English Premier League: All stadiums will be accessible by August 2017

Soccer ball in front of a Union Jack, British Flag

Soccer ball in front of a Union Jack, British Flag
EPL Promises Accessible Stadiums

The world’s most popular soccer league announced September 14 a two-year timetable to make its stadiums fully accessible for people with disabilities, in compliance with an agreement the league made with government officials nearly two decades ago.

In 1998, the English Premier League and the government’s Football Task Force created a guide, known as Accessible Stadia [PDF], setting a minimum number of wheelchair accessible seats for each of the league’s 20 stadiums, proportionate to their respective sizes.

At present, just three of the league’s 20 clubs contain the required number of spaces. Moreover, many of these seats are in the opposing team sections, or provide obstructed views of the field.

A series of media reports, highlighting the EPL’s failure to follow through on the agreement, have brought renewed attention to the issue in recent months.

In June, the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission threatened legal action against the EPL, as well as individual clubs.

In July, Lord Christopher Holmes of Richmond, the country’s most successful Paralympic swimmer, urged sponsors to boycott the league if progress is not made.

Earlier on September 14, the Department for Work & Pension and the Department for Culture Media & Support released a 46-page report [PDF], slamming the clubs on everything from their lack of wheelchair spaces, to their ticketing practices, to their lack of transportation options for people with disabilities trying to get to and from the facilities.

Under the new policy, announced in a brief statement, the EPL stated that clubs must comply with the seating requirements under Accessible Stadia. In addition “wheelchair bays, steward training, websites, ticketing policies and parking should all be given urgent attention.”

Each club must also appoint a Disability Access Officer and take part in regular assessments. The League is also developing an “Access app.”

“It has been a very long time coming – more than 14 years [of campaigning] – but we wholeheartedly welcome this announcement from the Premier League and its clubs,” Joyce Cook, chair of Level Playing Field, told the Guardian. “The promises made today will ensure that many more disabled fans can finally enjoy a fair and equal experience alongside fellow fans, friends and family.”

A BBC video about the announcement can be seen here.