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Football's Covid financial crisis should not impact disabled fans, charity demands

PRESSURE must be kept on clubs to ensure any financial hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic does not have an impact on supporters with disabilities, according to a leading campaigner.

The Level Playing Field (LPF) charity works to improve access to venues for disabled supporters, who like everyone else are currently unable to attend matches due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Its chair Tony Taylor has so far been impressed with the work clubs have done with disabled fans, as the organisation prepares for its next Weeks of Action initiative between February 27 and March 14, but says he remains vigilant.

“Without a shadow of a doubt we already recognise the hit football has taken, we are aware of that acute pressure,” he said.

“The buying power of disabled supporters is still quite strong, and there are very few families in this country who are not connected with somebody with a disability in one way or another.

“I’ve been quite favourably surprised by the way football clubs and other sporting organisations have reacted to the pandemic in making sure that they are going that extra mile.

“It’s incumbent on us and everybody in the football industry that we keep the importance of access and inclusion right at the top of the agenda.

“If we want to call ourselves a civilised society we have got to look at these issues and take them seriously.

“Thankfully at the moment I think football is, and we will certainly be keeping the pressure on.”

Stephen Miller, a six-time Paralympic gold medallist who is the secretary of Newcastle’s Disabled Supporters Association as well as an LPF ambassador, hailed his own club’s approach to inclusion and said there was no excuse for any club failing to do so.

Miller, who has cerebral palsy, said: “Since I started attending football, my experience of going to St James’ Park has been really positive. It’s probably one of the most accessible grounds in the country.

“But there are still a lot of grounds that are not up to standard, and that’s not acceptable in this day and age.

“The sport is well funded, and we shouldn’t accept any more where grounds and facilities aren’t meeting the standards that they should be. There should be bigger penalties for clubs that aren’t making the effort to embrace disabled supporters.”

A survey last year by the LPF found 43 per cent of the 600 disabled people who took part in the survey stated that the suspension of live sport in 2019-20 season had an significant impact their mental health, while 62 per cent of supporters stated that if they were unable to return to sport this season they feared it would have a huge impact on their own personal well-being.

LPF has organised virtual events throughout the pandemic to help disabled supporters stay connected to their clubs and to each other, and this year’s Weeks of Action will be largely based around social media activity with fans sharing memories of matches they attended, and what they are most looking forward to when stadiums can safely reopen.

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