Bishop of Portsmouth welcomes Bill on making sports grounds more accessible

On 17th July 2015 the Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, spoke during the Second Reading debate of Lord Faulkner of Worcester’s Accessible Sports Grounds Bill. The Bishop welcomed the Bill.

14.04.09 Portsmouth maiden speech 1The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I am pleased to welcome the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and to support it this morning. I am grateful for his and others’ determination to make good provision for disabled people at sports grounds a requirement and not just a vague aspiration. Were this not a sitting Friday and it my responsibility to lead the Prayers of this House, I would instead this morning be at Lord’s for the second day of the Ashes Test. My ticket—obtained long before today was fixed as a sitting Friday—is being put, I trust, to good use. As a keen sports fan, particularly of football and cricket, I find it disappointing and sobering that so very many grounds have such poor provision for people with disabilities of various sorts. Although there is a small number of examples of thoughtful and good provision, the overall situation is not just disappointing but bad. Out of care for each other and common decency, it is right to give everyone the dignity of access and safety.

Where money can surely not be judged a mitigating factor given lucrative sponsorships, high admission prices and the years that there have been to implement recommendations, it is surely clear that voluntary compliance with best practice has occurred only in isolated instances. I can only wonder, with some incredulity, why at the pinnacle of professional sport there is not the will to implement change, even where there is the way. If the richest clubs, some with the most modern stadia, will not voluntarily accede to reasonable encouragement and exhortation, something stronger is needed.

A few years ago, my daughter worked for a while for Muscular Dystrophy UK. One project in which she was involved is the already mentioned Trailblazers young campaigners’ network, through which young people with different types of muscle-wasting conditions campaign for better access, including to sports and leisure facilities. Its 2013 report Game On reported, in particular, on squalid accessible toilets, poor views of the game from the designated places, separation from families and friends and being allocated places among rival fans—all of which we have heard about already—along with a limited, and often very limited, number of places allocated to those with a disability. There are too many examples, some of which can be seen in individuals’ comments shared on Facebook: how thoughtless to allow disabled toilets to be used by anyone in the crowd; how thoughtless that a retaining rail is at eye level from a wheelchair; how thoughtless to suppose that seating friends close to but behind someone in a wheelchair enables the togetherness which is such an important part of watching sport.

My support for the Bill might be less passionate, though still strong, if the top clubs and grounds had over the years steadily moved towards compliance. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, suggested that we could all say amen to the view that Premiership clubs should do better. Appropriately, your Lordships may judge, I repeat that amen. If, with only a handful of exceptions, they have not voluntarily complied, there is no trickle-down encouragement for smaller stadia and clubs to move in the right direction. What is needed is the requirement to comply. I hope that the Bill receives from the House and the Minister the support it deserves.