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Jonnie Peacock MBE

Double Paralympic T44 100m Champion


16 May 2017Jonnie Peacock: football needs to up its game with disabled fans

In 2012 it was not only the athletes who broke records at the Paralympic Games, though new world marks were set 251 times. In total 2.7m tickets were sold, with athletes cheered on by capacity crowds throughout the 11 days of competition and 40 million people watched Channel 4’s 500 hours of dedicated coverage.

It was an event that suggested a huge shift in the perception in Britain of sport for disabled people but as London prepares to host the World ParaAthletics Championships in July a survey has suggested the experience of disabled spectators in sporting arenas remains a long way from gold-medal standard.

According to the survey, 79% of disabled fans who have been to football matches have experienced discrimination or other issues resulting from their disability, and 29% have been verbally abused, as a result of which 62% of all the supporters surveyed have stopped going to games altogether.

To bring further attention to the issue, Virgin Media have donated their sponsorship of Southampton’s kit to Scope for Wednesday’s Premier League match against Manchester United.

In response to the survey Jonnie Peacock, whose victory in the T44 100m made him one of the heroes of the 2012 Paralympics, has called on the sport to pay greater attention to its disabled fans.

“We’re game-changers in this country,” Peacock says. “When it comes to Paralympic sport we did change the game. It completely went over the threshold of what was expected and the way the British public received Paralympic sport was incredible. The change I saw that happened almost overnight was unbelievable. The way people responded to disability sport, they looked past the disability a lot of the time and viewed it as sport. People wanted to watch Dave Weir, not because he was in a wheelchair but because he was an incredible athlete who pushed himself beyond the limit. I’m just hoping it carries on. Hopefully London 2017 will make a massive impact, because we need to keep progressing.”

Peacock’s training commitments mean he is only an occasional match-goer and does not require disabled facilities, but he is acutely aware of the problems faced by disabled supporters. “I’m very lucky in that I can go under the radar,” he says. “The majority of fans would have to be very eagle-eyed to figure out I do have a disability, so I haven’t really experienced it myself. But I do know there is a high percentage of people that have, and it’s stopping them turning up to games. They aren’t seeing their favourite teams because of the way they’re treated. The key message is as simple as this: disabled fans are people, they’re football fans at the end of the day. If they go to a game they might be happy, they might be sad, but it’s football that should be making them feel like that, not anything else.”

In January a report into the accessibility of stadiums by the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee highlighted “a shocking lack of provision for supporters with disabilities of all kinds”. In 2015 the Premier League committed to bringing all its grounds to the minimum standards for disabled access set out in that year’s accessible stadiums guide but they admitted in February nine of the 20 current clubs will fail to do so by their self-imposed deadline of August.

“I think it’s really important that they’re being pushed to meet these standards now,” Peacock says. “It is getting better but it’s still got a way to go. A lot of Premier League clubs are starting to have more accessible toilets but it hasn’t reached the level it needs to be yet. Something as basic as going to the loo can be a real nuisance, it might be on the other side of the stadium. Disabled fans want to enjoy games like anybody else. They don’t want anything else, whether it’s struggling to find a toilet or discrimination.”

The survey found a majority of disabled (62%) and non-disabled (52%) fans believe the football industry needs to do more to prevent discrimination against those with disabilities. “There has been a lot of improvement. The majority of people just want to enjoy the game, soak up the atmosphere and have a good time,” Peacock says. “They say nearly two-thirds of disabled fans have stopped turning up and that is a huge number. You hope they have the courage to go to games but they shouldn’t have to deal with anything.

“I’m not somebody who can see something in the world I don’t think is right and turn my back on it. If someone gives me the opportunity to say something about something I believe in, I’ll take it. This is an issue that needs to be sorted. The abuse is coming from a small number of people and it’s a small change but it needs to happen.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/may/16/jonnie-peacock-football-up-its-game-disabled-fans