A major survey of football fans with disabilities in England has found that more than a quarter do not yet want to return to stadiums due to fears over the spread of Covid-19.
The inaugural Level Playing Field (LPF) report interviewed almost 1,500 people – of whom 80% attend events at least once a month before the pandemic – about their attendance experiences, with the results released on the eve of the new Premier League season.
Some 73% of respondents said they want to return to venues “right away” now that capacity restrictions have been eased. However, around 1% believe they are still more than a year away from being ready, with around 12% between one and three months away.
LPF said almost no fans responded that they would never return to matches, and data collected by the Daily Telegraph newspaper suggests half of the 20 Premier League clubs are not allowing fans uncomfortable about returning to defer their memberships and season tickets.
“Clubs should not be putting undue pressure on disabled fans to return before they’re ready and fans shouldn’t be penalised for choosing not to return at this stage,” an LPF spokesperson said in a statement.
Just over 30% of those surveyed said there are sporting venues they would not visit due to poor facilities for disabled people. Accessible toilets are the facility that would benefit most of the survey respondents (46%).
Some 19% said the greatest barrier to attending is the cost while 17% cited difficulty in purchasing tickets. The top barrier is accessibility at venues at 32%.
However, 70% of disabled supporters feel able to attend all sports venues, while 27% said they “don’t experience any barriers” when attending live sport.
LPF added: “We don’t know the long-term impact of Covid-19 at this stage, but we hope that the results from the questions about fans returning to live sport will be helpful to clubs and governing bodies as they make decisions at this time that will impact disabled fans.”
LPF said it had responses from supporters with a wide range of disabilities, so the survey results represent a true pan-disability perspective. Many respondents selected multiple options when asked what they consider their disability to be, with 44% saying they were ambulant disabled and 26% of fans being wheelchair users.