English Premier League under fire for inaccessible stadiums

players running after soccer ball in stadium with fans
English Premier League Stadiums Provide Inadequate Accessible Seating

Disability advocates are taking the world’s top soccer league to task for its slow progress in providing sufficient seating at its stadiums for people with mobility disabilities.

In a speech in front of the House of Lords on July 17, Lord Christopher Holmes, a former Paralympic swimming champ, called on sponsors to pull support for the English Premier League until it improves its disability access efforts.

According to the London Mirror, just three of the 20 Premier League’s stadiums have the number of accessible seats they agreed were necessary in a 1998 agreement. That year, the Premier League worked with the Football Task Force to create a guide, known as Accessible Stadia [PDF], setting forth minimum standards for each stadium.

“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,” Holmes said in the speech. “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.”

Holmes is a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which in June threatened to take legal action against clubs failing to meet their responsibilities.

Manchester United was also called out for allegedly declining to sell season tickets to people requesting seats in the wheelchair accessible seats.

Manchester United also maintains that the recommended standards only apply to new stadiums. Other teams, including Chelsea, have also argued that they are constrained by the existing architecture in their stadiums.

“Disabled provision lags behind the work against other forms of discrimination and it has been very, very hard going to get the clubs to comply,” David Bernstein, president of the advocacy group Level Playing Field, told the Guardian in a March 2015 investigation into the Premier League’s accessibility policies. “The clubs don’t do it because disabled provision costs money, and they raise the issue of having old grounds.

“But given the money at the top of the game now, this is indefensible.”