Disabled access: Premier League clubs may face sanctions over lack of improvement

Swansea fans
Swansea's Liberty Stadium has an excellent record for providing wheelchair spaces

Premier League clubs are prioritising finance over improving access and should face legal action if they fail to meet the needs of disabled fans, according to a new report.

Several clubs including Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford are likely to miss a deadline on meeting basic standards.

The Culture, Media and Sport select committee says it is unconvinced the league would punish clubs itself.

However, the Premier League says it is "working extremely hard" on access.

In 2015, the league promised to improve stadium facilities for disabled fans, stating that clubs would comply with official guidance by August 2017.

That followed a BBC investigation in 2014 which found that 17 of the 20 clubs in the top flight at that time had failed to provide enough wheelchair spaces.

At the end of January, the Premier League will publish an interim report detailing each club's progress towards the August accessibility deadline.

The select committee's report on "Accessibility of Sports Stadia" quotes Premier League executive director Bill Bush as saying top-flight clubs who fail to comply could be punished.

He said the Premier League board can impose fines of up to £25,000, while cases of serious breaches would be referred to an independent panel - which could impose heavier fines or even deduct points.

But the report added that it was "not convinced" of the Premier League's willingness to sanction its clubs after "20 years of comparative inactivity".

What does the committee say?

Committee chairman Damian Collins MP said: "It is especially disappointing that some of the rich clubs are not doing more.

"Sports fans with disabilities are not asking for a large number of expensive changes, only to have their needs taken into account in the way sports stadia are designed and operated.

"The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told us that it is minded to start legal proceedings against clubs that continue to flout the law. We support them in this."

Meanwhile, the report says that Championship club Derby County and non-league sides Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham and Egham Town were "exemplars of best practice".

What does the Premier League say?

A statement read: "The scale and scope of the commitment made by clubs in this area is unprecedented for a single sport or sector, and the timescale is ambitious.

"At some grounds, particularly older ones, there are challenging built environment issues and, given that stadiums are in use throughout the football season, there is a limited period in which significant structural work can be done.

"For the clubs which are working through those challenges, cost is not the determining factor."

What do the clubs say?

Watford have already indicated they will fail to fulfil the pledge on wheelchair spaces, indicating in a club statement that "all known demand from disabled supporters has been met".

A Hornets statement included an explanation from David Butler, chairman of independent disabled supporters group WFC Enables, outlining 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. If these supporters subsequently see that these positions are not appropriately occupied due to lack of demand, they will be at best disgruntled and at worst antagonistic."

Chelsea have plans to demolish their Stamford Bridge stadium and expect to meet all guidelines when the ground is rebuilt.

Liverpool have not made any official comment but are understood to be exploring options as part of redevelopment work at Anfield.

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