Labour, the largest opposition party in the UK’s parliament, has pledged to approve the introduction of safe-standing facilities across English football by the start of the 2020-21 season – if it secures power at the next general election.
Writing for football website FourFourTwo, Shadow Sports Minister Rosena Allin-Khan said that Labour had carried out “in-depth consultation with football clubs, fans and safety authorities” before concluding: “It’s time for change; it’s time to back safe standing.”
She added: “As the Shadow Sports Minister since 2016, I have spent the last couple of years working to change the law to allow safe standing at football matches. I have done this because I firmly believe that the current system is unsafe.
“What we are proposing is not a return to the terraces of the 1980s, but a modern and safe way for fans to stand.
“I am pleased to announce that if Labour win the upcoming election, as Sports Minister I will personally ensure that safe standing is introduced in time for the 2020-21 season.”
Standing in the top two tiers of English football was banned following recommendations made in the Taylor Report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.
However, new guidance released last year by the Sports Ground Safety Authority, which is in charge of stadium safety, indicated that ‘seats incorporating barriers’ could be installed and still meet the government’s all-seater policy, as long as strict conditions are met.
In spite of the mounting support for safe standing and rail seating, though, the issue has progressed slowly in the House of Commons, with Allin-Khan accusing government ministers of having “dragged their feet”.
Earlier this month it emerged that the potential return of safe standing in the top two divisions of English football was set to be delayed until at least the 2020-21 season after a new report called for fresh research into the matter.
Allin-Khan added that, having hosted a parliamentary roundtable attended by 60 supporters’ trusts to gauge their views, any decisions on whether to introduce safe standing at stadiums should rest with fans, clubs and local authorities.
Several clubs, including the Premier League’s Wolverhampton Wanderers (pictured), have expressed a desire to explore the introduction of safe standing.
“Clubs, fans and safety authorities should have the power to allow for a small area inside a stadium to be designated for safe standing,” she added.
“Let me be clear: this is first and foremost about fan safety – the current system is just not working for supporters week in, week out. People are standing in unsafe seated areas, and accidents can – and do – happen. The options available, where appropriate, would be the installation of specialised rail seating, or standing in current seated areas where it can be made safe to do so by installing a barrier.
“Football is the only sport where fans are asked to sit during games. You can go to a football match at Old Trafford on a Saturday where you are asked to sit, but can stand in seated areas without restrictions if you visit the same stadium for a Rolling Stones concert the following week.
“This is a step forward for football, not a return to the 1980s. Stadiums and matchday operations have vastly improved over the last 30 years, meaning it is possible for standing areas to be introduced safely. There are plenty of examples from around Europe to prove that.”