2021 – Reasons to be cheerful part 4

With COVID once again disrupting the football fixture list, I’m sure that many of us will be feeling worried and disheartened.  But, as we head into the Christmas season, I’ve been looking back at 2021 and reflecting on the resilience of the SGSA team and the sporting sector – and finding some reasons to be cheerful.

The last two years have easily been the hardest in my professional life.  It wasn’t only that, for several months, we were mostly confined to our homes and unable to see colleagues.  The restrictions on live events meant that we could not undertake our normal duties.  For the SGSA, this posed an existential question – what does the regulator for spectator safety do when there are no spectators?

Well, quite a lot as it turned out – from working with the EFL to help ensure compliance with their training ground protocols to a thorough overhaul of our policies and procedures, we were somehow busier and more productive than ever.

The safe return of fans to our sports grounds this summer was an obvious highlight.  Back in March, I was asked to lead the Government’s Events Research Programme – a groundbreaking piece of work that examined the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from attendance at a range of sporting and cultural events.  The programme explored how a combination of testing and other actions could help to inform decisions on safely lifting restrictions at events.  This programme was influential not only in the UK, but around the world.  Its learnings are still crucial today as we combat the threat of the Omicron variant.

Beyond COVID, the SGSA worked closely with Ministers on a vital reform to the Government’s all seater policy.  The introduction of licensed standing in seated areas at early adopter grounds, as highlighted in Ken’s blog, is a major accomplishment that has been a long time in the making.  Importantly, it addresses a known safety risk related to persistent standing in seated areas.  I’m really looking forward to seeing it in effect from 1 January.

This year also saw the publication of the SGSA’s latest guidance document – Supplementary Guidance 03: Event Safety Management. This provides a comprehensive guide to the planning and delivering of safe events.  Safe events are achieved through a balance of good management and design. The focus of the SGSA in creating this new document has been to provide individuals in the management, organisation or hosting of an event, with the tools to ensure the safety of anyone attending their events. The team should be very proud of the quality of this excellent piece of work.

2021 has also seen the 10-year anniversary of the SGSA.  In 2011, when the SGSA replaced the Football Licensing Authority, the remit was clear – to continue our legal duties, but also use the knowledge and experience gained over the previous 20 years to advise and support other sports across the UK and around the world.  Over the last 10 years, the SGSA has embraced this expanded role and worked internationally to promote the importance of safety considerations in sports grounds.  This has included:

  • Working to improve spectator safety in all four nations of the UK
  • Producing world-leading guidance
  • Strengthening safety at global events, such as London 2012
  • With FIFA and CAF, developing a stronger safety culture at sports grounds in Africa.

2022 will of course bring new challenges and pressures, not least with the resurgence of COVID.  The implementation of the recommendations arising from the Fan Led Review of Football Governance and Baroness Casey’s Review into the Euro 2020 Final at Wembley will be just two areas of work to keep the football family occupied in the new year.  But the experience of 2021 leaves me feeling positive that our sector, with the support of the SGSA, will continue to thrive.

For now, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

Martyn Henderson, Chief Executive

See other reflections on 2021:

Reflections on 2021 – Ken Scott, Head of Inspectorate

End of year reflections from the Chair – Derek Wilson, Chair