The Government has defended its decision not to allow those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable to attend this month’s Carabao Cup final amid claims from a Tottenham supporters’ group that the decision amounts to “direct discrimination toward disabled supporters”.
It was announced this week that Spurs and Manchester City will be given 2,000 tickets each for their supporters to attend the final at Wembley on April 25.
The game is part of the Government-led Events Research Programme (ERP), a pilot scheme looking at how to get spectators safely into venues amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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But the decision was criticised by SpursAbility, a Tottenham disabled supporters’ group, which said: “This match is a direct discrimination toward many disabled supporters, including those with access requirements.
“[It is] based on a direction with no scientific evidence to back up this approach, and there is no longer a Government requirement to shield.”
However, a spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport responded to the criticism, telling Sky Sports News: “These pilots are the first steps to helping all members of the public safely back to mass events.
“While they were designed to be as inclusive as possible, we have been advised that it would not be suitable on health grounds for the clinically extremely vulnerable to attend such pilot events and potentially be put at greater risk of transmission.”
Sky Sports News has been told the ERP has been developed under a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) framework, in line with the latest Public Health England guidance.
The guidance states that those who are clinically vulnerable, living with someone who is clinically vulnerable, pregnant or under 18 are advised not to attend the pilot events, given the fact that some of the pilots in the ERP will be testing non-social distancing, and because of the safety risk associated with the relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).
As such, the Government’s science board has agreed that, given the nature of the pilot programme, it would not be possible to permit those high-risk categories to safely participate.
However, SpursAbility’s stance has been backed by Level Playing Field, a charity which campaigns and advises on disabled access to sports venues.
It said the ERP decision created a “very credible risk” that sections of the football community will be excluded from attendance as lockdown eases, adding: “The actions around excluding clinically extremely vulnerable people detracts from the message of tackling discrimination, promoting equality and devalues the importance of personal choice.”
Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Disabled people have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and, as the UK begins to recover from coronavirus and open up again, they should be able to access sport and other social events just in the same way as everyone else.
“Disabled people should be able to make their own choice about what’s right for them, rather than being subject to arbitrary and discriminatory blanket policies.
“We urge the Government and sports organisations to consult with disabled fans to make sure nobody is unfairly excluded.”
Supporters that are eligible for a ticket for the final must take Covid tests before and five days after the game, and must also travel to a local lateral flow testing site in order to provide proof of a negative test within 24 hours of the match.
This proof will enable them to gain entry to Wembley, and in the case of City fans will be needed to access specially-chartered trains and coaches heading to London from Manchester.
The final will be the first outdoor sports pilot event under the ERP to feature supporters of the teams involved. In addition to those 4,000 fans, 4,000 tickets will be distributed to residents and NHS staff in the area around Wembley.
There will be 4,000 spectators at Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton, but these will be restricted to local Wembley residents and NHS staff.
The success of these pilot events – plus others including the World Snooker Championship, the FA Cup final and England’s group games at Euro 2020 – will be key steps along the road to allowing supporters back into venues in financially-viable numbers from June 21.
Ten sports governing bodies wrote to political leaders last week endorsing the use of a Covid certification system, under which entry to an event could be gained if proof of vaccination, a negative test or antibody immunity was provided.
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