Established in 1999, Level Playing Field (LPF) is a registered charity in England and Wales and acts as a campaigning and advisory organisation that represents disabled fans across all sports.
By Chris Summersell
In recent years we have seen progress made across sports to deliver better access for disabled spectators, but we are under no illusions as to the scale of the work yet to do in order to deliver fully accessible and inclusive stadia for disabled fans.
The truth is that disabled fans are still left hugely frustrated by a lack of access and inclusion that they face, with figures showing that 50% of disabled people have never even attended a live public event. However, at LPF we remain positive and see some encouraging signs going forward that there is an appetite to improve accessibility for disabled sports fans.
We have seen clubs like Wrexham and Tranmere Rovers, non-league football clubs not awash with money, delivering state of the art viewing platforms for wheelchair users through the tremendous fundraising efforts made by the clubs and their Disabled Supporters Associations.
Elsewhere, Sunderland AFC have installed a sensory room for autistic supporters after the great campaign work of the Shippey Campaign. The campaign now seeks to have a similar facility installed at all Premier League football stadia.
Simple accessible solutions like these have such a far reaching impact for disabled sports fans.
LPF was delighted by the Premier League’s announcement in autumn 2015, pledging that its clubs would be compliant with the minimum standards set out in Accessible Stadia in time for the 2017/18 season. We look forward to seeing their pledge delivered by August 2017. This should ensure a more inclusive matchday for all Premier League fans and we will be monitoring their progress and offering our continued help and support wherever it is needed.
We’ve also been working closely with the England & Wales Cricket Board, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football League who have all shown a willingness to put access at the top of the agenda.
We are also encouraged by the level of interest and support we have gained from parliamentarians in recent years and we currently await the outcome from the recent Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee Accessible Sports Ground Inquiry in which Level Playing Field were called to give evidence.
We also welcomed the findings from the joint DCMS & DWP survey which laid bare the challenges faced by disabled sports fans, and urged sports venues to build on the success of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games where access and inclusion was placed at the heart of the decision making.
Disabled people are the largest minority group in any population and the benefits of inclusive stadia are obvious. Not only is there a clear moral case to be heard, but a sound economic one too – there are estimated to be 12 million disabled people in the UK who, if more sports stadia were fully inclusive, would represent significant spending power.
LPF seek to work further with fans, governing bodies and their clubs towards our aim of accessible, inclusive and fit for purpose stadia. We provide a fully professional programme of audits carried out by NRAC accredited access auditors for sports venues as well as disability, inclusion and equality training that aims to improve disability awareness for staff at clubs and sports venues. In our day-to-day work we run a club mediation programme for fans who have enquiries and complaints regarding disability access at sports venues.
We have also seen the growth of our ‘Working Together’ project that seeks to establish Disabled Supporters Associations (DSA’s) at clubs to improve disabled supporter representation and to affect key decision making at their clubs.
We also work very closely with our sister organisation, the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFÉ), whose remit covers the rest of Europe.