Levelling the Playing Field
I love sport. I thought I would really miss it. The thrill of 3pm on a Saturday afternoon glued to my phone watching the drama unfold as goals were scored, refreshing every 30 seconds. The whoosh of a golf ball being pinged 350 yards down the centre of a fairway. The sound of ball on willow and a split second later the applause as that ball crosses the boundary rope. It all seems a lifetime ago.
Despite my love of sport, I’m glad there hasn’t been any sporting events. Sport doesn’t really matter in the context of 40,000 deaths and rising. That is more people by far than can fill my beloved Brighton’s ground when it is crammed to the rafters. It puts it into perspective.
Football returns this week, so it was interesting to read a report by Level Playing Field, a live sport inclusion charity, which highlighted how the absence of live sport has had a significant impact on disabled fans’ mental health. On one level the report is reassuring. It reflects the mood of all fans. Just under two thirds of people surveyed said it would have a considerable effect on their wellbeing if there was no live sport for the rest of the year. 50% said they had concerns about returning to watch live sport in stadiums and 12% said the pandemic had put them off from ever attending live sport again. The major difference to non-disabled fans is the disproportionate number of respondents in what we know as the ‘shielded’ group. Reading between the lines there is genuine concern from disabled fans about whether the progress and levels of accessibility made pre-lockdown will still be in place.
Last week Purple set out its thoughts on how organisations can make their recovery plans inclusive (read the article here). That includes and applies to all those involved in sport. Will social distancing retain accessible toilets only for disabled supporters? You won’t attend an event if you can’t go to the loo. Will there be sufficient disabled parking or will bays be reduced to maximise queuing space? Will online ticketing be accessible enough to buy your ticket without having to speak to a member of the club office? Will details of inevitable restrictions be provided in an accessible format and be clear about the impact on all fans including disabled fans? And will the improved levels of customer service remain, or disabled fans simply become a vulnerable group which carry greater risk?
The frisson of live sport is not knowing the outcome and watching it unfold in front of your eyes and in real time. I am not a fan of the relentless replays that have been shown over the last three months. I have watched one. The FA Cup semi-final from 1983 between Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday. I was 12 and was there. It was my first live experience. It was a boiling hot day and as we got off the train we were herded by police almost two miles to Highbury – the previous home of Arsenal in London. The concept of social distancing didn’t exist. I can’t imagine we will ever go back to that kind of situation. It will change live sport forever.
We (Brighton) won 1-0 and the goal scorer that day was Michael Robinson, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. No-one has said whether it was from Covid-19, but it is sobering.
I spoke to a fellow disability organisation CEO recently based in the North West. Back in February his staff team attended a conference where they had an information stand. Atletico Madrid fans were staying at the hotel where they faced Liverpool in one of the last games before lockdown. Four of his staff have since died of Covid-19. Not sobering. Extremely frightening and stark.
I won’t lie. I will be interested and follow events from this week. I will want to attend live events when fans are allowed to return. But I also know it won’t quite matter as much as it used to.
16 June 2020