‘There is no such thing as absolute safety’



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Ken Scott at Coliseum Europe Image: Ken Scott & MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

Ken Scott comes across as a person who will be able to deliver an effective extempore speech – he can talk at length on his given subject without any preparation and is an authority on conceiving and generating ideas.

A Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Scott is a former Chair of the RICS Building Control Professional Group.

He has carried out inspections, delivered training and presented papers in many parts of the world to delegates ranging from independent venues to World and National Governing Bodies, Governments and trade bodies on the subject of Safety of Sports Grounds and Crowd Management at large events.

Scott joined the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) in 2013 and from April 2016 he has taken on the role of Head of Inspectorate with responsibility for leading and managing the organizations team of inspectors and helping deliver the organizations ambitious new strategy to become the world’s leading authority on sports grounds safety.

Sports Ground Safety Authority

The Sports Grounds Safety Authority is a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Until 2011 it was known as the Football Licensing Authority, having been set up under the Football Spectators Act 1989.
 

Safe standing

Safe standing is a measure of design in stadia to ensure that spectators are able to stand safely during events. It is important in the context of association football in the United Kingdom, where a series of fatal incidents led to legislation requiring major clubs to develop all-seater stadiums during the 1990s. Since then, fan groups have campaigned against the ban on standing accommodation, arguing that new design options would allow designated standing areas to be built in compliance with all safety laws and guidelines. As these options are outlawed in England and Wales, safe standing in practice originated in continental Europe, primarily Germany. This occurred because although UEFA and FIFA required all-seater stadiums for international competition, it was not mandatory for domestic matches.

All-seater stadiums became mandatory in the top two tiers of English football following safety recommendations made after the crush at Liverpool’s 1989 FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium that led to the deaths of 97 fans.
 

Safe standing licenses

In November last year, four Premier League clubs of the United Kingdom – Manchester United F.C., Tottenham Hotspur F.C., Manchester City F.C., and Chelsea F.C. – and the Championship club Cardiff City F.C. – received approval to have licensed safe standing in seated areas from January 1st, 2022.

The roll out of licensed standing follows a successful trial at five early adopter grounds of the five above mentioned clubs between January 1st and June 1st, 2022.

More clubs in the United Kingdom will jump on the safe standing bandwagon soon.

Brentford F.C., QPR F.C. and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. are the latest clubs to confirm they will have safe standing at games.

In an extensive conversation with ‘Coliseum’, Ken Scott, Head of Inspectorate, SGSA, UK, tells that safe standing is something which has been aspired by the fans for a long time so they will have to know to “respect” it and also made it clear in no uncertain words that the SGSA will not brook any rogue fans.
 

Cardinal rules

Clubs will have to meet a number of criteria such as:

  • Seats with barriers in home and away sections;
  • Seats that cannot be locked in ‘up’ or ‘down’ positions so fans have the option to sit during breaks in play;
  • A code of conduct must also be in place for fans along with CCTV coverage;
  • There must also be one seat/space per person;
  • The licensed standing areas must not impact the viewing standards or other fans, including disabled fans;
  • Briefing and training must be in place for staff and stewards to ensure only relevant ticketholders are admitted to the licensed standing areas; and
  • The ground must consult with its Safety Advisory Group about plans for the licensed standing areas.

 

Heartbreaking

Kevin Scott started off by informing that following the Hillsborough disaster, “It was recommended that all major stadia should be converted to an all-seated model and that all ticketed spectators should be given a seat. Much missed and much loved by many of the die-hard supporters of many clubs but the safety was the key issue there for supporters and all of the top league clubs were given four years to comply with this. Safe standing was then introduced and was there for 30 years but we started to see increasingly supporters standing.”

The above decision was not at all music to the ears for fans for whom watching a game of soccer had its magical moments only when supporters could stand, chant and do a lot of heart thumping.
 

Safety First

He added, “The all-seated model was adopted to prevent a repeat of the Hillsborough tragedy. Several legislations have been framed since then. It is a testimony to people who have lost their lives and I think it is important that we all need to act and we put together things that are good common sense guides for the fans themselves. So, put together buildings, put together events that can be run with the highest levels of safety.”
 

Risk Factor

Stated Scott, “Now, with me being in the sports ground safety business, there is no such thing as absolute safety. There will always be risks attached to holding any event no matter how good your building is, no matter how good your safety management team is. There will always be risks involved. And as we are finding with COVID now and hopefully we are looking at COVID through the rear view mirror, we will have to learn to live with that risk. We probably don’t go through risk assessments every day from getting out of the bed to going back to bed in the evening.”
 

Taylor Report

He maintained that each and every word of the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster rings true even today.

The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Inquiry report is the report of an inquiry which was overseen by Lord Justice Taylor into the causes of the Hillsborough disaster on April 15th, 1989, as a result of which, at the time of the report, 95 Liverpool F.C. fans had died. The final report was published in January 1990.
 

Taylor Report Findings:

  • The main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control;
  • It recommended that all major stadiums convert to an all-seater model; and
  • All ticketed spectators should have seats, as opposed to some or all being obliged to stand.

 
Added Scott, “Since the mid ’90s when we had the rebuilding of lots of venues following the Taylor Report was the gradual increase in the number of people and I think there has been a growing swell of people who wanted to do that and I think nowadays people want to express choice in the social norm of having choices and not having necessarily to sit in the venue. So, what we were finding is that from kind of a very low base number we would be seeing in recent years a much higher number of people who come along to the venue that is designed and has all of the safety measures in place for people in seated position who will now choose to stand. And often, venues are getting bigger and many of the venues that we now have in England and in Europe are quite safe.”
 

Standing risk

He pointed out that supporters standing is a risk and the risk emanates very much from the fact that nowadays one see a more “elaborate expansive goal celebration with frenzied fans jumping on the backseat people and with the increase in gradient what that means is you get a helping hand from gravity so the steeper the stand, the less the force you require.”

Scott lamented that his career has been charted after people have died or have been seriously injured – “This is the first time that I have ever written guidance on licensed safe standing areas before that happened. I am intent on seeing this through because what we can’t have is people who go on to enjoy the afternoon but who sadly don’t return home.”

He took the strategic lead role and is co-author of the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds 6th edition (the Green Guide) published in 2018. The document is widely respected around the world as the leading guidance document on safety of sports grounds.
 

Fan behavior

He pointed out that he has been to most of the big venues in Europe and around the world and it is not unusual to see numbers in excess of 20,000 people standing in areas that are not designed for standing – “So, the risk is huge and the introduction of rails is really key to helping to prevent that next tragedy from happening. So, safe standing is something we are continuing to push on with and hopefully we start to see better behaviors because post-COVID you only need to go to any sport event and not just necessarily sport event to see people’s behavior sometimes change from worse to seeing a big uptick in increase in anti-social behavior at sporting events where people gather in large numbers and often indulge in excessive alcohol consumption, increase in use of cocaine and drugs. And I do think that it will reach the peak, then plateau and hopefully it will begin to decline. But while we are still at that level we will do everything we possibly can to give these people protection that they need.”
 

Credibility issue

Scott continued, “I attend a lot of events as a fan and not as a member of the corporate package that comes with it and for me to be able to speak with any authority, I need to have that credibility. So, you don’t get credibility by sitting in a private box but you get the credibility by being out there in the thick of the action and getting involved with the audience. So, I think that’s really important.”
 

‘Dark days of football’

He pooh-poohed the idea that with the return of safe standing the dark days of football will also make a comeback – an idea floated by certain sections of the society.

Scott observed, “Going back to the dark days of football in the ’80s and there are lots of legislations that we have in the United Kingdom and it is very difficult to explain why all these legislations in the case of football do not apply to the rest of the sporting environment and because it is framed in history of the time that it was a problem that affected football at that time which didn’t necessarily apply to other sports such as rugby or cricket or any of the other outdoor activities.”

He continued, “Since the introduction of the safe standing project that we are doing which generally came into force from January 1st, 2022 across five clubs. I think generally by and large the response we have from the media, from fans and from the clubs themselves is very positive. But certain sections of people do see the potential for the return of the dark days of football. I don’t agree with that and I think we are responding to the wishes of fans. The fans that enter these places enter into a code of conduct around their behavior. So, they don’t behave, they lose that privilege. I don’t think we are going to see the dark days of football return with the introduction of safe standing. I have been around all those five venues where safe standing has been introduced. I have spoken to the fans of these clubs and the worry from the police is that it would create no-go areas like in certain parts of Europe where you have highly aggressive ultra groups who resort to violence. But this won’t happen in the UK because we won’t let it happen. It is the pleasure of the fans which counts, the fans are enjoying it. We are not looking at the unruly crowd. What we are seeing is a mix of families – elderly, young. Recently, we have been including that in the guidances that often, if you are supporting football, you are standing because you want to stand, you are standing because you are getting an opportunity, and there is no choice. So, by having the seats available you come through the more educated sale of tickets. Find out those people that have disability or maybe they have kids, we will have to accommodate them. But the overriding opinion of the people who have been enjoying these facilities, they think it’s great.”
 

Closing note

His message to fans – ‘You asked for safe standing, now you respect it’.
 

Future plans

The Government has confirmed that Premier League and Championship clubs wishing to introduce licensed ‘safe standing’ areas at football stadiums will be allowed to do so from the start of the forthcoming 2022-2023 seasons.

Other clubs are expected to adopt licensed standing areas during the course of the football season.

Kevin Scott is hopeful that they will be able to replicate the safe standing exercise in other countries as well in the near future.

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