A recent investigation into the English Premier League has discovered that 17 of the current 20 top-flight clubs are not providing adequate space and access for their disabled fans. The three that meet the requirements are Swansea City, Southampton Football Club and Cardiff City. Glaringly, eight EPL clubs are offering less than half of the required space under national guidelines.
“The experience for a disabled football fan is very varied, but it’s nothing like that of a non-disabled fan,” said the chair of Level Playing Field Joyce Cook. Level Playing Field is a registered charity that advocates for the disabled in athletics. “It’s hard to get tickets, specifically for away games and especially for wheelchair users. When you get there, the sight lines can be pretty grim and it can be quite a miserable experience,” continued Cook.
Many of the English Premier League stadiums are well over 100 years old, making it challenging for clubs to renovate. The three grounds that are currently meeting or exceeding requirements of the Accessible Stadia Guide — the U.K. standard on the issue, put in place in 2004 — were all constructed in this century. Swansea’s stadium was constructed in 2005, Southampton in 2001 and Cardiff City in 2009. Arsenal, who play at Emirates Stadium, provide 96% of the recommended requirements for disabled spaces (the fourth-best in the league) in their 2006 constructed stadium. Hull City provides the sixth-best disabled access; their stadium was built in 2002.
A look at the three least-accessible stadiums shows the effects of older stadiums not adapting to modern requirements. Craven Cottage, home of Fulham, was constructed in 1896 and provides a league-worst 24% of the recommended disabled space in their stadium. White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur, was constructed in 1899 and provides 28%. And Villa Park, home of Aston Villa, was built in 1897 and provides 39%. The correlation between stadium age and wheelchair accessibility goes hand in hand.
Direct legal action may not be far off. “One of the things that courts will do to establish what adjustments it is reasonable to make is to look at what other guidance is around,” said barrister Catherine Casserley. “If that says that clubs should have a certain number of wheelchair spaces and they don’t have that — and they don’t really have any rationale for not having that — then the court might well decide that they breach the Equality Act.”
The relics of the English Premier League are essential to the game; they’re part of a storied history. But without proper seating and access for disabled fans, it is the new stadiums with little to no history that are providing a world-class experience for viewing world-class football. The EPL is enjoying one of its most successful times in history, financially speaking, and should jump in with both feet in fixing this issue.
VISUAL CONTEXT: ACCESSIBLE STADIA GUIDE RECOMMENDATIONS