Karen Eyre-White shares her reflections from the Spectator Safety in a Changing World conference

Karen Eyre-White Chief Executive, Sports Grounds Safety Authority

The SGSA team is still buzzing from the success of Monday’s Spectator Safety in a Changing World conference. We had a great day, and from the positive feedback which has been flooding in, it’s clear that many of you did too.

I saw many people scribbling away in a notebook (or for those more tech-savvy, typing on their iPad) as our speakers shared their thoughts on what is changing in the world and how we can work together to keep spectators safe. I took several pages of notes, and on coming back to the office I’ve been thinking through the points which had the most salience for me. I thought I’d share them with you.

Treating spectators as individuals. This was spoken about by a number of people, but came out in a very moving way in our session on the recent conclusion of the Hillsborough Inquests. I found David Conn to be an incredibly engaging speaker and his reminder that the people who died were individuals, with lives and families, not simply an amorphous crowd, struck a chord with me. It’s all too easy to think of spectator as numbers, crowds to be managed, but each has their own life, story and reason for being there.

Avoiding complacency. The change we’ve seen in safety at sports grounds in the last 27 years has been truly transformational. Stadia are more modern, facilities have been improved and we have an integrated system of safety management which minimises incidents and keeps spectators safe. We talked a lot about complacency on Monday, about ensuring that we don’t let this success translate into a lack of investment or vigilance.  A comment by one of the opening panellists helped me to understand a further implication of this success – many of our stewards will never have encountered a serious safety incident at a ground. Hopefully they never will. But they must always be prepared to, and that puts a huge premium on making sure they are being trained to the highest standards.  

The challenges of responding to the terrorist threat. As I said in my opening words, the terrorist threat is in our minds more than ever following the events in Paris last year. We wanted to make sure we gave this the time and attention it deserved on Monday. Three messages stood out for me. Firstly, that our objective must be to respond to the threat whilst never forgetting that we have to keep the live sport experience enjoyable for spectators. Secondly, that we have to think carefully about how we make our response sustainable in the long term. And finally, that the nature of the threat has changed and will keep changing – and we must adapt and respond to that if we are to remain prepared.

There were many other topics and discussions to write about - too many to do justice to in a short blog. I hope you found the event as inspiring and thought-provoking as I did, and that you also create an opportunity to share what inspired you with others in your office, team, or further afield.