Disability Sport Info

Sport Spectatorship: Unite For Access

February 22, 2023 Dr Chris Brown Season 5 Episode 1
Sport Spectatorship: Unite For Access
Disability Sport Info
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Disability Sport Info
Sport Spectatorship: Unite For Access
Feb 22, 2023 Season 5 Episode 1
Dr Chris Brown

In this episode, I speak to Owain Davies, CEO of Level Playing Field, to discuss Level Playing Field's Unite For Access 2023 campaign. We first discuss the sport spectatorship experiences of disabled sports fans, considering the gaps in provision as well as best practice examples. 

The second half of the episode focuses on the Unite For Access campaign. The campaign runs from Saturday 25th February 2023 to Sunday 12th March 2023 and aims to improve access and inclusion for disabled sports fans. 

We consider how the Unite For Access initiative can celebrate existing accessibility initiatives as well as highlighting the importance of inclusion and accessibility for disabled sports fans. 

More information about the Unite For Access campaign is available here: https://www.levelplayingfield.org.uk/campaigns-research/weeks-of-action/unite-for-access-2023/ 

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, I speak to Owain Davies, CEO of Level Playing Field, to discuss Level Playing Field's Unite For Access 2023 campaign. We first discuss the sport spectatorship experiences of disabled sports fans, considering the gaps in provision as well as best practice examples. 

The second half of the episode focuses on the Unite For Access campaign. The campaign runs from Saturday 25th February 2023 to Sunday 12th March 2023 and aims to improve access and inclusion for disabled sports fans. 

We consider how the Unite For Access initiative can celebrate existing accessibility initiatives as well as highlighting the importance of inclusion and accessibility for disabled sports fans. 

More information about the Unite For Access campaign is available here: https://www.levelplayingfield.org.uk/campaigns-research/weeks-of-action/unite-for-access-2023/ 

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Sport Spectatorship: Unite For Access


Speaker: Dr Christopher Brown (Presenter – University of Hertfordshire, UK) 

Speaker: Owain Davies (Participant – CEO, Level Playing Field, UK)


[00:00:00] Dr Christopher Brown: Welcome to the Disability Sport Info Show, the podcast that explores academic knowledge about disability sport. My name is Dr. Chris Brown and I'm an academic with an expertise in disability sport. Each episode I focus on a specific topic of disability sport and speak to academic experts to understand the area more depth.

So join me and listen to the Disability Sport Info Show who get an expert view on disability sport.

Hello, Listener. Welcome to the Disability Sport Info Show. This episode focuses on the sport spectatorship experiences of disabled sport fans. I'm delighted to welcome Owain Davies from Level Playing Field to the show who will discuss the upcoming Unite For Access campaign. Level Playing Field is a national charity that campaigns for greater inclusivity and accessibility for live sport events for disabled people in the UK.

Owain, welcome to the show. Great to have you with me. For listeners who aren't aware, who is Level Playing Field and what are their aims as an organisation? 

[00:01:02] Owain Davies: Firstly, thank you, Chris, for having me on. It's a great opportunity to talk about the subject, which we feel is absolutely, fundamentally important, and it's something that we're pleased to be able to work in with yourself, to be able to obviously elevate that.

So, Level Playing Field, who are we and what are our aims? Really, I suppose maybe to start that, if I just kind of go back to the origins of Level Playing Field, and we started possibly about 20 years ago. It kind of started quite organically with about five fans or so disabled fans sat around the kitchen table discussing the inequality of experience and about how what they could come together to do to make those changes.

And, in essence, that kind of sentiment, that key value that started the charity is strong today. It's evolved and obviously the charity's grown. And we're pleased with that because the topic is important and it needs that greater level of platform. So our aim really is to represent the views of disabled sports fans, the real life match day experience, that we can be a mouthpiece for what's happening to them in every facet of attending live sport. From booking a ticket to getting to the ground, to being in the ground and the experiences that they do have and to then to channel that into some key pieces of information that clubs can use to improve the match day experience, but equally more so now is to celebrate good things that are happening as well.

And I think that's really important that we want to do is to establish that culture towards access and inclusion, where people are working together to make a change and a difference, and not doing it because they're fearful for it. That they have see it as an opportunity to bring people together to represent the community that the clubs and the stadium serve, and to be able to ensure that everyone can enjoy watching the beautiful game, in particularly in football and also in other sports.

That's possibly something else that we should mention, that as a charity we also work across England and Wales primarily and across all sports as well. Largely our, probably most of our work is in football, where it's a part of our funding streams that kind of come from and our origins. But yeah, that's kind of primarily kind of what the organisation's and our aims are.

[00:03:17] Dr Christopher Brown: Great. So you mentioned it was founded about 20 odd years ago by a group of fans because of the inequality of experiences that they felt they had when they were watching live sport, primarily football, I think in terms of the founding members. So how would you describe the current experiences of disabled fans attending live sport matches?

And if we think about when the organization was founded to now, how much progress has been made? 

[00:03:39] Owain Davies: So the current experience of fans. I think one of the biggest catalysts for change in recent times has been undoubtedly the Premier League pledge. So back in 2015, just for people who are unaware of it, the Premier League pledged that all their stadiums within a two year window, so by 2017, would meet, accessible stadia. So accessible stadia is the guidance documents that venue used to ensure that their stadium is accessible for disabled sports fans. So that was a huge catalyst, not just in the Premier League, it kind of down through the EFL and into other sports.

The spotlight was well and truly on. The Equality and Human Rights Commission were involved. And they drove the standards. We saw, you know, new services coming online, the birth of the sensory rooms. And I think that it's been a real positive change for that progress has undoubtedly been made, but it's that kind of having that consistent element, you know, it was demonstrated what gets measured gets done.

Now there was still some elements of it that still needed to be, went past the two year window, but, and you know, from a point of, was there progress made? Yes, there was. Is there still more to be done? Yes. And there's still a lot still to be done, but we need to recognise what progress has been done. What can we learn from that to then re-evaluate and to kind of go again. 

In this kind of current time, what's kind of the improvements we've seen? There's a greater prevalence on underrepresented disabilities, more so the non-visible disabilities around sensory ones such as autism and maybe around Crohn's and colitis and what services and reasonable adjustments we need to be providing to make that much more inclusive for a fan. So those are the kind of the experiences that we have seen and seen the improvement. 

If we're looking at some of the barriers. Largely, there's a lot of them that are still the same. There's still a lot of old stadiums there. And changes to those older stadiums are hard. It doesn't mean that we can't do it. It means we need to think harder, we need to allocate more time to it, and we need to not necessarily, not kind of put it to one corner and we'll unbox it when it we’ve maybe got a bit more thinking space and more time to do it. It needs to be brought online and planned to make that matchday more inclusive, it needs to be always ongoing. 

So that consistency to access is something that we need to kind of really ensure that's at the heart of any kind of future change. And I think that's where we may see some of the challenges that the consistency between maybe club to club, maybe in leagues or maybe in regions.

Those are the kind of the barriers that we're facing. And that fans are experiencing. One of the things following some of our surveys that fans are really kind of mentioned is maybe traveling to venues. And I think that when we take a step away from the initial ground, is how do you get there at the supporter journey physically from door to stadium is very difficult.

Public transport is an issue that, you know, if, when you've got thousands of fans going on the train to wherever it particularly may be, to watch your team, the services that are provided for disabled fans sometimes can be suspended and that is a barrier. But then also if you go back another step is about when you buy a ticket online, is that always available for disabled fans?

And I think, you know, where we have seen progress, we need to celebrate it, but there are still areas that we need to catch up on and that would be kind of our important side that we need to kind of really focus and zero in. 

[00:07:10] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. And you mentioned about how, you know, there are obviously old stadiums, obviously some new ones, but some old ones of course.

So what are the experiences or challenges that are involved with some of the old stadiums for fans? 

[00:07:22] Owain Davies: It'd be very varying, but I suppose, you know, a few of them would be sightlines. I think traditionally in the past, if we're using, wheelchair user spaces, viewing areas primarily back when maybe stadiums initially built in, you know, early nineties or you know, late eighties, they might be all pitch side viewing areas where disabled fans and wheelchair users, in particularly in this point, want to have choice. That some people want to sit pitch side. You may have a different point, you might want to sit pitch side and I might want to sit, you know, higher at the back of the stadium, because that's how, individually, you want to experience the game. That's no different to any disabled person.

I think having choice at the centre is important. So to view sightlines is one element of it. As I said, services and provisions for fans with maybe non-visible disabilities. That's another kind of factor. So maybe sensory rooms or sensory packs or greater level of awareness of booking tickets in maybe quieter areas of the stadium or end of aisles.

Having that flexibility is important as well. And then also if you look at it, audio descriptive commentary, if you're blind or partially sighted, for a fan who might require extra level of detail if they're blind or partially sighted to experience or watch the game, that service sometimes can be, you are restricted to one particular area. And actually, again, you want choice. You want to be able to sit, elsewhere in the stadium with your fans. 

The other side is that maybe we've seen is that wheelchair users, for example, if you're an away fan, you may be sat with home fans and completely away from your away fans, which is really intimidating as well as a part of that.

So that's another factor. There's only a handful of clubs still, certainly in the top four divisions in football that have that. And that's something that we are really keen to see the end of, that home that away fans can sit with away fans. And I think that's really important as.

[00:09:21] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah. I suppose for listeners who aren't aware or don’t know huge amounts about this area, the idea that you don't have segregation throughout the ground for all people, certainly for football, I know other sports it might be slightly different, but for football that's quite shocking I think for some people because, you know, we have segregation for a reason.

The idea that it's okay to have a away fans in the home end. It seems a bit extraordinary that this still happens in this day and age especially, you know, with the passion and the tribal nature of football. I suppose for the fans who are in the home end, they're not necessarily feeling very confident to show their club colours, maybe. How do the fans experience it when they are put in the home end as an away fan?

[00:10:02] Owain Davies: Yeah, we, we've had reports of, you know, whether it's abuse in the past. That's one real experience where it kind of happens. And I think, you know, like you go back to the point that segregation of football might be for safety, and that kinda experience, but also as well, there's a sense of when you go to an away game, there's the sense there's a different kind of mentality as well that you’re going collectively together.

You're almost going into the lion’s den, as it were. And, you know, you are a band of brothers and sisters going to watch your game and to experience and to enjoy. And then you do all of that. You go on the coaches together, you travel, you know, hundreds of miles sometimes, and then, you know, maybe, depending on which ground you're going to, all the away fans go to this end. Apart from you, 7, 10, 15, 20 people, you are gonna sit at the other end of the stadium and you are now gonna experience football where it’s possibly a sanitized version in the sense that you don't want to cheer or to wave, or to go too passionate when your team score or frustrated when they lose because what will that bring on to you as an individual? And I think it's something that we really need to recognise that it can't happen in 2023 and it's something that any club that does have that needs to be urged that change needs to happen quite quickly.

And that's obviously something we are really focusing in on as a charity and wanting to make that change. Working with governing bodies and clubs about making that intervention as well. 

[00:11:30] Dr Christopher Brown: No, definitely. And, and I think there's a great point you made about the community aspect. You know, you have that collective identity amongst the away fans and just a fan base in general.

Then suddenly it’s disaggregated away for one set of fans versus the other. And that bond is severed because of access issues, isn't it really? And that's obviously something that needs to be worked on

[00:11:52] Owain Davies: It’s absolutely right we raise, you know, that this happens in football, but it's important equally that we provide the balance to it as well.

That it is, there's, I dunno, six or seven clubs who do this out of the 92 who are, you know, in the kind of the top four divisions. So it's important that we kind of recognise that as well. And one of the points I just wanted to, I probably should have made at the beginning as well, is that the importance of live sport and in the realm of disability, watching football and live sport is possibly one of the most truly inclusive experiences in the sense that everyone is watching the same thing. Everyone's experiencing the same thing, granted through different lenses about how you watch sport, but you wear the same shirt.

You consume the game to a certain extent in a similar kind of way. As opposed to if you look at participation levels, for example, it's very much segregated that you are working, you know, you might be working in specific disability teams or you know, whatever.

But watching live sport, it's the whole community kind of comes together and that's something that we need to really celebrate and to really make sure that it's at the heart of any messaging. When we talk about the importance of watching live sports, more than just the 90 minutes, is people coming together who may not mix in their circles and that, you know, we know that diversity makes the world a better place; it's reflective of the society we live in. 

[00:13:21] Dr Christopher Brown: Great. And obviously, like you said, it's important to have that balanced perspective. Six or seven clubs, still not great, but of course compared to the 92, you know, it’s a lot more progress that has been made. Yeah. So yeah, that's a good point to have made in terms of the ability of fans to be able to have a truly accessible and inclusive experience when attending live sport.

How does it vary across the country? Is it due to the club resources or is it geography? Or is it other factors? You know, why would it be different maybe for some people in one part of the country versus another? 

[00:13:54] Owain Davies: Yeah, it's a really good question and the short answer to it is there's loads of factors to kind of why they're doing it.

So I think if you look at inclusion and some people will kind of say, well, you know, inclusion, at the end of the day, you know, it's about a mindset and yes, in large part, that is an element, but when it comes to disability, there's something which sets it apart from a lot of other protected characteristics, and that is the financial infrastructure that's required for clubs to bring their facilities to the required standard for disabled people to be able to just get into the venue and to also experience it as well.

And that can be very costly. There are some low cost or no cost opportunities to doing it, but there are some significant increases because, you know, following the birth of the Disability Discrimination Act and then now the Equality Act, before that, obviously venues with really poor facilities and services, the legislation didn't manage that provision and that expectation. Now it does, and there's probably some arguments that the Equality Act is a little bit hazy and maybe could do with a bit more tightening up and a bit more teeth. But obviously it provides a certain level of awareness and that we can hold a greater level of accountability. 

With that in mind, now venues need to kind of repair the kind of their stadiums to make it more inclusive. Because when they were built, that legislation necessarily wasn't there. And so the first is that financial element. So there is the cost one. So obviously if you have a greater budget, then you have a greater element to spend to be able to make the changes. That's one side, but there are lots of alternative ways to be able to achieve similar levels of access with a lower budget. So it's not an excuse to hide behind that, ‘oh, I don't have the money to be able to do it’. We still need to be inclusive and provide this reasonable adjustments. 

The regional discussion. That's a really interesting point because some people might say, well, in London there's loads of accessible, you know, there's trains, there's tubes, there's everything.

But I think, I'm not entirely sure of the stat, but I think it's something around only quarter of the underground might be accessible. 

That's obviously pretty shocking when you think of like buses. There's only, you know, two or three spaces for a wheelchair user to go onto the bus.

But if that's already taken up, we've heard experiences where wheelchair users at a bus stop waiting for the bus, it's empty, but then there's somebody, maybe a pram or maybe actually a wheelchair user in there and the bus just drives on by. And, you know, and that's it. So that's another element and a barrier kind of getting to the game as well.

But one of the ones as well is the attitude of the governance of the game. So if it's prioritised at then change will happen. And that's where the greatest level of success is. That if it's maybe discussed at board level or certainly at chief executive level, and then that cascades down, then that's a real driver for change.

And I think, you know, with the fan-led review that's been going in, that's something that we'd really want to see is at the heart of that, is about how does the governance of the game preserve this opportunity for fans to be included and to ensure that, that’s a real cornerstone of any progress and development in this area is that, because instead of it kind of maybe landing on one person's shoulder, let's say the disability access officer at the club or the liaison officer in the club, and they are charged with doing everything, it needs to be owned by everyone in the organisation. That disability access officer is almost a conductor, in that sense, kind of telling people that this is what we need to do in hospitality, more inclusive, so media and comms, this is what we need to do, these principles and be able to drive that culture across the whole organisation. 

[00:17:30] Dr Christopher Brown: Some really interesting points and I just wanted to, before we kind of go on to the next point.

When we talk about accessibility, it obviously varies as well for the individual. You know, accessibility for someone in a wheelchair could be quite different from someone who has visual impairment or who is colourblind or has a neurodivergent condition, you know. So accessibility is not just a pre-packaged set of ideals or things that you can give to an individual.

It has to be tailored and considered with the individual in mind, but also when you were saying about the fan-led review. And you mentioned earlier at the beginning how the Premier League pledge really kind of moved the dial, I think, in terms of, you know, the Premier League getting involved because it was a requirement, right?

And it was being measured. So with the prospect of the independent regulator, what would you like to see introduced and implemented from the regulator to ensure more accessible and inclusive experiences for disabled fans? 

[00:18:24] Owain Davies: Well, it's a great question. You know, it's kind of obviously something we kind of lent a lot of thought, and kind of we, you know, we fed back into the report and I think when the initial report came out, we were obviously pleased that there were some elements around it, but it was disappointingly thin I thought. The initial thought from our perspective in regard to disability. I suppose when we look at it, there's gotta be engagement, that’s the first point. There's got to be engagement with fans and certainly experts within that particular field around the services that you provide. To the point that you made before, is that about, not the spectrum of disabilities  being broad, but then when you go to each level, you know, there's an adage in autism is that once you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. And the access requirements, just within autism, is so unique to the individual that you need to have that flexible approach. So if you kind of go with this one size fits all solution, it's not going to work and it falls into that medical model of disability. You know, we follow the social model of disability. It's down to society to create the adaptations to ensure that they're inclusive.

You can only do that by that engagement and recognising kind of what's good. So if we're looking at the White Paper or the governance of the game, what do we want? We want that engagement, but we want meaningful engagement, not tokenistic engagement. That when you engage with the fans and then you talk about this, how do you ensure that it's reflective of all the, you know, of all disabled fans, that it takes all those points and then what do you do with that information?

It's not just listening and then we'll put it to the side until the next meeting or the next roundtable or the next level of engagement. What's the meaningful nature of that? And I think that's really important side that we have to do that. 

Then the governance of it is that there's board champions, uh, you know, for, for disability or, you know, access and inclusion within, at board level. That it’s discussed. That there are twice a year, for example, it might be more, you know, that would be better, that access and inclusion is discussed at board level. That there is appropriate budgets agreed to ensure that the club can deliver their access and inclusion obligations under the Equality Act.

The legal obligations, the moral obligations, I think is also really important. Like we go back to the initial point I said that we can’t fear people into wanting to be inclusive. We want to ensure that people are doing it for the right reason, for the sense of community that football clubs and sports clubs are.

It's the communities, the hub of the community for a lot of people and I think that's an important side that we have into that. And obviously learning from what we've seen in the past is what gets measures gets done, that they're set of measurable standards that clubs can achieve, that they are measured against.

In the utopia kind of world that we'd like to see is that there is a safety license at venues that clubs do have, and if you don't meet your safety license, then you don't open. It should be kind of similar kind of vein from access, you know, and inclusion as well is that, that would be the kind of the ideal position is that power is almost taken out of the club’s hand that we need to meet this to be open, you know, for business. And I think that's a really important side that we need. 

[00:21:24] Dr Christopher Brown: Watch this space in terms of the independent regulator. May take a few months, years, who knows, with the independent regulator coming in. So, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see the progress on that. 

So, one more question before we actually go to the topic that you're here to discuss. I know we've had a nice big conversation before the campaign discussion. But I'd just like to give you space to highlight some best practice that you've seen from all sports. So, obviously, we've talked pretty much about football so far, but are there best practice examples that you'd like to share about inclusion and accessibility for disabled fans across sports?

[00:21:56] Owain Davies: There’s a lot of good practice that that happens out there and the clubs that have the consultation with their fans, whether it's through disabled supporters’ associations, which are, there's over 50 across the UK. Not every single club has one, but most clubs do have them. So engaging with disabled supporters’ associations.

They're proactive changes. You know, I think that's a really good way of doing that. You know, instead of kind of having a conversation of kind of going, this is what we're doing. We're just updating you, we're not necessarily doing it. And there's that. The club's at the beginning phase, if they're doing a redevelopment, if they're installing a sensory room as, for example, they go out and they ask the questions first and really kind of be considerate about those responses and bringing that in.

And there's loads of clubs who do that, whether it's around their stadium development. Service implementation. So that's kind of one side as well. People then kind of having, you know, reviewing the facilities, so having access audits and facilities around, you know, recognising against industry standards with experts as somebody comes in, reviews their facilities.

And gets those, that understanding of where they are, you know, warts and all. This is the state of play in our venue. This is how we measure against the kind of legislation, good practice and expectations, and then using that information from their report to put a strategy in play. Having a strategy, which is that, yes, okay, we own this. This is our venue. We know it's not right, but this is how we're gonna get to this destination. 

Sometimes clubs are the innovators when we're kind of delivering reasonable adjustments. You know, don't want to kind of necessarily get it wrong, but Watford, one of the first venues to have a sensory room in place to do this.

Obviously, there's a lot of campaigning work that went ahead before that, but they put this venue in place and it was very pioneering to a certain extent of putting this provision, you know, an incredible space for families to be able to go and experience a game. And then using to transition into kind of season ticket holders in the stands as well.

So there's some really good examples of what clubs do there and, you know, on, on a ground level, but also on a supporter by supporter level as well. 

[00:24:01] Dr Christopher Brown: Excellent. Well, let's focus on the actual substance of the conversation now. So Level Playing Field are launching the Unite for Access campaign, so that runs from Saturday 25th February to Sunday 12th March.

So what is the campaign? And we've kind of talked already about why is needed, but why a specific focus for that particular period of time?

[00:24:22] Owain Davies: The campaign has been running well over 15 years now. Previously, or previous to this year, it had a name change and, in the team I get fined every time I say it incorrectly.

So it previously was Weeks of Action. I won't get fined for that cause I've already mentioned it! So we've moved on to the Unite for Access and the whole purpose of the campaign is to celebrate the importance of access. How important access is to fans and to disabled fans.

So to hear from fans about their experiences, why it's important to celebrate what clubs do well in delivering that, so that we can inspire other clubs and to share good practices as well. But also to kind of to draw more people to the game. So some disabled people may see going to watch live sport as too difficult, too challenging. They may have lots of other perceptions and barriers. So it's kind of maybe dispelling some of those barriers or certainly kind of giving a true reflection of that so more people can enjoy live sport in their particular local community.

So it is just a real big period of celebration so that we can kind of, you know, harness the power of going to watch live sport. Why is it important? And that we can then kind of demonstrate what clubs do to deliver this. This year in particular is that we are really focusing on the I was there moment, whatever it is, when your team got promoted for the first time to the Premier League in, you know, whatever year, or, you know, what that particularly means?

I was there for my grandson’s first game or, you know, well I was there when we got relegated. You know whatever it particularly is, is a really important memory and moment for fans, that that I was there moment is afforded to disabled fans. And I think that's something that we really want to do is to celebrate what was your I was there moment that you really enjoyed and experienced and how did your club facilitate that?

You know, and for some people, it might be really simple as a welcoming environment, you know, taking time, offering support, patience, whatever it particularly may be. For some people it might be about the physical infrastructure. But also as well as recognising this year, the name is Unite for Access.

It's a recognition that it's not just down to one small cross section of society or, you know, I, I say small. So 14 million disabled people in the UK and largest minority group in any population. Creating inclusive environment is owned by everybody. You know, and it might not directly impact individuals now, whether it's a family member with a disability or that person with a disability.

But it could impact you later in life. As we know, disability is more prevalent with age, but excluding those important factors, we need to ensure as a community, that our community is reflective and it’s one everyone owns. Creating an inclusive environment. And I think that's really important that we harness that message and it's not necessarily being, you know, ignorant to that point.

It's about understanding. And if you don't understand it, come and engage. You know, speak to people, you know, ask kind of questions. How can we support, what can I do to be more inclusive, within your particular match today? And hopefully this is what this campaign does. It kind of puts the spotlight on a really important topic, that we have seen progress, but there's a heck of a lot more still to be.

[00:27:36] Dr Christopher Brown: Excellent. And how will that message be promoted? So how will the casual viewer be able to understand that this campaign is happening? 

[00:27:45] Owain Davies: Across that two week period, three weekends, two weeks, our social media will be very, very busy. So @lpftweets, search Level Playing Field on Facebook and Level Playing Field UK on Instagram, and then also the Level Playing Field website, all that information will be there, we’ll be tweeting as we go. Liking as we like and everything in between. 

We've had clubs signing up to the campaign since before Christmas. Yeah, we’re absolutely inundated, clubs across the leagues have really brought into the campaign previously. And in particularly with the name change as well, you might have some clubs who will be showing their support through raising awareness with players representing the campaign with wearing t-shirts and then also some social media activity and some comms.

We've got clubs who will be doing some awareness raising themselves. The facilities they provide and why it's important and spotlighting on certain fans as well. We've got Disabled Supporters Association backing the campaign again by engaging with their members and about how important watching live sport is for them. Maybe checking in on their ‘I was there’ moment as well. 

So a real diverse way of doing it and. You know, we often talk about what's the most important part of the campaign. Is it about the awareness, you know, of players kind of wearing the t-shirts, elevating the profile? I think it's everything and I think that's where it works really well when you have the diverse element of players supporting it and obviously bringing in maybe people who are not in the kind of disability world as it were, you know, may not be a factor in their life at the moment.

But it raises awareness in that cross section for fellow fans that they can reach out and to kind of, to share experiences with other fans because someone's shared their match, their experience. And that's obviously a really important side as well. So there's a lot of diverse work there and there might be some clubs launching new facilities as a part of this as well. 

One thing that we saw, which was really powerful last year, clubs did a pledge for, you know, for the next 12 months we'll be focusing on this. I think that's a really powerful one that we'd really like to kind of to build on this year, that the pledge towards access and inclusion.

[00:29:54] Dr Christopher Brown: And what role will the broadcasters have? Because I know, you know, when we have, kind of campaigns from Kick it Out about racism or we have the, rainbow laces, or sometimes you see on the broadcasters when they're talking about. Sky Sports, for example, they'll have like the, the rainbow colours pop up on the kind of score line bit. 

Is there anything that the broadcasters will specifically be doing to support the campaign? 

[00:30:14] Owain Davies: It’s a really good question. At the moment, there isn't really, and I think that's probably a broader question, and we spoke probably just before we started this conversation about how we kind of create a message of that broader kind of awareness of inclusion. Sometimes we write there's a greater level of focus of individual protected characteristics, and I think we need that kind of, that broad understanding that we need to work collectively to be able to drive this. So at the moment, broadcasters, we don't, they'll be picking up new stories and they'll be sharing certain elements maybe of what clubs are doing.

But that kind of concentrated focus maybe from, you know, major broadcasters kind of supporting their campaign in that fashion isn't necessarily there yet, despite the fact that it’s the largest minority group in any population. So more needs to be done within the kind of the media and it's understanding why that's not the case at the moment.

And I think that's something that we are seeing greater level of awareness in the media of disability related issues in sport. But we need more. We've seen, you know, obviously the negative impact of the Champions League Final and in particularly about that side of things for disabled fans.

And I think that's something that we need to really recognise to make bigger strides. That is a weak spot at the moment that we need to do more in. What we do have, you know, a lot of supports like the governing bodies in where they, they do it. Last year we saw at the Caribou Cup Final and there'll be more activity this Caribou Cup final as well.

But we saw a BSL interpreter sign the national anthem before the final for the first time in supporting the campaign, and that will happen again this year. So there's some really, you know, elements such as that, that the media are picking up that concentrated effort and raising awareness on that assembly that obviously there, there's a good opportunity for any, you know, media organisation to pick up on.

[00:32:00] Dr Christopher Brown: Well, let's hope the broadcasters pick up the baton if not this year, certainly in the years to come. Okay. And so for listeners, if they wanna get involved and support the campaign, how can they? 

[00:32:09] Owain Davies: First is to kind of get in touch with Level Playing Field. You can, you know, whether it’s directly with us via our email address, info@levelplayingfield.org.uk, or just visit our website.

If you Google search Level Playing Field, you'll be able to find our website and all the information is on there and on social media. You can check in with what your club's doing, and then we can point you in that direction with their activity.

But mainly is sharing the kind of the content of work so that it gets out there to a broader audience. The more that we know and collectively know, and the more we share that message, the greater level of awareness that we'll have as well. And it will support that kind of movement towards that organic attitude to access and inclusion.

That's something that's not forced. It just happens. And that's what we're trying to get to is that this, so I think that that'd be a really good way is that that listeners can gonna get involved. You know, sharing our content on social media, reaching out if you’ve got any questions as well, directly to us.

We are always really keen to be able to engage with people to talk about this subject and to see also if there's anything specific within your local community that we can assist you with as well. 

[00:33:19] Dr Christopher Brown: This is a fantastic campaign, but how do you know whether it actually makes a difference and how do you measure?

So how do we actually attach action to this?

[00:33:28] Owain Davies: So, yeah, it's a really interesting, I think when we look at this in particular, it's that is it making a difference or how are we seeing progress? We're probably seeing progress because more people are signing up to the campaign. So whether it's from a club level, there's that buy-in and the fact that if we are seeing clubs signing up to the campaign and saying, we're celebrating Unite for Access.

Previously, you know, in the previous name of the campaign, we were celebrating this and sharing this it instantly to any disabled fan in the local community, shows that the club's committed and brought into that. So that's kind of, I suppose, that’s sort of the softer link compared to an academic perspective.

But we recently, and one of the biggest strength points we've seen is through our annual fan survey. Now, this is the second year that we've done it, and in both years, we've seen over a thousand fans take part in it. And I think eventually that we are gonna see the progress through that.

Is that, are we seeing the match day experience improve for disabled fans? Are we seeing reductions in the attitudes that disabled people see around going to a match day? You know, they saw some of the stats we saw in the previous one that they, we'd seen. The first year obviously showed our, our baseline results.

We saw the second year we had, you know, growth in certain areas. If we're gonna see the progress, it's kind of, we've also gotta see it that it's not just, this is one key area of the whole of Level Playing Field activity. There's also, once this campaign goes, it's then the focus is that obviously using information to be able to shape services at clubs, you know, learning about common problems that we see, and then shaping that, you know, and through that way.

So, you know, it serves its purpose of raising the profile of disability that more people are talking. And then, you know, we need to then use our annual fan survey, which we are really proud that we've got a really good response rate into that, to that data. But also it allows us to kind of measure the success of, I suppose, all of our work.

But obviously, which Unite For Access leads into the campaign. 

[00:35:25] Dr Christopher Brown: Nice side-step in terms of not naming the previous campaign, I suppose, as a rugby fan, you appreciate that reference. Well done for that. Now I'm conscious of time because we've had a really interesting discussion, but you're a very busy man, so I'll just bring it to a close with just a few more questions if that's okay.

So if we are here in a year's time, what do you hope to have realistically achieved for disabled sports fans? 

[00:35:47] Owain Davies: It's a really difficult and kind of the, what the sense that we've said of how, how broad disability is. But I think that what we want to see is a greater level of understanding, especially for underrepresented disabilities.

And I think that's a really important side that we have that because. Whether it's, you know, people who might have Crohn's disease, they might use a colostomy bag. You know, the understanding about what the access requirements for that person with disability is that we need to ensure that that service and provision is there.

So that greater level of awareness is really important, is that we have a culture and attitude towards how we deal with inclusion at a local level and also at a national level as well. So clubs understand that this is our strategy towards moving, moving the dial on a local level, how we make the facilities more accessible and inclusive.

How we have that greater level of understanding that we see, you know, investment, whether it's in time, by clubs kind of really focusing their resources towards this service and provision. I think that's another side that we need to kind of do, that the disability access offices at the clubs are not the only person that deal with this area. That it is owned by the whole club and maybe, you know, led by disability access officers and senior managers.

That's disseminated across the round, and that we see a downturn, you know, from our annual fan survey as well, that the match experiences improve and obviously barriers reduce and the negative experiences reduce as well. 

[00:37:18] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. And final question. If you had to provide three important areas of action for providers and fans to bring about equality for disabled sports fans, what would they be?

Now I appreciate, that's probably quite hard to answer, but what's your best attempt? 

[00:37:32] Owain Davies: I think I'm gonna link it back to the social model of disability and I think the social model disability, you're not disabled by your disability. You're disabled by the barriers in society and there are three specific factors within that.

You've got the environmental factors, the attitudinal factors, and the organisational factors. So if we're looking at three kind of key areas, it's firstly kind of maybe understanding and owning that, that access and inclusion isn't down to the individual disabled person to try to overcome; it's a societal objective. And I think firstly, let's own that. Let's do that. As an organisation, as a service provider, what must I do to make it inclusive now? That's the first initial kind of question and to kind of understand that you demonstrate that by delivering those three themes. 

For an environmental factor, you know, what are the physical adaptations that we can do to make this venue more inclusive, make this experience more inclusive? What do I need to provide to be able to welcome more disabled people in and have that as a lens? Now, if we're, you know, an example, may be if we're gonna have a trophy parade, because your team’s won, how are you making that inclusive along the way? If it's a bus route through the city centre, wherever that city may be, then are you providing accessible viewing platform?

That decision making has disabilities at the heart of it from the very beginning. So that's kind of that one thing, the attitudes of fellow fans of, of clubs towards disability, you know, is of an inclusive one. And I think understanding how you play a part in driving that inclusive environment, you know, whether it's about the questions you ask when you book tickets or the challenges you are facing. It's that it's something which is kind of quite a natural process for a disabled person to wanna go and watch a game. And it's kind of relatively seamless to do that. 

And then I suppose when you look at the organisation side, the policies around that, the policies towards delivering access and inclusion, you know, really has that at the heart of it, you know, at governance level, how are you gonna steer those policies? And. you know, and the positions on that, that you check in with it, not because it's a standard process, is that you check in on your policies and think about, oh, well, is this inclusive? Is this empowering for a disabled person? You know, if I do this action, what does that impact have on a disabled person and what do I need to do to kind of overturn it?

So it really wraps up nicely into the social model of disability and I think that a greater level of understanding and ownership of, you know, people and organisations for the social model of disability, that we all have our part to play in creating that inclusive environ.

[00:40:01] Dr Christopher Brown: Excellent. Well, fantastic to have a chat with you, and I appreciate all the time that you've spent here. I know the campaign is just days away, the Unite for Access campaign starts. I know you're very busy, so thank you so much for spending your time with me. The Unite for Access campaign runs from the Saturday 25th February to Sunday 12th March.

And also to look out for media coverage of the campaign. Now, best of luck with the campaign. I'll be following it closely and supporting it from far. And yeah, I hope it goes well. Owain, thank you ever so much and it'd be great to catch up with you soon.

[00:40:36] Owain Davies: Thanks a lot, Chris. Thanks for having me. 

[00:40:38] Dr Christopher Brown: No worries. Thank you. 


*** Discussion ends ***



[00:40:39] Dr Christopher Brown: That's it. That's all we have time for. Thanks for listening to another episode of the Disability Sport Info Show Day, tuned for another episode. Until then, goodbye. You've been listening to the Disability Sport Info Show, academic Insights into Disability Sport.




Who is Level Playing Field?
Current matchday experiences of disabled sports fans
Best practice examples
Unite For Access - what is the campaign about?
Unite For Access - promoting the message
Unite For Access - role of broadcasters
Unite For Access - how to get involved
Unite For Access - measuring progress
Using the social model of disability to bring about equality for disabled sports fans
End of discussion
Conclusion to the podcast