The Chair's Blog

Alan Choppin, Chair of the SGSA and Karen Eyre-White, CEO of the SGSA

It is now two years since I was appointed as Chair of the SGSA and in that time the organisation has grown and evolved in order to tackle some of the critical safety challenges facing the sector.

We are all shocked by the recent terrorist attacks on Westminster Bridge, the Manchester Arena and London Bridge. People should be able to go about their lives without fear and in safety, but it is clear that crowded places are a target. We are working with Government, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), the Football Authorities, sport governing bodies and other parties to ensure the safety of spectators at sports grounds remains a priority.

In 2016, the SGSA launched its new strategy and set out a five-year plan on how we would meet our statutory regulatory activity in football, whilst sharing our expertise more widely with other sports and internationally for the benefit of more spectators. The strategy sets out how we will do this in a more commercial way to reduce our burden on the taxpayer and meet the commitments set out in the 2015 spending review.

We are making excellent progress with the strategy, we continue to fulfil our regulatory commitments, carrying out match visits and attending SAG meetings, and providing support and guidance to our partners across football. In this last year we’ve announced a 4-year partnership with the ECB to support their plans to improve spectators’ experience across cricket, have carried out work in India and Northern Ireland, supported the Secretary of State on a mission to China, held a joint meeting of board and staff at Celtic Park and saw their rail seating installation and embarked on the Green Guide re-write, with the 6th edition planned to be published in the summer next year.

The experience, expertise and commitment to safety in the sector was never more apparent than at the recent SGSA conference held at Lord’s cricket ground in March. The event is unique in that it brings together professionals from across the safety community from sports, clubs, local authorities, emergency services, architecture and design and industry to hear the latest thinking, share experiences and network, and this year was the most successful ever with 250 people attending.

We hear from safety officers about the challenges they sometime face in getting safety on the board agenda, and part of our strategy is to ensure this important issue is considered at the highest level in clubs and sports grounds. It was excellent to hear at the conference from leaders from three of the professional sports about their approach to safety and the importance of governing bodies taking a leadership role in safety.

The Hillsborough Inquests concluded a year ago, and thankfully, since the terrible tragedies at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989, there has been no major incident at a sports ground in the UK. Sports grounds have been transformed in this time and thanks to the commitment of all those that work in safety, they are some of the safest in the world.

And we want them to remain that way, but the world is changing and the attacks on the Stade de France have focused the attention on crowded places being a potential target for terrorist activity. The SGSA has reviewed the legislation to be clear about what safety means in today’s context and how it should be regulated. We believe that safety is a broad term that includes anything that could cause physical harm or injury to a person and should be considered as part of planning an event in a sports ground. The SGSA has consulted on this, and will be considering the responses over the coming months.

We recognise there are financial challenges facing local authorities and some clubs, but we must never be complacent with safety. We will continue to strive to ensure public safety remains a priority and work in partnership to ensure people can enjoy live sport in safety. 

And finally, we’ve said goodbyes to two members of the team this year. Most recently to Keith Sears, who has worked at the SGSA since its formation as the Football Licensing Authority in 1990. The role Keith has played in improving safety at sports grounds in the last 27 years is enormous and he will be greatly missed by the organisation and across the sector. And earlier this year, we saw the departure of board member Joyce Cook, who has moved to a new role at FIFA where she is already making her mark. DCMS is now seeking to appoint 2 new members to the SGSA board to replace current members as their terms of office come to an end, applications close on 19 June find out more

The last two years have flown by, and I have very much enjoyed working in a sector with so many passionate people, committed to ensuring the millions of people that go to sports grounds each year, can do so in safety.