New Year Message 2015

SGSA Chief Executive Ruth Shaw

The New Year is always a good time to make plans for the future, but it is also important to reflect on the past. 2015 will mark the 30th anniversary of the fire at Bradford City's football ground which killed 56 people and the Heysel tragedy in which 39 supporters died. The football community across Europe will come together to commemorate these events. We are thankful that so much has changed over the last 30 years and these anniversaries are a reminder to all who work in sports grounds, why we are committed to ensuring supporters can watch their teams safely and securely. 

In Warrington, Lord Justice Goldring will continue to hear evidence as part of the new inquests into the Hillsborough disaster. It is fitting that campaigners Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks were appointed CBE in the New Year Honours list for services to bereaved Hillsborough Families. Along with others they campaigned for more than 20 years to secure those fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 people. The inquests and the two independent investigations that are ongoing are likely to continue to make headlines in 2015.

The New Year Honours list also included recognition for Brendon Batson, SGSA Board Member, who was appointed OBE for services to football. Brendon joined the Board of the Football Licensing Authority in 2007 and has made a valued contribution since then. He has been part of the team that evolved into the Sports Grounds Safety Authority in November 2011 and secured the SGSA’s future as an independent body in November 2014. The Board plays a critical role to the ongoing success of the organisation and I am sure they will continue to do so in 2015.

The Board will see change this year as the Chairman, Paul Darling QC, will stand down after completing two terms. Paul has steered the organisation with integrity, commitment and passion through challenging times. We will miss him, but he leaves us in good shape, and we are confident of attracting a strong field of contenders for the position. We are seeking a successor and the deadline for applications is 26 January. If your New Year’s Resolution was to take on a challenge, make a difference, or do something that really matters, then why not consider applying

I will also be moving on in 2015, as my secondment from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport comes to an end later this year. I can’t quite believe that four years have passed since I joined the team, and I’m really proud of what we have achieved. Together with Paul and the team, I will make sure that the handover to the future Chair and Chief Executive is smooth and well-timed so the SGSA can continue to deliver the services and standards you’ve come to expect. 

Change can bring uncertainty, but what is assured, is the future of the organisation and the commitment of the SGSA team to delivering our vision of continual improvement to spectator safety in England and Wales and overseas. By continuing to work in partnership with clubs, government, sport and industry, we strive to ensure spectators have a safe and enjoyable sports ground experience. 

This year we will continue to meet our statutory obligations and operate as an effective light touch regulator across England and Wales, ensuring the supporters who make over 35 million attendances to football matches each season can do so safely. 2015 will see the first SGSA national conference, held at the Kia Oval on 17 March. The event will bring together partners from the world of sports grounds safety to share experience, learn from each other and plan for the future. The “Safer Together” conference is aimed at those working in local authorities and sports grounds with a responsibility for spectator safety. If you are interested in attending, please contact nikki.rutherford@sgsamail.org.uk for further information. 

Our work will expand to more sports and more countries for the benefit of spectators at home and abroad. Our partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board goes from strength to strength and in addition to the annual programme of ground inspections, there are plans to deliver training on capacity calculations at venues across the country.

We are presenting at the Racecourse Association’s Operations Seminar and are attending the Rugby Safety Officers’ Association and Football Safety Officers Association’s annual meetings. When the Rugby World Cup comes to town we will be on hand to support. As the 13 venues put the final touches in place to deliver the world’s third largest sporting event we are looking forward to another great and safe sporting event based on the foundations set out in the Green Guide and Safety Management. 

On the global front we are anticipating a busy year. The list of countries we are working with ranges from Australia and Brazil to Qatar and Uruguay. In the past year we were in contact with around 40 different countries and international organisations and each presents unique opportunities and challenges. Our guidance document ‘Safety Management’ has now been translated into South American Spanish, Russian and Arabic. 

The UK is one of 47 member states signed up to an international co-operation agreement to improve safety, security and service at sports grounds. The multi-national agreement the ‘European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events and in particular at Football Matches’ was established in 1985. The 30 year old agreement is being revised to reflect current trends and issues. It was with great sadness that I learnt of the recent and untimely death of Jo Van Hecke, who championed the revision as Chairman of the Convention’s Standing Committee. Jo was the driving force behind change, and a pioneer in sports grounds safety. He was well known and respected across Europe and it was a privilege and pleasure to work with him. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues, and we will do what we can to honour his legacy and take forward the important work he led.

As well as measures to improve safety and security, the Convention will refer to issues such as the importance of eliminating discrimination, the need for full and equal access and the importance of multi-agency working. These are all subjects we care passionately about and we are looking forward to the ratification of the new Convention this year. We will keep you informed on progress and the impact of the changes. 

Accessibility at sports grounds is an issue for all. While we don’t have a regulatory remit in this area, we know that provision at many grounds is unacceptable. In December, Government asked disabled sports fans to share their experiences as spectators. The survey will close on 28th February 2015 and we are encouraging people across the UK to have their say. We are interested in the findings and look forward to supporting improvements and working more closely with Level Playing Field (LPF). LPF is the national charity that advises on how to achieve equal access at sports grounds. Like them, we believe all fans should be able to enjoy an equal experience at live sporting events, that all stadia and sports venues should be fully accessible, and that all supporter services should be equal and inclusive. I hope that in 2015 we will help to see a shift in attitudes and availability of accessible provision that will enable many more fans to enjoy live sport. 

I wish you the best for 2015 and look forward to the working with you to ensure the safety and enjoyment of spectators in sports grounds. 

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