Legions of fans across the globe will soon be celebrating the start of the most eagerly anticipated event in UK and world football: The Premier League.  Yet how many of those looking forward to ten months of drama, shock exits and speculation would be aware of the ugly secret at the heart of their beautiful game?  No, this is not a reference to the recent Fifa corruption scandal and its unveiling of a giant "secret" that surprised no one.  For all the Premier League opens up British culture to world viewers as far away as China, it still remains closed off to a large group of domestic spectators; disabled people.

In most Premier League stadiums across the country, accessibility standards are desperately inadequate.  Manchester United’s stadium, for instance, has less than half the wheelchair spaces necessary to meet accessibility standards.  Old Trafford also came under particular criticism in May when its staff confiscated walking sticks from disabled Arsenal fans, claiming they could be used as “weapons.”  At Liverpool’s Anfield, disabled fans are made to sit with the away fans.   It is impossible to purchase a disabled fan’s ticket online at 18 of the 20 Premier League clubs, yet all Premier League clubs offer online sales to non-disabled fans.

This is a failing that has long been recognised.   In the late 1990s, the clubs themselves signed up to a voluntary agreement that they would address this inequality in provision.  Unfortunately, progress since the sign-up has been slow.  Only three clubs – Swansea, Cardiff and Southampton -  had achieved their targets last season.  And, unfortunately, it is often the very richest clubs who have the worst provision.  As Lord Holmes, Disability Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has highlighted, if the clubs were ranked according to their provision in this regard, Chelsea would be 12th, Liverpool 15th and Man United 16th.

Asked to justify the seeming abandonment of their own targets, the League and its representatives have dodged and dived in a manner that would make Luis Suarez proud.  Champion of the League of Lame Excuses is the argument that it would be 'too expensive' for the clubs to install new facilities.   True, it would cost £8 million to bring each stadium up to a minimum accessibility standard.  But when you consider that the League receives nearly £5.15 billion in broadcast rights, and much more in sponsorship, the figure pales into insignificance.  And the clubs are hardly averse to big spending when it suits them.  Last month, there were reports in the papers of one club being about to purchase a player from another for £32.5 million, four times more than making those improvements to the minimum standards.

Another argument often used is that a stadium is "too old" to be adapted.  There might be some sympathy for this view had not even the oldest grounds found many ways to revamp their VIP facilities throughout the years.  It is also notable that when TV companies insist on physical adjustments, these requests are acquiesced with.

Perhaps the strangest justification to be issued thus far has come from Richard Scudmore, head of the FA.  Nestled within a long list of the usual suspects was the argument that asking fans who have held season tickets "forever" to relocate was a proposal of too much "emotiveness" for the clubs to contemplate.  Yet the failure to provide equal services to disabled supporters is, apparently, not something that could cause anyone any upset.

Last month, all the dithering and ducking prompted the Lords to begin an attempt to get tough on the League.  The Accessible Sports Grounds Bill would give local authorities the power to refuse a safety certificate to any stadium that did not meet the Sports Grounds Safety Authority’s Accessible Stadia guidelines.  As Lord Faulkner, the mover of the Bill, explained, a “voluntary approach has not worked and compulsion is necessary.”

It’s a shame that new legislation is necessary to ensure that Premier League Clubs do not discriminate against their disabled fans.  Being able to take part in “ordinary” leisure activities such as attending a football match contributes to a disabled person’s sense of freedom, independence and equality with their non-disabled peers.  See, for instance, the testimony of Joyce Cook, Chair of Level Playing Field, who states that attending a football match was “a landmark in rebuilding my confidence after two years during which I had barely left my house, having become wheelchair-bound.”  And there are real people behind each failure to provide equal provision.  See the blog of Glen Shorey, a disabled fan who has documented his difficulties when attending matches.   Richard Scudmore might not find these stories “emotive”, but one would hope he is in the minority.