Wheelchairs at football grounds. It has been a contended issue for many years but now it seems to be making some progress as Premier League clubs may face sanctions over lack of improvement to disabled access and wheelchair users. A recent report has shown that clubs continue to prioritise spend elsewhere but at last might face legal actions and possible financial penalties if they do not meet the needs of disabled fans in wheelchairs.
There are a number of basic standards set out to ensure that grounds are suitable for wheelchair access and many of the premier clubs still fail to meet these standards, including Watford, Liverpool and Chelsea. A deadline for these basic standards to be in place is looming.
In 2015, the footy league promised to massively improve stadium facilities for disabled fans and stated that football clubs would have to comply with official guidance by August 2017 which is not far away.
An investigation made by the BBC in 2014 found that 17 of the 20 clubs in the top flight had failed to provide enough wheelchair spaces at matches. The select committee's report on "Accessibility of Sports Stadia" names Bill Bush as stating that top flight clubs who fail these criteria will be punished and fined up to £25,000 or more if the issues weren’t addressed and wheelchairs catered for in a more acceptable manner.
So what do the football clubs have to say about this ? Watford have already indicated they will fail to fulfill the pledge on wheelchair spaces, indicating in a club statement that "all known demand from disabled supporters has been met".
In one quote David Butler, chairman of independent disabled supporters group WFC stated that if the extra 61 wheelchair spaces required under the league's guidelines are provided at Vicarage Road, "700 able-bodied supporters would be displaced from cherished seats that they may have occupied for many years. Chelsea football club plans to demolish their Stamford Bridge stadium and plan to meet all guidelines when the ground is rebuilt. And, as for Liverpool they have not made any claims officially but are understood to be exploring options to promote wheelchair access as part of redevelopment work at Anfield.
In fact another study showed that only three Premier League football stadiums provide the actual required number of wheelchair spaces so let’s hope that in the coming months leading up to the deadline there is some good news from many clubs to better cater for wheelchair access.