Although the Hillsborough Inquest is finally closing, the tragic episode serves as a constant reminder of what spectator safety was like at football matches in 1989, and how far it has come in the subsequent 27-year period. Incidents are few and far between, and all but one of the English Premier League and Championship clubs play in all-seater grounds.
The Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) – set up by the government as the Football Licensing Authority in the aftermath of Hillsborough – has much credit to take for that progress.
Headed up by CEO Karen Eyre-White, the SGSA is at the beginning of an evolutionary process in which its business model will change. From being an organisation reliant on grants from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), it will become a commercial animal which invoices clients for its services.
“The UK has a really positive story to tell about safety in sports grounds. We’ve come a long way in the last 30 years and we’re well known across the world for that progress,” she says. “There’s huge interest in other countries eager to learn from that journey.”
The SGSA has worked with Australia, Uruguay and Brazil, but has only been allowed to charge a cost recovery rate. Now, as detailed in its 2016-21 strategy, it will sit down with the government to talk about how it can use its advisory work “in the most effective way to reduce the burden on the taxpayer”.
The body will continue to perform its statutory duty to oversee the safety of the 92 grounds in the Football League, says Eyre-White, balanced with “proactively” looking for business abroad.
“We’re going to be looking at where the big safety management challenges are and which countries are developing their infrastructure,” she reveals. “Places like India and China that need our help and support.”
Eyre-White will also lead the SGSA as it takes on a remit to oversee accessibility for disabled fans as part of the government’s Sporting Future strategy, with details to be worked out in the coming months.