The last 12 months have been devastating. The sporting sector in particular has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with virtually no fan attendance at events.
As the UK Government’s advisor on safety at sports grounds and a world leader in safety, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) has worked hard to develop guidance to support the safe return of fans in socially distanced way. Our Supplementary Guidance 02: Planning for Social Distancing at Sports Grounds has provided a methodical approach to calculating a safe capacity, as well as identifying key issues for management to be aware of. The guidance has been used across the UK and around the world. It has also been translated into French, Spanish and German to assist our international partners.
The guidance has highlighted a number of issues, but in particular the importance of fan engagement when it comes to safety – something we have been promoting for a number of years. Safety teams need to be aware of how they can engage with fans through the whole fan journey, such as sharing safety messages before the game through apps and social media, to the experience of fans travelling via public transport and entering the leaving the ground through Zone Ex – the external zone outside the ground which is likely to encompass the main pedestrian and vehicle routes.
The importance of effectively engaging and working with fans is embedded within the Council of Europe Convention. This is the only internationally binding instrument to establish an integrated approach based on safety, security and service. It also promotes co-operation between all public and private stakeholders: governments, municipal authorities, police, football authorities and also supporters, in order to provide a safe, secure and welcoming environment at football matches and other events, whether inside or outside the stadium.
The need to balance safety and security against customer experience, remembering this should be an enjoyable sporting event, is critical. Fans attend a sports ground to watch and enjoy the spectacle – whether it’s football, rugby, athletics, horse racing, etc, everyone is there for the same reason. Engaging with fans early on can help to reduce some of the unintended consequences of any increased safety and/or security requirements. This could be providing additional entertainment inside the ground to encourage people to arrive early. The days of someone turning up to a stadium 15 minutes before kick off and expect to be in immediately are a thing of the past, so stadiums need to create ‘incentives’ to encourage early arrivals.
Whilst technology has its part to play, we should never lose sight of the important role of venue staff can play in overall safety equation. The most important asset a sports ground has in terms of safety is the staff. Effective and vigilant staff, who provide excellent customer service to those attending an event are a critical element to a safe, enjoyable experience for fans.
There is a risk attached to every event. The only completely safe stadium is an empty one…but over the past 12 months we have seen enough of those. The SGSA’s aim is to support sports grounds to manage and mitigate risk effectively to create as safe an environment for fans as possible.
These concepts will be discussed and dissected within the SGSA’s upcoming guidance document Safety Management, which we aim to publish in the summer. Amongst other topics, the guidance builds on the concept of Zone Ex, introduced within the sixth edition of the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide).
Further information on the SGSA’s guidance, support documents and services can be found on our website: www.sgsa.org.uk.