The Chaplain for Sport has shamed plans to fine football clubs who do not comply with disability access requirements, pointing out that fines of £25,000 are unlikely to motivate clubs to “do the right thing”.
His comments come following a Culture, Media and Sport select committee report calling on Premier League clubs to meet an August deadline to become compliant with disability access requirements.
The report states that four clubs – Chelsea, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth – are likely to miss the deadline and also criticises West Ham for reducing provision for disabled supporters since it took over the Olympic Stadium.
It accuses some clubs of ‘prioritising finance over improving access’, although the east London club say the report is based on out-of-date information.
The committee stated it will support the Equality and Human Rights Commission in taking legal action against individual clubs and their respective governing bodies in the event of evidence of their ‘systemic’ non-compliance.
The report’s authors quoted Premier League executive director Bill Bush as stating that if the league’s member clubs fail to comply with the Accessible Stadia Guide by August 2017, then the Premier League board has the power to impose a wide range of sanctions including fines of £25,000.
In the event of more serious breaches, it can refer to a specially-appointed independent panel which could impose heavier fines or even deduct points.
The Accessible Stadia Guide was funded and established by the Football Stadia Improvement Fund and the Football Licensing Authority in 2015.
However, Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, Chaplain for Sport and CEO for the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, heavily criticised plans to fine clubs.
“Given the salaries of their players, fines of £25,000 are unlikely to motivate clubs into doing the right thing: enabling everyone, whatever their physical abilities, to enjoy supporting their clubs,” he told The Universe. “Perhaps a carrot and a stick approach might be the way forward,” he suggested.
“Praise from supporters clubs for what is achieved; shaming management when they do not govern ethically.”
The chaplain proposed that fans stage protests against clubs which do not comply with disability access requirements, including the boycotting of matches.
“The People of God – individual human beings working together – may achieve more, and faster, than established Institutions and their sanctions,” he said.
“Staying away for a game or two – a Clubxit – as protest against lack of respect for people with disabilities, may do the trick.
“A groundswell of public opinion, has largely driven out drink-driving,” Mgr Felzmann added.
“Similar groundswell of positive public opinion might make ‘systemic non-compliance’ of guidelines set out in The Accessible Stadia Guide history.
This weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Saturday 21st January
Liverpool v Swansea – 12:30pm
Bournemouth v Watford – 3:00pm
Crystal Palace v Everton – 3:00-pm
Middlesbrough v West Ham United – 3:00pm
Stoke City v Manchester United – 3:00pm
West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland – 3:00pm
Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur – 5:30pm
Sunday 22nd January
Southampton v Leicester City – 12:00pm
Arsenal v Burnley – 2:15pm
Chelsea v Hull City – 4:30pm
Picture: : A banner in the stands reads ‘Stop Discrimination against disabled fans’. (Lynne Cameron/PA).