Rugby league is to become the first professional sport in the UK to carry out full access audits of every one of its stadiums.
The Rugby Football League (RFL) Facilities Trust is working with Level Playing Field, the disabled people’s organisation which represents disabled sports fans, which will be carrying out the audits.
Joyce Cook, chair of Level Playing Field, said the audits would be “really robust”, and added: “There can be no better time to launch this great initiative than now, following the success of the Paralympics and with an amazing upsurge in public interest and support for disabled people and sports.”
She said she hoped the “ground-breaking lead” taken by the RFL would “inspire other sports bodies” to “follow suit”.
Sarah Williams, RFL’s equality and diversity manager, hopes the audits will provide an overall picture of access across the professional game in the UK and show what “practical, simple steps clubs could take to make a difference”.
But she pointed out that some rugby league stadiums were “really old” and some would be “challenging” to make accessible.
The RFL has already won praise for its work in tackling homophobia, and has now launched its Tackle IT! programme to address discrimination and hostility within the sport across all the equality strands, including disability.
It wants to encourage more disabled people into the game, particularly with England and Wales hosting next year’s Rugby League World Cup.
Williams said: “We would really like to be able to market it as an accessible experience for disabled people.
“We wanted to make sure that wherever possible disabled people were not faced with barriers we could do something about.”
She added: “We will at least begin to prioritise things that have to be done but also look at what are the easiest hits they can do first to build up the momentum to get the enthusiasm, and we will showcase the work that clubs do.”
The audit will cover every stadium in professional rugby league, in both the Stobart Super League – the top tier of domestic rugby league, which features 13 English and one French club – and the two lower-level Co-operative Championships.
The RFL Facilities Trust will fund the scheme within the Co-operative Championships, while Super League teams will have to complete an access audit to retain their licences.
The work will be carried out by access auditors accredited by the National Register of Access Consultants.
Among its plans, the RFL wants to include details on its website of what each club will be doing to improve access.
The RFL is also developing a disability guidance document, with the support of Level Playing Field and other disability organisations, to help clubs become more “disability friendly”.
And it hopes to provide disability awareness training for key RFL staff, which can then be rolled out across all its professional clubs.