Sports ground safety: understanding responsibilities

On safe grounds

23 February 2018

Sports grounds and local authorities should ensure they fully understand their responsibilities when it comes to safety, especially given the increasing threat of terrorist attack, advises Ken Scott

Sport is an essential part of our national culture, and thanks to the dedication and commitment of all those who work in stadium safety, the UK is one of the safest places in the world to watch it live.

We have a robust system of regulation under which all parties work together to enable millions of people to enjoy spectating. But keeping them safe requires constant vigilance.

In February 2017, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) set out its views on how safety should be regulated, and it invited stakeholders and interested parties to comment on the implications for their organisations and the wider sector.

The consultation closed on 19 May, with 74 formal responses having been submitted by sports grounds, sporting bodies, local authorities, emergency services and other interested individuals. On 30 October, the SGSA issued its response to the joint consultation.

The nature and scale of the issues affecting safety at stadia today are significant and fast-changing, and it is vital that the sector continues to look ahead, to respond and adapt.

Protection from harm

Ensuring reasonable safety at a sports ground means all people present during an event should be protected against physical harm.

Any threat of injury can be dealt with by a local authority using its powers under the Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975. These threats include the risks of terrorist activity, crowd disorder and anti-social behaviour, as well as from the structure itself, and an authority should ensure that all spectators are protected from these.

We now need to consider the increasing threat posed by terrorist attack when we are planning escape routes from a building

The sports ground management itself is responsible for the reasonable safety of people there. Each ground should ensure that its plans and procedures take account of the threat of terrorist attack, the need to prevent and manage crowd disorder, and the risks of physical harm to all present.

Considering these risks as part of the safety certification process ensures that they are dealt with appropriately, and a consistent, nationwide approach will mean safer outcomes for all.

Increasing threat

It was clear from consultation responses that many sports grounds and some local authorities are already considering these factors, but not all are. It is important that local authorities in particular fully understand their responsibilities under the legislation governing sports grounds.

Sadly, we need today to consider the increasing threat posed by terrorist attack when we are planning escape routes from a building. Evacuation in response to a terrorist threat that could be outside the building may require different internal movement patterns than those for risks such as fire. For instance, although in a fire it might be appropriate to use all exits, in a terrorism scenario it may be necessary to consider internal movement to reach alternative exits and avoid emerging into a hostile situation.

The SGSA is committed to supporting professionals working in stadium safety in implementing the changes. It will continue to work closely with a wide range of national partners to ensure that stadia themselves and local authorities have access to the most appropriate advice, and will assist them in implementing the new, broader understanding of safety.

The SGSA has issued a number of guidance notes for sports grounds management to support this broader understanding. The sixth edition of the Green Guide, due to be published later this year, will reflect the need to look at exiting from a stadium under exceptional circumstances, and will advise on the potential for internal movement of large numbers of people.

Ken Scott is a chief inspector at SGSA

Further information