Does your MP back safe standing?

Step Three of the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Six Steps for Safe Standing needs fans to contact their local MP and ask: "Are you backing Don Foster MP’s Safe Standing Bill?" The more MPs back Foster’s Bill, the better. (It's due for a second reading in Parliament on Friday 21st October 2011, deferred from its original 17th June date).

Steps One and Two were fairly straightforward as we asked fans to sign the FSF’s Safe Standing Petition and spread the word amongst friends and family. Step Three requires fans to contact their MP and make the arguments directly. Your local MP sits in the House of Commons to represent your views so make sure they’re heard – it’ll take no more than a few minutes via WriteToThem.com.

Of course not all MPs are as familiar with the arguments as FSF members and we’ve already heard from supporters who say their MP refuses to back the campaign for various reasons – see the counter arguments below. While MPs concerns around safe standing are well-intentioned they are sometimes misguided and you should persist with the correspondence to explain why. We’ve already heard from one FSF member who persuaded her MP to back the campaign after initial opposition.

Let us know how you get on with your MP and, if they oppose safe standing, ask them why. We’re happy to help you rebut incorrect arguments and we can add them to the list of myths to be bust. So far we have seen MPs argue that:

Myth: “Standing is unsafe.”
Not true.

The FSF does not propose that the stringent safety standards laid down in the Government’s Green Guide be abolished or weakened. But we do think fans in the Premier League or Championship should also be allowed to stand in safety as those in any other division can - the idea that safety depends upon the quality of football played on the pitch is absurd. Many opponents to safe standing mistakenly cite Hillsborough as a reason not to allow its introduction. However the disaster was not caused by standing; the Taylor Report primarily blamed overcrowding, stadium layout, and poor policing. Safe standing areas exist, perfectly safely, in Germany, the USA, and Canada - countries which treat safety with the same respect it is given in the UK.

Myth: “There's no appetite from fans for standing areas and it's unfair on those who wish to sit.” Not true.

Every week thousands upon thousands of fans stand in front of their seats for the duration of the game while following the team they love - attempts by the authorities to end this practise have failed. Surveys regularly show the vast majority of supporters back the choice to stand or sit. The FSF’s National Supporters’ Survey (completed by 1000s of fans) showed that 90% of fans back the choice to stand or sit. This is not just about those who prefer to stand. By giving supporters the choice, everyone benefits. Those who wish to stand can do so, while those who prefer to sit no longer have to worry about having their view blocked.

Myth -
Statistics show that standing areas are less safe than seated ones.” Not true.

The Football Licensing Authority (FLA) collects statistics which give numbers of injuries for each ground and the type of injury. The injury rates are very low and, although they show a slightly higher rate in grounds which retain standing accommodation, they do not differentiate where the injury occurred (seats, standing area, concourse etc). Nor do they correlate that area with the type of injury (wasp stings, for example, are not related to standing/seating) or take into account other factors such as the age of the stand. The latter point is relevant as many all-seated stands are much newer than the remaining standing areas and a fair comparison with new safe standing areas cannot be made. Although it has previously been claimed that the figures demonstrated that seated areas are safer than standing areas, there is now general agreement that the statistical analysis is not detailed enough to reach that conclusion.

Myth: “The risk of hooliganism – crowd behaviour is more difficult to manage in standing areas.”
Where is the evidence for this?

It’s entirely speculative, anecdotal, and the FSF strongly disputes it. The Green Guide shows that standing can and does provide a safe and controlled environment for fans to stand every week at football matches up and down the country in Leagues One, Two, and beyond. Match-going fans also know that much tension at football stems from the efforts of stewards to force fans to sit down – this creates an “us against them” mentality. Rather than fan these flames why don’t the authorities acknowledge the current legislation is failing and back our campaign to give all supporters the choice to stand or sit? This would benefit all parties as, at present, many fans who prefer to sit find their views blocked by those who prefer to stand.

Furthermore with certain models of safe standing, such as rail seating (see top left), it is possible identify a person by their location using CCTV/ticket information in exactly the same way that police can currently. The larger clearways associated with standing areas actually make access easier for police and/or emergency services. Privately many Safety Advisory Groups (the council-formed bodies which polices football’s safety legislation) have told the FSF that the introduction of safe standing areas would actually make their lives much easier.

Myth: “Designs used in Germany would, in the UK, require substantial investment by clubs or even rebuilding of entire stands.” Issues around cost and feasibility should be a matter for individual clubs, not for government.

Football clubs are businesses and should be allowed to spend money as they see fit. We think there’s a demand from fans (or customers, if you will) for safe standing areas and that should be a matter for individual clubs rather than government legislation. Since government last reviewed this in 2001 many brand new stadiums have cropped up around the country which could quite easily (and cheaply) have accommodated areas of rail seats. On average 1.8 times as many supporters can fit into these areas as traditional seated areas meaning, after an initial outlay, these areas can rapidly pay for themselves via ongoing ticket sales.

Myth: “Clubs who have built new grounds lower down the leagues have chosen not to incorporate safe standing areas.” Misleading and not always true.

Many lower-league clubs became all-seated as a result of receiving funding from the Football Foundation which stipulates all-seated stadiums as a condition of their financial assistance. It is misleading to suggest that clubs have chosen this route because they believe sitting is a better model than standing. Morecambe and Gateshead are two examples who have recently elected to forego Football Foundation money to retain standing areas. Many more would like to reintroduce them because of the benefits they bring to social inclusion (through lower ticket prices), sustainability (greater total numbers of fans able to attend) and atmosphere. As businesses clubs want to keep their customers happy and many customers want to be able to stand at games.

Myth: “UEFA won't allow it.” Not true.

UEFA regulations state that European competitions must be played in all-seated stadiums. Rail seats (as pictured top left of this article) can be converted to and from seating, so this is not an obstacle to clubs providing standing accommodation for domestic games and all-seated accommodation for European games. Many German clubs do this.

We hope this helps convince doubters but, whether you're a fan or an MP, if you think there are any issues not addressed please email the FSF.

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