Honours for Sports Grounds Safety

Buckingham Palace

The announcement that former Football Licensing Authority (aka Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA)) Inspector, Jim Chalmers and former Chair of the SGSA, Paul Darling, have been honoured for services to sports grounds safety is a great achievement. Their dedication and commitment in helping to ensure the safety of the millions of spectators that attend events in sports grounds every year throughout the UK and beyond should be recognised, and we are delighted for them.

Paul Darling QC, was Chair of the SGSA for 6 years (his tenure ended on 30 April 2015) and a board member before that. He played a pivotal role in guiding the organisation during its transition from the FLA to the SGSA after the Sport Grounds Safety Authority Act 2011 came into force. This Act enabled the SGSA to extend its remit beyond football, so more sports and countries could benefit from its knowledge and expertise. More recently he worked to secure the future of the SGSA after it was placed on the list of organisations to be considered for abolition under the Public Bodies Act.

Jim Chalmers has been awarded an MBE for his services to sports grounds safety and worked as an Inspector at the FLA from its inception in 1991 until 2003. He went on to become, and still is the Deputy Safety Officer at Kidderminster Harriers and in 2005 was elected as President of the Football Safety Officers Association. Jim is co-author of the books Safety and Security at Sports Grounds and More Safety and Security at Sports Grounds.

These honours are recognition of the hard work and commitment of both Paul Darling and Jim Chalmers. They also tell us about the value placed on ensuring the UK continues to be one of the safest places in the world to watch a live sports ground event. 

Spectators can be assured that their safety is of paramount importance to clubs, sports grounds, sports and government, and whilst some policies and measures that are put in place are not popular with everyone, they are designed to ensure spectators can enjoy going to sports grounds without worrying about their safety. In fact, the only thing on most spectators’ minds is what’s happening on the pitch and the final score – which is how it should be.

These awards also give us a chance to reflect on the how far the UK has come in the last 25 years. The UK leads the world in sports grounds safety. Through the involvement of the SGSA, lessons from the UK experience are shared around the world and the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds, affectionately known as the Green Guide, sets out guidance for sports grounds safety that has been adopted across the globe and its influence can been seen at sports grounds from Barnsley to Brazil.

The SGSA ethos is one of sharing good practice, learning from each other and adopting a collaborative approach to spectator safety. By working in partnership and taking a multi-agency approach we are all safer together.

Paul Darling often said that the biggest issue facing spectator safety was one of complacency. It’s a message that resonates throughout the industry. It would be easy to sit back and think we’ve got it right, sports grounds in the UK are some of the safest in the world, we don’t need to invest more and we don’t need to worry. Whilst thankfully, there has not been a major disaster in the UK since the tragedy at Hillsborough in1989, it is down to the safety professionals and the meticulous planning that goes on before every game, match or event and the cooperation between the sports ground, club, local authority, emergency services, sports authorities and the spectators themselves, to ensure the safety and comfort of all.   

So next time you’re at a sports ground enjoying the action on the pitch, think about the 100’s of people working behind the scenes to ensure you can enjoy the day.

So thank you Paul Darling and Jim Chalmers for your dedication and many congratulations on your honours; and thank you for helping remind us of the importance of keeping spectators safe at sports grounds.