Premier League clubs have been threatened with legal action over claims they are discriminating against disabled fans. It was triggered as an equality watchdog has written to the Premier League and Manchester United over concerns that that disabled fans had their mobility aids confiscated by stewards.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) acted following reports that several Arsenal fans, including one supporter in his 80s, were prevented from taking their seats at Old Trafford because they were using walking sticks, which stewards claim could have been used as weapons. The supporters were told they would not be allowed to watch the game since they had failed to notify the club of their supportive equipment saying the walking sticks represented a health and safety risk.
A number of away supporters had their crutches and walking sticks taken away from them and they were not returned until after the final whistle. Meanwhile Juan Mata poses with a wheelchair bound fan, although the club has been criticized for their treatment of disabled supporters.
Consequently, the Disability News Service asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to contact the club and the Premier League and have not ruled out taking legal action. Joyce Cook, chair of charity Level Playing Field, said: “There can be no more excuses. Disabled fans have waited long enough. It is quite simply time.”
Manchester United have defended the conduct of their stewards after they took walking aids off some Arsenal fans during the final home game of the season at Old Trafford. United defended their approach on Saturday morning, claiming walking sticks and other aids can be used as weapons. They said it is “actively working” with its own disabled supporters association and the Premier League to “assess areas for potential improvement”.
A United spokesperson said: “Our club policy is to encourage any supporters who require the use of crutches or a walking aid to contact the club in advance to ensure each case is adequately risk assessed and that we can ensure safe evacuation in the event of emergency.
“On some rare occasions, we have also experienced such devices being used as weapons. This policy is displayed at the turnstiles and on our website. The disability liaison officers from both clubs also communicate this policy in advance.
“Where supporters arrive without having pre-notified us of the need for such devices, our stewarding team performs a dynamic risk assessment which usually involves finding a solution to accompany the supporter to their seat and storing the walking device during the game. Therefore the above system was put into place. No person was refused entry to the stadium.”