Reflections after a year as Chief Executive

SGSA Chief Executive, Karen Eyre-White

It’s a cliché to say how fast time flies, but as I sit here penning my reflections on a year as Chief Executive it’s the first thing that comes to mind. What a year it’s been; not just for me as I’ve settled in to the SGSA, but also for the sector as the safety and security landscape has shifted in a number of important ways.  

I don’t think I’ve jumped out of bed more quickly than on that November morning following the terrible attacks in Paris, as my radio alarm told me of the events which had unfolded at the Stade de France. The threat level has not increased, but it is clear to me that awareness of the risk and what sports grounds can do to prevent and prepare has fundamentally changed and is now higher than ever. Our challenge as a sector is to sustain those efforts and continue to adapt and respond as the nature of the threat changes, ensuring that our safety plans prepare us for all eventualities. The evacuation at Old Trafford in May is an example of this in practice, and I commend the Club for putting safety first in response to a credible threat to spectators.   

A more reflective shift has happened in the sector following the conclusion of the Hillsborough Inquests in April. The finding of unlawful killing was a significant milestone in the families’ search for justice. The conclusion was also a milestone for the sector, giving us the opportunity to reflect on how far we have come since those tragic events, but also reminding us that we must never be complacent about spectator safety. We will continue to champion that message, striving to raise the profile of safety in board rooms across the country.

 As well as the disappointment of England being knocked out of Euro 2016 so early on, I was saddened to see the safety incidents at the championships which threw up issues relating to segregation, stewarding, flares and disorder. It struck me that not only was there a real risk to the safety of spectators, but the reputation of the stadia, the championships and the sport as a whole was also damaged as a result of what happened. I wonder what impact it will have on other countries due to host major football tournaments, and on the willingness and inclination of supporters to attend.

 Whilst we remain committed to our regulatory role in football we also provide safety advice and guidance to other sports and other countries. We continue to support the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and we have been working with cricket venues across the country as they host this year’s domestic and international matches and prepare ahead of the 2017 Woman’s World Cup. We have also been working in Australia, Uruguay and Northern Ireland.

Here at the SGSA we’ve also seen a number of internal changes in the year since I came in to post. We have a new ambitious 5 year strategy to be the world’s leading authority on spectator safety, which we will do in a more commercial way to reduce our burden on the taxpayer. And we have a new Chief Inspector, Ken Scott, to lead the inspectorate as we evolve and adapt to make this happen. Whilst the world is changing, what will not change is our commitment to our values of excellence, integrity, independence and partnership working. They are at the heart of everything we do and I know they will serve us in good stead for the next year and beyond.

As the Government addresses the challenges and opportunities created by the country’s decision to leave the European Union, we are thinking through what implications this might have for the spectator safety sector. What is certain from the above is that the challenges facing safety professionals will continue to be vast and complex. Only by continuing to work together as a sector, sharing information and adapting to an ever-changing world will we best ensure the safety of spectators.

A last-minute trip to the Tour de France with my husband this weekend was an opportunity for a different kind of spectator experience. Despite the wet weather, as I saw the excitement in the crowd when the peloton hurtled towards us I was reminded of the power of live sport to inspire and bring people together to share something unique.

As I reflect on the year and looking forward to the next, I am grateful to be working in a sector so passionate and committed to ensuring everyone can have those experiences without worrying about their safety.