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Leisure Markets – Research Project

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  • Pages: 12
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  • Category: Project

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1.1 Introduction

This research project will examine the experiences of visually impaired football supporters. It will discuss the advantages, drawbacks and problems visually impaired people face when accessing football. It will include an appropriate literature review, a focus on visually impaired people, a methodological outline, a collation and presentation of findings, and conclusions based on these.

Football is the fastest growing sport in the world. Its growth has resulted in the best players coming to play in the best leagues; the game is now more popular than ever with over 500,000 people attending football matches every weekend in England (source; TheFA.com). It’s a big money business and the rewards for success are immense. Global branding and trade marking has resulted in football clubs and players being recognised worldwide. Yet despite all this it is still not possible for everybody to attend.

Visually impaired people come in all shapes and sizes. A survey carried out by the Royal National Institute for the Blind estimates there are 380,000 blind people and 579,000 partially sighted people in Great Britain, making up for around two percent of the population (HMSO 1991). Age, gender, sexuality and race are irrelevant as we are all exposed to having our eyesight hindered or impaired. “Only 4% of all blind people experience total darkness, the other 96% retain partial vision, and have to learn to make their way in a confusing new world, best by problems” (Taylor 1993; 57). “People have visual impairments for many reasons – some are born with them, some are damaged by disease, some are lost through age and some just though ill fortune” (Spilsbury 2002; 4).

It can be very problematic for visually impaired football supporters to access stadiums and its facilities. With large numbers of people all attempting to access a football stadium it is hard enough for people without impaired vision to arrive safely. Football clubs strongly recommend that each visually impaired person attending a match should be accompanied by a person who is fully able to support their needs in the event of an emergency. It is normally the case that any exceptions to this must be notified to the stadium manager and appropriate arrangements will be made. Any refusals will only be on the grounds of a contravention of Health and Safety legislation.

The aim of this research project is to examine how clubs accommodate the needs of visually impaired football fans and whether they do enough to promote awareness of how to obtain match tickets. It is my prediction that clubs do not do enough to ensure all visually impaired football fans have the chance to attend matches. Although I have previous experience within this topic; my Grandad was a visually impaired football fan, I am concerned whether clubs have taken on any new initiatives to accommodate the often problematic needs for this special type of fan.

1.2 Review of appropriate literature

Existing literature is pretty vague regarding visually impaired access to football. However there is literature available on the definitions and problems blind people face when accessing leisure. In Touch – Aids for the Partially Sighted (Ford and Heshel 1977) explains how The British Association for Sporting and Recreational Activities of the Blind (BASRAB) “was set up in 1975 to help blind people in all matters relating to leisure time activities” (Ford and Heshel 1977; 132). But this material is nearly thirty years old so is somewhat dated.

Designing for Spectators with Disabilities tells how “under three major revisions the definition of disability has been extended to include impaired sight and blindness” (Sports Council 1995, 7). This suggests before 1995 visually impaired fans were not considered when new stadia was erected and under these new definitions there will be more adequate facilities in new football grounds. This was introduced as the report suggested “four out of ten supporters with visual impairments receive no official commentary at home matches” (Sports Council 1995; 8).

The Building Regulations – Access and facilities for Disabled People (Football Stadia Advisory Design Council 1992) explains “aids to communication should be provided for people with impaired sight when considering renovation in football stadia”. The report considers visually impaired and physically disabled fans when accessing football stadia. They produced a survey for disabled fans nationwide and produced suggestions for clubs based on the results.

The RNIB’s survey entitled Blind and Partially Sighted People in Britain reveals that 19% of blind people can recognise friends across the street and 66% can at least recognise a friends arm at length. “These findings confirm that many partially sighted people can still gain enjoyment from the visual experience of a football match. They also confirm the need for clubs to consider blind and partially sighted people in the design of signage and visual indicators” (Sports Council 1995; 10)

Such literature has provided me with an idea of how visually impaired fans are perceived at modern day professional football. They have given me a focus point and I will now place my attention towards the facilities and attitudes that clubs offer to accommodate the needs of visually impaired fans.

1.3 Outline of research methods

There are a variety of research methods available to me to complete my assignment. Interviews, observations, questionnaires, and case studies are all accessible; each having advantages and disadvantages.

Interviewing is a popular research method as it gives the interviewer an opportunity to get to the heart of an issue and allows them to get direct answers from the people they are researching. There are a variety of interviewing techniques including single person, joint, telephone, and e-mail or internet. Each require careful preparation and consideration. Finding an objective and taking a neutral ground are essential if the interview is going to be beneficial.

Observation’s can either be participant or not. Participant observation allows the researcher to gain an understanding of behaviour through direct experiences. As long as the observer remains neutral while observing it is a valuable research method and allows the observer to draw their own conclusions. However observation techniques do have their drawbacks. Gaining permission for observation can often be problematic. This could be because people are likely to behave differently when they are being observed; perhaps becoming more sensitive.

Questionnaires are useful tools in gathering large quantities of survey data; they are flexible and easy to use. Once the objective is defined the questions and targets can be constructed. It is important to word the questionnaire carefully as any embarrassing questions or sensitive issues can make respondents feel uncomfortable and; losing their trust and inevitably their responses. Consideration should be taken when designing the appearance and layout of the questionnaire as this and the logical layout of questions will dictate its success.

Case studies provide me with real life examples of issues regarding visually impaired football fans. They offer a sense of reality but are sometimes hard to come by.

For my research project I decided that questionnaires would be the best methods of research as they would provide me with a large amount of data to analyse. I devised my questionnaire to regular football supporters to see what their views and opinions were on visually impaired fans. I wanted to see how much they knew about how these fans are catered for and whether there were any other issues or problems I hadn’t noticed.

I left 15 copies of my questionnaire on the desk in the Hillsbrough Justice Campaign shop on Walton Breck Road on Monday 12th April 2004 two hours before the Liverpool versus Charlton match. With them I included a short letter explaining the motives behind the questionnaire and asked for participants to leave their completed questionnaires behind the desk. All 15 were completed and I picked them up in a brown envelope from behind the shop’s desk an hour after the game had finished. As well as this I put the questionnaire on three internet football forums, asking users to mail me their results anonymously. I got seven replies which I printed off in Word format and added to my already completed questionnaires, giving me 22 completed questionnaires.

2.1 Presentation of results

(See appendix for presentation of questionnaire results)

I decided that putting the questionnaires in two different places (in a shop and on the internet) would be worthwhile as they would produce two different sets of results. I expect the people who completed it online were more knowledgeable regarding ticketing and club initiatives to promote the interests of visually impaired football fans.

The purpose of putting the 15 questionnaires in the shop on matchday was to give me more genuine answers. As these are the people who actually attend the matches these are more important to me as they tell me how regular match attendants perceive the issues regarding the chosen topic.

To continue my research I e-mailed a few organisations of interest. I e-mailed RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind), Everton FC Disabled Supports Club, Manchester United FC Supporters Association and Liverpool FC’s ticket office. I wanted to see how these clubs and societies catered for and promoted the needs of visually impaired fans. Unfortunately they came with no response. Using the contact details on the Liverpool FC website I phoned Jill Hayward, disabled ticket distributor for the club’s ticket office.

Jill told me how they distribute tickets and accommodate visually impaired fans at Anfield. Each visually impaired seat is �3.00 and has room for up to two personal assistants, both charged at the usual rate. I asked her if it was patronising to charge visually impaired fans considerably less than regular fans. She explained that because it is a sensitive issue the club discussed the matter with the visually impaired fans who regularly attend and the �3 admission was the conclusion. There are seats for 50 fans in the Kop end of the Paddock at pitch level. This offers visually impaired fans a better experience than if they were elsewhere in the ground. The seats are specially designed with no obstructed views and come with free headsets offering commentary from the local hospital.

One of my completed questionnaires told me of a case study regarding German club Bayer 04 Leverkusen and their visually impaired fans. I enquired about this on the club’s official website. In 1999 the BayArena has had a special seating area reserved for the visually impaired, and is so far the only stadium in German to do so. The club came under pressure to improve facilities from “Sehhunde”; a unique, visually impaired football fans club. Twelve especially equipped seats have now been built into the south stand which allow visually impaired fans to enjoy the game via live commentary on headphones. The stairway leading to the area has been specially market and the appropriate signage enlarged.

At the Liverpool versus Charlton match I got in the stadium early to observe the behaviour of these visually impaired fans in the Paddock. My seat is twenty or so rows directly behind in the Main Stand, and from here I saw they arrived considerably earlier than regular fans and most had a helper or two. Although there were no guide dogs many had white sticks – “making it clear to other fans around them that they are blind and telling others they should never be used for support” (RNIB 1993;165) The enclosure was full and all were making use of the club’s free commentary service. The visually impaired fans seemed to enjoy the match as much as anyone else, despite the defeat, and as expected they waited until most of the fans had left the stadium, enabling a safer journey home.

These are great examples of how visually impaired football fans are becoming accommodated at top flight football stadiums. Although there is no current legislation forcing clubs to install these areas it seems it has become only fair to consider how to accommodate the needs of visually impaired fans.

2.2 Conclusions

The results produced from my questionnaires, on the whole, match my assumptions earlier in the report. Despite the majority (15) of respondents not know any visually impaired fans all but one (21) thought they had the right to attend football matches (see figures 3.1.1 and 3.1.2). Eighty-one per cent of respondents thought no different of visually impaired football fans (fig 3.1.3) but 12 of the 22 felt that club’s valued them less important than ‘regular’ football fans (fig 3.1.4). This suggests that respondents are in disagreement with clubs thoughts over the importance of visually impaired football fans. The respondents I spoke to felt that visually impaired fans should be treated with the same respect as ‘regular’ fans, and some felt they should be held in a higher regard as they are a disadvantaged minority.

Just over two thirds (15) of my respondents would not know how to go about obtaining tickets for football assuming they were visually disabled (fig 3.1.5). This indicated that football clubs are not doing enough to promote awareness regarding access for visually impaired football fans into their stadiums. A couple of people suggested they would look on the club’s website or check on the ticket helpline for information but a lot of visually impaired fans would not necessarily have access to these facilities.

The price clubs charge their visually impaired fans gave respondents a number of options. I asked whether it was right to charge them considerably less than regular fans. The response I got was varied. Most of the respondents (9) thought it was wrong for clubs to charge them less; I assume this was deemed patronising by the respondents and unfair on the rest of the match day attendance (fig 3.1.7). However eight of the respondents said it was fair and that clubs a right to charge visually impaired fans less. This supports Jill Hayward’s decision to charge less at Liverpool and perhaps raises questions about society’s opinion of disabled people in general. According to Hayward the disabled fans attending Anfield felt it was fair to charge them less, but according to my research plenty of regular fans feel it is wrong, and patronising, to charge them less.

Ninety per cent (20) of respondants were unaware of any groups or clubs which promote the rights of visually impaired football fans (fig 3.1.8). The same 20 were oblivious to any legal requirements clubs have to follow to accommodate the needs of these fans (fig 3.1.9). This backs up my predictions, suggesting that clubs do not do enough to promote the awareness of the needs and rights of the visually impaired. Maybe this reflects society’s attitude to the visually impaired as knowledge and information it seems are somewhat hard to come by.

The final point on my questionnaire allowed respondents the chance to tell of any other issues they felt visually impaired football fans faced when accessing stadiums (fig 3.1.10). Open questions are often problematic in the respect that they are hard to analyse but I thought this would be appropriate as I could follow up any points they made. Eight respondents suggested access in general is a problem for visually impaired fans in and around the ground. The general feeling was that clubs do enough to help the visually impaired once they are inside their seat but it’s the getting ‘to and from’ which could cause issues for the blind.

I tried in vein to research the topic of accessing stadiums but there was not a lot of information available. As far as I could make out it is the clubs responsibility to look after their fans only when they are in their stadium. Once the fans, able bodied or not, are out of their stadium then they are no longer their ‘problem’. This leads on to council and Government legislation into the accessibility to leisure providers in the public sector.

Overall my research into visually impaired football fans has supported my predictions and literature review. The questionnaire I devised has provided me with an opinion from match going football fans into how they and their club perceive the visually impaired. It seems that they are viewed in the same light as any other fan and that clubs do not do enough to publicly make aware the facilities they have on offer.

My interview with Jill Hayward has provided me with an internal perspective on how football clubs accommodate the needs of the visually impaired. Careful consideration along with consultation is essential to keep the harmony between the club and its fans. Match day observations have allowed me to see first hand how the visually impaired cope within the often hostile atmosphere at football ground’s across the country. I conclude that everybody has the right to enjoy the attendance of football, and the visually impaired are certainly no exception.

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