough accessible seating.
"Football is our national game. Clubs need to do so much more to provide a level playing field so disabled fans can be part of it."