Published: 16 May 2018
Chelsea Football Club has signed a legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to improve disability access at its stadium and regularly update the watchdog on its progress.
The agreement comes as the Commission’s final report into Premier League stadia accessibility is published.
The report, the state of play: progress on Premier League clubs' accessibility, looked at what every club (23 in total) in the Premier League during the 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018 seasons has done to make their grounds accessible for disabled fans.
Responding to the use of enforcement powers by the Commission, Premier League clubs have shown that real change and substantial progress can be made by businesses to improve facilities for disabled people.
Published today, the report finds an increase in the number of:
- wheelchair user spaces: from 3024 in April 2017 to 3724 in April 2018, with around 330 additional spaces due to be installed by clubs before the start of the 2018 to 2019 season
- amenity and easy access seats: 17 of the 20 original clubs now provide the recommended number for their stadium, compared to just 8 in April 2017
- accessible toilets: all 20 of the original clubs provide them to the required standard, compared to just 10 in April 2017
- changing places toilets: 22 clubs now provide larger accessible toilets with changing bench and hoist system, up from 7 in April 2017
- sensory rooms: all 20 of the original clubs now provide support or sensory aids designed to support people with a range of sensory impairments, compared to 7 in April 2017
David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
'Disabled fans support their teams through thick and thin; it’s good to see clubs doing the same for them. Clubs have come a long way. During our discussions we saw some excellent examples of how clubs engaged with disabled fans to introduce many positive changes. Along the way we also met some resistance. It's pleasing that so many clubs – including Chelsea, one of the world’s biggest – have taken our threat of legal action seriously and are now working with the Commission to deliver real change. It’s important that all clubs make disability access a priority.
'We’re proud of the important part we’ve played in ensuring Premier League football clubs change their ways and the experience of their disabled fans. There was no excuse for the poor standard of facilities we saw at some clubs last year. As a result of using our powers this won’t be the case in future. Disabled people must be able to participate equally in all aspects of life.'
Sarah Newton, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, said:
'Football has the power to bring people from all walks of life together, but if stadiums aren’t fully accessible disabled people will be excluded from enjoying the sense of community that is a big part of being a football fan.
'That’s why I’m so pleased that the Premier League is making significant progress on accessibility, setting an example to clubs all over the country to do right by all of their fans. But there is still more work to be done, and I would urge all clubs to ensure they’re meeting the standards required by law.'
William Bush, Executive Director at the Premier League, said:
'Premier League football is for everyone and clubs have a long tradition of welcoming disabled fans to their stadiums. In the last three years clubs have made huge improvements to disabled access for their fans. The scale and scope of the work undertaken – from enhanced car parking and ticket purchasing options to increasing the wheelchair bay provision – is unprecedented in any other sport or entertainment sector.
'All clubs will continue to engage with their disabled supporters and are committed to making future improvements to keep pace with rising standards.'
Burnley and Watford, two clubs with plans for significant improvements at their grounds, welcomed the opportunity to publicly declare their commitment to these improvements by voluntarily signing up to an agreement with the Commission. Both clubs have plans in place that will see them meet the minimum recommended requirements and improve the provision they currently offer to disabled fans in time for next season.
Scott Duxbury, Chairman and CEO at Watford FC, said:
'Watford FC is delighted to have had the chance to share its progressive approach to improving accessibility at Vicarage Road Stadium with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
'The club values the Commission’s collaborative approach, as we undertake further improvements to meet the Premier League's Accessible Stadia Guide commitment.'
Tony Taylor, Chair of Level Playing Field, said:
'There is little doubt that it has taken the threat of enforcement by the Commission to drive change at some clubs, but the overall picture is positive. Clubs now recognise the importance and benefits of good access and there have been increases across all facilities for disabled fans.
'Disabled fans are not asking for special treatment, they want the same as everyone else; to be able to turn up at the ground, watch the match, have refreshments, use the toilets and facilities, then go home with the minimum of fuss. Surely, in 2018 that is not too much to ask?'
Four other clubs still requiring improvement – Crystal Palace, Hull City, Manchester United and Sunderland – declined to enter into an informal agreement, but have shared their plans for improvement.
The report includes six recommendations to clubs and other businesses, two for the Premier League, one for other governing bodies and one for the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA). It also outlines the Commission’s commitment to:
- work with Chelsea to ensure that it meets the terms of the formal agreement under section 23 of the Equality Act 2010
- work with Burnley and Watford to ensure they are able to fulfil the actions they have proactively committed to in the informal agreements
- monitor the developments at Crystal Palace, Hull City, Manchester United and Sunderland, after they declined to enter into agreements, to ensure they meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010
- meet with governing bodies of other football leagues and seek to influence other sports' governing bodies so that they too take a strong leadership role on the issue
- support the work of the SGSA and seek to influence the planned revision of the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG)
It comes five days after the Commission published the findings of its formal legal inquiry into accessible housing, Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis. The inquiry found that disabled people have been left trapped and frustrated by a chronic shortage of suitable housing, and called on the government to introduce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of houses built to inclusive design standards.
Notes to editors
Accessible Stadia Guide
To help clubs become more accessible, the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG) was published in 2003 by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) and updated in 2015 in respect of clubs’ duties under the Act. They give guidance on the provision of wheelchair user spaces, amenity and easy access (AEA) seating, Changing Places facilities, toilets and accessible services, on removing sensory barriers and on access audits and action plans.