Academic Forum minutes – 5 September 2019

Minutes of the SGSA Academic Round Table Discussion held at SGSA offices, Fleetbank House, 12:00-14:00 on Thursday 5 September 2019


Dame Jil Matheson – Chair (JM)

Martyn Henderson – Chief Executive, SGSA (MHe) Mark Holland – Inspector, SGSA (MHo)

Aidan Collins –Intern, SGSA (AC)

Paul McCormack – Head of Policy, SGSA (PMc) (Notetaker)

Dr Chris Cocking – School of Health Sciences, The University of Brighton (CC)

Dr Mark Doidge – School of Sport and Service Management, The University of Brighton (MD)

Dr Peter Millward – Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University (PMi)

Dr Stacey Pope – Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Durham University (SP)

Dr Martha Newson – School of Anthropology, The University of Oxford (MN) Professor Clifford Stott – Social Psychology, Keele University (CS)

Dr Tom Webb – School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, The University of Portsmouth (TW)

Apologies for Absence:

Dr Geoff Pearson – Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Manchester

Professor Keith Still – Professor of Crowd Science, Manchester Metropolitan University

Item 1 – Welcome and introduction (JM)

JM welcomed everyone to the meeting and invited all present to introduce themselves. Apologies were received from Dr Geoff Pearson and Professor Keith Still (although they are in regular dialogue with SGSA as members of the CFE research team about to embark on SGSA funded research on persistent standing (see also para 4f below)

JM explained that PMc would take a note of the meeting, including key actions

JM outlined the main purpose of the meeting – to initiate an ongoing conversation between SGSA and academia on issues of common

Item 2 – About the SGSA (MHe)

MHe introduced the item making the following key points:

  1. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), and its predecessor body, the Football Licensing Authority (FLA), is a small arm’s length body, predominantly funded through grant in aid of around £1.5m pa from its parent department, DCMS
  2. SGSA has statutory responsibilities in England and Wales to licence international grounds and in the top two tiers of professional football in England and Wales to admit spectators, and to oversee the safety certification function of local authorities. It also has an advisory function on safety at sports grounds, for other sports across the UK, and internationally
  3. SGSA comprises a small HQ staff of six, plus a regional network of around 12 Inspectors with a range of skills and experience including from the police and other emergency services, local authority emergency planning and building control, and stadium operations management.
  4. Resource constraints have prevented SGSA/FLA from having a dedicated data and evidence analytical function, which has resulted in SGSA/FLA research work being tactical rather than strategic
  5. SGSA is currently in the process of developing a strategy for the next five years and recognises the need to change the way of working, including to improve the evidence base to support a robust, risk-based approach to regulation. This involves developing and taking forward a new data and evidence strategy for the organisation
  6. As a first step, SGSA and the Premier League have funded research by Imperial College over the past 6-8 months to identify ways of improving the quality of football spectator injury data – the principal dataset owned and managed by SGSA. The final research report is scheduled to be published in the autumn. The recommendations won’t be a surprise, in particular the need for a simple and consistent approach to data collection and analysis, but will be important to implement to support the development of a robust longitudinal dataset to inform future decision making
  7. Additionally, the Government commissioned CFE Research in summer 2018 to conduct a rapid evidence review on standing in football. The final report of this research report has not yet been published
  8. SGSA has identified £100K to fund a research into the nature and scale of (i) the residual safety risks associated with those spectators who choose to stand in seated areas despite all reasonable steps by clubs to discourage them from doing so; and, (ii) the effective mitigations used by clubs to manage such risks. The proposed research is anticipated to adopt a case study approach using up to six clubs, with observational studies at their grounds on a representative sample of matchdays to gather the necessary evidence. The proposed research is due to report back by the end of the 2019-20 season. Following a competitive tender process, SGSA decided on 25 July 2019 to appoint CFE Research to undertake the research project over the course of the 2019-20
  9. In parallel with these recently concluded/ current research projects, SGSA is also working to ensure effective dialogue with key stakeholders to help inform the development and implementation of the new SGSA strategy. This involves building on established relationships with football governing bodies, relevant Departments in Whitehall, and individual clubs/grounds. Plus, investing time in forging links with other stakeholders who SGSA/FLA have had limited or intermittent connection up to now, including academia. Hence, this meeting

Item 3 – General discussion (All)

AC introduced this item, explaining that he was on a three-month internship with SGSA funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK). In that context he had been commissioned by MHe to test the hypothesis that there have been recent changes in spectator behaviour which are presenting new challenges/issues for those responsible for managing spectator safety in sports grounds, most notably grounds in the top tiers of professional football across the UK.

AC explained he had tested this hypothesis through a literature review and by interrogating relevant datasets, including SGSA’s own spectator injury data, Home Office data on football-related offences, and Kick It Out data on racist incidents, plus Council of Europe data on incidents at football grounds. This work had revealed that the existing data was of poor quality, with changing data gathering and/or analysis methodologies limiting the amount of longitudinal data available and by extension limiting the potential to identify emerging themes/issues over the medium to long term.

AC posed two broad questions to the

  1. Is AC’s recent experience typical in terms of finding limited and variable quality data on spectator behaviour at football/other sports in the UK and further afield?
  2. Is there any robust evidence to support anecdotal evidence and general sense from those involved in safety at sports grounds that spectator behaviour is becoming more challenging?

In response to the question at 7a above, the following points were made in discussion:

  1. MD said that fan engagement in the UK by clubs, SGSA and other stakeholders, including the police, post-Taylor has been limited/ineffective resulting in knowledge gaps. By contrast, fan engagement in Germany is far more effective with fans driving change in terms of spectator accommodation provision, for example the introduction of creche facilities at stadia
  2. SP and PMi cited the challenges facing women and disabled people who attend football matches, including the constant need to demonstrate ‘authenticity’ as football supporters, and the lack of facilities, such as toilets, to meet their needs
  3. MHo observed that it was rare to see a supporters’ representative on a SAG. More could be done to encourage such representation on SAGs
  4. MD and PMi commented that most football governing bodies across Europe, with the notable exception of the Dutch FA, don’t want independent scrutiny of emerging issues, so academics struggle to get research funding from them. Rather, football governing bodies use independent consultants, with lack of transparency in terms of the sharing of key findings
  5. MN outlined how she has used publicly available information about football teams’ on field performance, and violent disorder police data to identify a correlation between fan ‘euphoria’ and ‘dysphoria’ and the incidence of
  6. CS explained that he was embarking on a two-year research project funded by the EFL on safety and security arrangements at particular football matches to build the evidence base to support changes in such arrangements. The research will involve observational studies at grounds, and analysis of multiple stakeholder perspectives to reflect the complexity of managing football crowds in grounds and the wider public space. He encouraged SGSA to keep informed of developments as the research progresses
  7. PMi said that a clear public statement from SGSA about the strategic research objectives and priorities in terms of sports grounds safety would help academics frame their funding bids to the research councils. MD agreed, arguing that the current research landscape was characterised by projects being undertaken in isolation with discrete research objectives at the tactical rather than the strategic level
  8. All present explained that they publish their work in a range of academic journals, but there are challenges both in terms of sports- related work not being popular with editors, and in terms of the limited visibility/accessibility of these journals beyond academia
  9. PMi suggested the Football Collective conference (28 and 29 November in Sheffield) might provide a way for SGSA to continue the dialogue with academia, and to find ways to plug the evidence gaps

In response to the question at 7b above, the following points were made in discussion:

  1. PMi and MD reflected that the increased racist behaviour may be due to wider societal changes. Additionally, the advent of social media may be highlighting behaviour that has previously gone unrecorded
  2. CC added that this was a complex area with particular research challenges in terms of seeking to observe and categorise spectator behaviour change and then contrast it with observable trends and behaviour change in wider society
  3. CS emphasised the importance of focusing on specifics, in particular the need to define the precise nature of the risk associated with staging football matches. For example, UKFPU is seeking to maximise cost recovery on the basis of a narrative that violent disorder is on the rise, but the data does not sustain such an argument
  4. MHo argued that some football matches, such as local derbies, need a significant police presence, but most games don’t merit such an approach. The key is having the necessary intelligence to target police resources where the public order risk is greatest
  5. MD cited German good practice in terms of supporters’ representatives embedded in supporter management arrangements, with a focus on ‘at risk’ groups. MN described the particular response in Brazil to football- related deaths, with ‘security Mums’ acting as the first line in security cordons to seek to manage ‘at risk’ groups in football crowds
  6. Both MD and CS highlighted the danger, however, of assuming ‘fans’, ‘at risk’ groups and ‘ultras’ are homogenous groups when the reality is very different. And, the need to understand the specific dynamics in football crowds, for example, that people feel powerful in such crowds, in order to identify/deploy effective crowd management strategies
  7. TW highlighted that match officials’ decisions can be a trigger to bad behaviour by fans, with the advent of VAR adding a new dimension to that inter-relationship

Summing up the discussion, JM made the following key points:

  1. Different fans behave differently in different contexts. The challenge is how to gather sufficient data to get a complete picture of the diverse range of behaviours and the associated drivers
  2. The ‘hooliganism is getting worse’ narrative is poorly founded and has led to a debate focused on policing, but the safety and security experience of fans is not just about policing
  3. The fan experience of attending live sport varies from ground to ground, and by the socio-demographic characteristics of particular fans
  4. There is a lot of research work being undertaken, but it is fragmented and tends to focus on one club/issue and/or involve one stakeholder. Current research lacks strategic oversight and is not sufficiently comprehensive in terms of issues being explored and agencies being engaged. Consequently, there is no coherent picture of what is happening in terms of spectator behaviour at football and other sports grounds either in the UK or further afield
  5. There is a clear call for Government to support the collection of more and better data, including police and criminal justice data, to inform analysis and commentary
  6. There is a need to identify precisely who is doing what already in order to identify particular data gaps
  7. There is a challenge to identify how best to influence/persuade the research councils to engage with the issues and to provide funding

Item 4 – Next steps (MHe)

MHe introduced this item, making the following key points:

  1. re-emphasised that part of the SGSA’s new strategy was the need to make more and better use of data to support an evidence-based approach to regulation
  2. SGSA keen to facilitate a more structured dialogue with academia
  3. SGSA proposes to create an informal ‘SGSA academic advisory panel’ – essentially a network to share current research on issues of common concern. The network won’t be exclusive; rather anyone from academia with an interest will be free to join. The group could meet ‘virtually’ once or twice a year, with particular group members meeting with the SGSA as appropriate as relevant live issues arise and/or SGSA projects reach key milestones
  4. More immediately, SGSA will endeavour to send a representative to the forthcoming Football Collective conference
  5. And, SGSA will create a specific section on the SGSA website about research and the academic advisory panel

In response, all present welcomed the proposed pro-active approach by SGSA. CS highlighted that academics need to demonstrate ‘pathways to impact’ in their research and the proposed network had the potential to help in that regard. MHe noted the need to be mindful of that driver as SGSA seek to establish, grow and utilise the

AC reminded those present to submit any reasonable expenses claims to him for

JM thanked everyone for their contributions to an interesting and wide-ranging discussion and looked forward to continuing the

Actions Summary

ACTION 19/01: SGSA to establish an academic advisory panel, starting with those present, but with an open invitation for other academics with an interest in the SGSA’s work, to join.

ACTION 19/02: SGSA to endeavour to send a representative to the Football Collective conference in Sheffield on 28/29 November 2019.

ACTION 19/03: SGSA to create a specific section on the SGSA website about research and the academic advisory panel and publicise to interested parties.

ACTION 19/04: All present to submit reasonable expenses claims to SGSA for processing.