Access to Sport: People with Colour Blindness — [Derek Twigg in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 15th March 2023.

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Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 9:30 am, 15th March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered access to sport for people with colour blindness.

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Twigg. Today I am here to speak about one of the world’s most common inherited conditions. This condition affects 3 million people in the UK. In fact, it is so common that it is estimated that, in the House of Commons, 34 male MPs will have the condition, while 32 female MPs will be carriers. The condition is colour blindness, also known as colour vision deficiency. In the UK, it affects one in 12 boys and men and one in 200 girls and women.

What is colour blindness? It is a common misconception that people with colour blindness just confuse reds and greens. In truth, colour blindness comes in many different types and severities. Although red-green colour blindness is the most common form of the condition, it changes the way people affected view all sorts of colour combinations. Humans see colour through three types of specialised cone cells in the eyes. The cones absorb red, blue and green light. With inherited CVD, one cone type does not function normally; in 25% of cases, it does not function at all. Red-green colour blindness is the colloquial term for a defect in the red or green cones. It is an incurable condition, which neither improves nor deteriorates throughout life.

Last June, I held a drop-in event here in Parliament with the charity Colour Blind Awareness to give MPs the chance to discover what it is like to be colour blind. MPs had the opportunity to try on glasses that simulated the effects of the condition—with some rather entertaining results. They tested themselves by trying to sort a line of socks by colour while wearing the glasses. That was one event where our party political colours became a bit mixed-up! It was all to show the impact of colour blindness on those who have it. As well as the fun, we had academic researchers there to explain their work.

Jokes aside, this is a condition that, in the most severe instances, can have an adverse impact on the daily lives of those affected. Thanks to technology, we live in an increasingly colourful world. In classrooms, interactive smartboards have replaced old-fashioned blackboards. We use tablets and smartphones to entertain us and even to educate younger children. These things often use vibrant colours, and even the Government relied on that vibrant colour palette throughout the covid pandemic, giving public health information that relied on the use of bright graphics and colour indicators.

In an example even closer to home, the BBC’s 2015 general election coverage saw complaints upheld against it because of its inaccessibility to people with colour blindness. The issue was colour pairings: the Conservatives’ blue against the UK Independence party’s purple; Labour’s red against the Liberal Democrats’ orange; and the Lib Dems’ orange against the SNP’s yellow. As they were broadcast, those colour pairings were a nightmare for people with CVD. Lack of accessibility in a range of arenas excludes people with colour blindness from vital aspects of public life and can even hamper their future prospects. That is the sad truth, as people affected by CVD are often an afterthought when it comes to things like that. But it is so much more than that: people who are colour blind are being let down by the Equality Act 2010.

That brings us to the central topic of the debate, which is access to sport for people with colour blindness. The issue was first brought to my attention by a young person in my constituency. Marcus Wells has red-green colour blindness, and from a young age he has done great work to raise awareness of his experiences of grassroots football. At just 10 years old, in 2018, he told a film crew about how simple things such as the colours of balls and cones used in training affected his ability to take part. He said:

“I was really confused at times, why they’d put those cones out, because I thought everyone was seeing like me. Why wouldn’t they put different coloured cones down? It made me feel really upset and frustrated.”

Marcus’s coaches noticed that his enthusiasm and confidence would waver in some of his training sessions, despite his passion and love for the sport. It was only after his diagnosis that they realised this was due to changes in the colour of the kit and equipment being used. Thankfully, the local team were then able to work with Marcus and his family to make sure that they were meeting his needs, but many children with CVD are going undiagnosed, as screening is not currently required in schools or even at optician’s appointments, and that is leading to many promising young athletes getting lost in the system.

Eight per cent. of boys have colour blindness, but research done by Oxford Brookes University suggests that only 6% of men playing elite-level football have the condition. That translates to 25% of colour-blind players like Marcus dropping out due to a lack of accessibility in sport. I am pleased to say that the Football Association and UEFA have introduced colour blindness guidelines for football, while similar guidance has been published by World Rugby, but to date, there is no official published guidance for cricket, hockey or other sports, and even in football and rugby, most clubs and coaches remain unaware of the implications.

We know that encouraging children to take part in sport is a vital aspect of ensuring that they get a healthy start in life. Participating in a team sport is not only good for children’s physical health; it also supports their mental wellbeing and facilitates social inclusion. That is why it is vital that we work to make sure grassroots sport is as accessible as possible, including for people with colour blindness.

It is not only at grassroots level that we see barriers to inclusion. Professional sport is incredibly varied when it comes to its support of people affected by colour blindness, whether that is support for professional athletes or support for fans. Kit clashes are a particularly difficult issue for athletes and fans alike. As a north-east MP—albeit one who does not do football—I know only too well the pride and support that fans have for their respective clubs, with two great football teams in Newcastle and Sunderland battling several times over the years in the famous Tyne and Wear derby. Despite this being a momentous day for so many fans, it has often been a source of frustration for those who cannot join in on the occasion.

This is just as much of an issue on the pitch as it is in the stands. Former Newcastle United player James Perch has colour blindness, and he told the BBC:

“It was because of the stripes—black and white against red and white. I struggled to tell the difference. That game was definitely the toughest.”

He is not alone in finding kit clashes difficult. Nick Bignall, who previously played for Reading, has described how he would end up running into his own teammates or even tackling them. In football, like many sports, marginal gains are important. If we fail to accommodate players with colour blindness, it can hamper their performance and their chances of selection.

We also need to consider the impact on those who are not playing. Professional sport at every level relies on a team of officials to ensure that sport is fair and competitive. Referees are often the unsung heroes of sport, being largely a background figure until the odd moment of controversy brings them to the centre. Referees who suffer from CVD will often find it much more difficult to get the big calls right if we do nothing to support them. If it is difficult to tell the difference between the teams or the players, or even at times spot the ball, they will be hindered in being able to correctly officiate. David Pearson, a former rugby referee, described his experiences of officiating by saying:

“Try calling in an offside line, you’re an assistant referee, you get a line break, where’s the offside line? You just don’t call it. And of course, you get the whole crowd on your back going ‘he’s offside!’”

Meanwhile, for fans, the reality is that kit clashes are a constant issue. Ten premier league games in 2021 were played in kits that were difficult to distinguish for people affected by CVD. Clashes also affect one of the most anticipated games in the rugby union calendar: Wales versus Ireland in the Six Nations. In 2023, the Welsh Rugby Union took the decision to continue to play in red at home, despite knowing that this would prevent tens of thousands of colour-blind fans from enjoying the game.

Times are difficult for many people, and it is a testament to the love that many fans have for their chosen team that they continue to spend their wages on match tickets and pay per views. Those fans should not be let down by pictures that they are unable to watch. As one fan said on Twitter:

“I’d paid a fiver to watch the official stream and I may as well have thrown it out the window.”

Another said:

“I hang my head in despair when I can’t differentiate between the teams, and that can include the referee as well. This happens too often and it spoils my day—nobody seems to care.”

On top of that, there is the important issue of fan safety in stadiums—something we are all very much aware of. We need to ensure that fans with colour blindness are safe in stadiums, but emergency signage and equipment, including emergency evacuation plans, often use colours that prevent colour-blind people from being able to read them, or even make sure that they can identify a steward if needs be. In the UK, only two stadiums have been fully audited for colour blindness accessibility. That must change if we want to make sport a safe environment for all spectators.

I know that the Premier League and the FA have done a lot of work with the charity Colour Blind Awareness better to understand the issues, and I thank them for the briefings they sent me ahead of the debate. The Premier League now has software to identify kit clashes while the English Football League has changed its rules to allow clubs to switch home kits for away if that makes games easier to watch.

I am also aware of great staff, such as FA coach co-ordinator Ryan Davies, who are doing all they can to make the sport inclusive. Ryan suffers from colour blindness, and he attended our drop-in last year. However, the guidance being issued is unfortunately not always followed by clubs, and in many of our other sports it is non-existent, so what do we need?

First, we need cross-departmental working. The Minister needs to have conversations with the education and health teams, and to encourage routine screening of children for colour vision deficiency. Screening is quick and easy, and inexpensive to carry out—and it would help so many young players to identify the problems they are having and ask for accommodations. Outside sport, it would help to tackle the struggles that children with CVD often encounter in classroom settings and ensure they got access to the learning they deserve. It is important to remember that one pupil in every 30 in a co-ed classroom is likely to be colour blind. Teachers must be aware of the issues those children face and should receive training in how to accommodate them.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to have conversations with broadcasters and sports governing bodies to place guidelines for fixtures on a firmer footing. For example, broadcaster contracts could contain clauses allowing the control of content from competition organisers to avoid kit clashes. Broadcasters should also be aware of using TV graphics that might exclude colour-blind people.

Thirdly, we need to ensure that fans with colour blindness are safe in stadiums. I emphasise that emergency signage and equipment, including emergency evacuation plans, often use colours that prevent colour-blind people from being able to read them. I ask the Minister to consider what steps he can take to ensure that the safety issue is addressed by sports authorities. I suspect that he will likely put the responsibility back on the sports governing bodies, but the truth is that the current frameworks are still letting down fans, players and referees. Whether it is the colour of balls, pitch lines, kits or even allergen advice on stadium menus, let us make sure that sport is accessible to the millions of colour-blind people in the UK.

Finally, I ask the Minister to meet with me to discuss in more detail the issues faced by colour-blind people in sport and how we can address them. Most of all, let us make sure that sport, which is starting to address the real difficulties, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport work with other Departments to tackle the problems faced in education, health and all aspects of life by those with colour blindness.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:44 am, 15th March 2023

It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate, and I thank Liz Twist for leading it. She always raises subjects that are perhaps not very topical but are none the less important, as this one is. She outlined the difficulties that those with colour blindness suffer in their everyday lives. I am glad to say that I am not one of them—she is probably not either—but that does not take away from the issue. In this place, we are tasked with highlighting issues on behalf of those who need assistance.

It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in his place. He responds well and understands the issues, and I am sure he will contribute to the debate positively. It is also a pleasure to see the shadow Minister. This is the second day in a row on which I have been called first in Westminster Hall. It seems to be no accolade other than that I am the only other Back Bencher, but that does not take away from the importance of this debate.

The information that the hon. Lady and the charity Colour Blind Awareness sent to us contained a picture comparing normal colour vision with how colour-blind individuals see things. It gives us a wee flavour of what it means to be colour blind. It was extremely useful to see the impact that colour blindness has on sport. The Royal Society for the Protection of the Blind once offered to take me out with a guide dog, so I went to Holywood in my neighbouring constituency, where it is based. The guide dog did not know me, and I did not know it. When I had the blindfold on, I could see absolutely nothing, and that guide dog was my whole contact with what was happening on the footpath. That gave me a real experience of what it is to be blind, and the information that the hon. Lady sent us did the same for colour blindness, so I thank her for that.

It is important that we listen to people’s comments and consider how the condition affects them. Colour blindness affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women. It is caused if one of the three cones—specialised cells that detect red, green and blue—does not work as well as the others or does not work.

I love watching football; I used to play it many moons ago when I was much younger. Like others, I am really thrilled to watch ladies play football—they are very skilled. Last year, in the UEFA women’s Euro 2022, Northern Ireland played England. For the record, we lost 5-0. England were due to wear their crimson away kit, but instead they wore their home kit so the colours would not clash for colour-blind fans. It might be a small thing, but it was a big thing for those who have colour blindness and cannot differentiate between the two teams on the pitch and on the TV. That is an example of what can be done. The green of the Northern Ireland shirt and the red of the Lionesses’ shirt would have clashed, as green and red commonly have that impact on vision. It would have looked like 22 players playing among themselves, rather than playing against each other. That would have been the interpretation on TV.

Teams often change colours to make them easier to see. In my opinion, it should be compulsory to discuss that before every game with a potential colour clash. Has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss that with the Football Association to ensure that it is always checked before the match—long in advance of the match, I should say, as a precursor—so that there is not a clash for those who watch the match through eyes that are colour blind? That is a simple thing to ask for. I know the Minister is always keen to respond to us, and I believe we should take that factor on board.

Another factor that we should discuss more is stadium safety and security, which the hon. Lady referred to. Colour-blind people can struggle to understand wayfinding information on venues and tickets because of its colour. Many times I have gone to a football match and been given a ticket of a certain colour. It is no problem for those of us who are not colour blind. We are told, “Go to this place,” and we all know where it is as the colour is the way to find it. For those who are colour blind, that becomes a problem—not to mention emergency signage, equipment and evacuation plans.

The organisation Colour Blind Awareness notes that in the entire United Kingdom only two stadiums have been fully audited for colour-blindness accessibility. I have a gentle question for the Minister that we should try to address. What has been done to encourage the many hundreds of other stadiums to ensure that they are audited for colour-blindness accessibility to ensure that everyone can participate fully in sport? The Minister has always been helpful in answering our questions in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall. I am confident that he will do that in a positive fashion.

The issues apply to sports fans and the many guys who play football regularly. Sports presenters and journalists have raised awareness of the issue on social media and TV programmes, and have asked sporting organisations to do better. I could be a wee bit mischievous and say that it might be a good thing for Gary Lineker to do; we would all support him. He might even—I say this to him with gentleness—mention it this Saturday night on his football programme. We live in hope. I say that having been a Leicester City supporter since I was 14 years old, when they were in the FA Cup final in 1969 against Manchester City and lost 1-0. They were my team then and they are my team now.

There are many great sports people who suffer with colour blindness, and I will mention two or three across sports. They are a credit to their sport and fantastic role models who did not let the condition get in the way of what they wanted to do in life. Tiger Woods, a household name in golf; Jürgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool, and a fantastic football player in his day; and Bill Beaumont, the rugby player, are all colour blind. They are representatives of completely different sports, but the impact the condition has is the same. Of course, there is no need to worry about the yellow and red cards on the football pitch. One is light and one is dark, and it is possible to tell the difference. If a player is sent off, they are sent off and will know why. That is just an example.

It is estimated that 40% of colour-blind pupils leave school not fully aware that they are colour blind, because they do not speak out about what they are experiencing. Sometimes at school they might feel that they were different but not let on, because people would not understand what they were on about, and would probably give them a quizzical look. We should do all we can to speak out on this issue, because it is more common than we think. We can learn about social behaviours to treat people with colour blindness better. It is also important to train teachers how to identify and support pupils who suffer with colour blindness.

The hon. Member for Blaydon referred to better co-ordination between Departments. It is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I know he will contact the relevant Minister in the Department for Education to see what has been done with sport in schools and education. That is my third ask; hon. Lady has already asked it, but I want to reinforce that. It might be helpful for the Education Secretary to undertake research on why schools are not responding better.

I conclude by thanking the hon. Member for Blaydon for raising the issue. She often raises issues that I am happy to support. It is our duty to raise issues that people might forget about. As my party’s health spokesperson, I have been involved in significant work on eye health, so I understand the importance of the issue. This is an aspect of eye health that I am happy to learn more about, and today has been an opportunity for that learning, through the hon. Lady’s graciousness in sending information relevant to the debate.

I hope consideration will be given to the comments of Members, the two shadow Ministers and the Minister who will sum up at the end, and that there will be greater support for those who are colour blind, especially in the sporting industry. What a joy it is to participate in sport, and to participate equally! Those with colour blindness are unfortunately not able to do that to the fullest extent. I know the Minister will be keen to respond in a positive fashion, and to give us the answers that we want.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 9:54 am, 15th March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Twigg. It is also a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon, as I do on many occasions.

I congratulate Liz Twist. She is committed to rare diseases, syndromes and conditions that affect the daily life of so many people and their families, and she works continuously in this area. I am happy to put on record my thanks to her for all the outstanding work that she does to make others aware of many conditions. I also thank the charity Colour Blindness Awareness for its briefing and for raising awareness of these issues, which many of us have never actually thought about. We have already heard about the amazing numbers of people who are either carriers or affected by colour blindness, yet the issue is not taken as seriously as it should be in sport.

I also make a plea. This issue does not just affect rugby and football. My granddaughter plays netball, which is, I think, the biggest sport played by women and girls—certainly in my area in Scotland and, I think, across the UK. Although fewer women are affected by this condition, they have mums and dads who watch avidly. We have to think about all sports here.

The briefing from Colour Blindness Awareness made me aware that in England children are no longer screened for colour blindness as part of the healthy child screening programme. Screening has been stopped on the basis of evidence that has perhaps been discredited. Teachers are not trained how to identify and support colour-blind children. In Scotland and Wales, however, there is colour vision screening for under-16s. Studies show that despite 75% of children having had an NHS eye test by year 7 in England, 80% have never had a colour vision test, so they and their families will not know what is wrong. It is a huge thing for parents not to be aware of. I ask that the Minister looks at that and refers to it in his summing up.

The hon. Member for Blaydon and the Colour Blind Awareness briefing mention the Equality Act 2010. Almost incredibly, the guidance notes on that Act are erroneous. They state that people

“unable to distinguish between red and green” should not be considered to have a disability. There is no such medical condition. People with colour vision deficiencies have a lifelong, debilitating medical condition that cannot be rectified, which excludes them from much information provided in colour. Many colour combinations can cause challenges, not just reds and greens. Consequently, the business, education and sporting sectors mistakenly believe that they do not have to take into account the needs of colour-blind people. That error discourages colour-blind people from bringing a legal challenge when discriminated against. That is important, because the Equality Act is about equality, so they should be able to bring forward these discrimination challenges. We all know from our experience in this place that those challenges often affect the decisions made by Government. Reviews are carried out and mistakes are rectified.

Colour vision deficiency, or CVD, affects about one in 12 men and one in 200 women, and there are approximately 3 million colour-blind people in Britain—approximately 4.5% of our population. That could be a significant number of people who play sport. As we have already heard graphically from the hon. Member for Blaydon, who spoke about her young footballer constituent, sport is losing out on people who could achieve elite status, simply because needs related to their CVD are not met.

The hon. Member for Strangford talked about signage in football stadia and other places, although we are talking specifically about sport in this debate. I thank him and the hon. Member for Blaydon for raising that point. I will write to sportscotland to find out its take on this important issue. We are aware that there are differences across the four nations in how things are done, but I do not ever want to say, and I hope I never have, that everything in Scotland is perfect—it almost is, but not always.

I am aware that a lot of what I am saying is repetitive, but I make no apology for it. My first ever Chief Whip would say, “Marion, repetition is good. It gets your point out to your constituents and to people across the Chamber,” so I will carry on repeating stuff that has already been said. In Scotland, the Government are keen on sport for all. They have taken a number of actions and follow a number of guidelines. For example, sportscotland, which gets its money from the Scottish Government, follows the SCULPT framework for digital accessibility. Importantly, under that framework, one of the basic principles that should be considered when digital material is produced is its colour and contrast. That comes back to the point about people finding things difficult in football or sports stadiums when things are colour-coded. I will also write to the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Professional Football League and the premiership clubs on this issue.

Until the debate was announced, I had not considered this issue at all in my role as SNP disability spokesperson, so I have got more work out of this debate, which I am actually quite happy about. We cannot always make effective change here and now as a result of these debates, but we can speak to the relevant bodies and raise their awareness of issues. The hon. Member for Blaydon is good at pointing people in the right direction on various issues, so again I commend her for her work.

The Active Scotland outcomes framework describes the Scottish Government’s ambitions for sport and physical activity and commits to ensuring that everyone has opportunities to achieve, irrespective of disability. I will be speaking soon to Scottish Government Ministers, and will flag this issue. I cannot guarantee that I will be completely successful on it immediately, but I will keep plugging away. I understand the Minister is keen on responding to this sort of thing. Does he know which two stadia the previous speakers were talking about? If someone could let me know, I would be grateful. I will visit my local football club, Motherwell, and will be particularly interested in its signage. I do not know if the claret and amber cause difficulties for people with colour blindness, but I will find out as soon as I can.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 10:04 am, 15th March 2023

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Twigg, and it is a pleasure to respond on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate my hon. Friend Liz Twist not just on securing the debate, but on her excellent speech, which set out all the issues and made some good asks of the Minister. As Members have said, she has been stalwart in raising awareness of the issue, and giving it a profile in Parliament, as she is doing today. The issue potentially impacts millions of people.

It is always a pleasure to hear from Jim Shannon. I did not know until today that the origin of his support for Leicester City was the 1969 FA cup final. As a lifelong Manchester City fan, that is one of my earliest memories, although it is a much happier memory for me than for him.

Colour vision deficiency or colour blindness affects many people in many different ways. One of the impacts is on their ability to participate and compete in, and watch, sport. Sport and physical activity are essential elements of a modern, healthy, thriving society. Participating in sport is important for physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. Watching sport helps connect communities, tackle loneliness and bring people together, as well as providing entertainment. Sport should be accessible and everyone should be able to enjoy it, no matter who they are. Unfortunately, for people who are colourblind, who face many challenges, this is not always the case.

The issue starts in school. Colour blindness is thought to affect around 450,000 schoolchildren in the UK. It can have real implications for their ability to learn and build confidence at school. Colour is often used as a tool for learning; for example, younger children use colouring-in sheets. Colour is used on maps and graphs. It is used to highlight information and make distinctions, particularly in school sport. We have heard the example of two teams wearing different coloured bibs in a school sports session. For a young person with difficulty differentiating between two colours, that can lead to their making mistakes or being slower to follow instructions, and it can knock their confidence and their ability to participate. Studies show that 80% of pupils get to year 7 without ever having had a colour vision test. I understand that school screening for colour blindness ended in 2009, and teachers are often not trained in how to identify and support colour-blind children.

It certainly seems that this lack of support and knowledge can impact negatively on participation in sport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon said, research by Oxford Brookes University on the comparative levels of involvement of colour-blind and non-colour-blind players suggests that 25% of colour-blind players are potentially being lost to the system. That is obviously a problem, particularly as levels of physical activity among the population are not where they should be. Disabled people are one of the groups whose activity levels have declined most sharply since the pandemic, and fewer than half of all children do the recommended amount of sport and physical activity. We need to remove barriers whenever we can.

The issue continues into professional sport. For colour-blind people who make it as professional athletes, the barriers continue. It is welcome that colour blindness guidance has been created by the Football Association and UEFA for football and by World Rugby, but to date there is no official published guidance on the subject from the other major sports. Even in football and rugby, there is low awareness among clubs and coaches. If there is not a proper focus on the subject, lots of the issues that affect sports and players, such as team kit colours or the colour of the ball, can cause issues.

A lack of consideration for colour vision deficiency can mean that players struggle to identify their team mates. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon gave a couple of examples; I will point to another. Matt Holland, the former Northern Ireland international, used to play for Charlton Athletic. On his debut for Charlton, they were playing away in Plymouth. Charlton were playing in red; Plymouth were playing in green. After a few minutes, Matt had to run over to the side of the pitch and say to the assistant manager, “I don’t know what I’m doing here; I can’t differentiate the teams.” He said that the assistant manager looked at him as if to say, “What on earth have we signed here as our new player?” He went on to have a very successful career. He is now working as a pundit, and continues to face similar issues.

If it is bad for players, think about the difficulties for referees. It is difficult anyway to get people through the barriers to becoming referees in sport, so we need to try to tackle this extra barrier. This issue also affects sports fans. We have heard about the kit clashes, which are a common occurrence and can make a match difficult to follow. That is particularly galling if someone has spent lots of money on tickets, travel or pay-per-view. Issues can also be caused by ticketing portals, which sometimes use colour to distinguish different seats’ pricing and availability. As we have heard, this is also an issue when it comes to stadium safety and security. Because of the use of colours, colour-blind people can struggle to understand way-finding information, pick out emergency signage or understand things such as allergen advice in catering outlets. In the whole UK, only two stadiums have been fully audited for colour blindness accessibility.

Ambiguity around colour blindness and the Equality Act means that people who are colour blind often do not get their needs taken into account. Colour Blind Awareness, the organisation advocating for people with colour blindness, feels that the guidance notes to the Equality Act 2010 are problematic. The guidance notes state that people who are unable to distinguish between red and green should not be considered to have a disability, but people with colour vision deficiency do have a lifelong, debilitating medical condition that cannot be rectified, and many colour combinations cause challenges, not just red and green.

Under the 2010 Act, a person is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a “substantial and long-term” effect on their ability to manage normal everyday activities, but colour blindness is not specifically cited in the Act. The Government Equalities Office does recognise that colour blindness can be a disability in some instances, so I ask the Government to look at this. Will the Minister and his colleagues consider the arguments in favour of reviewing the Equality Act guidance, to ensure that it supports all people with visual impairments or colour vision deficiency?

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon made a number of excellent suggestions for actions to be taken, and I endorse them, because they raise questions about what more the Government can do to ensure that schools and sporting bodies from the grassroots to the professional better take into account the needs of colour-blind players, staff and fans. We need to break down every barrier to people getting active and enjoying sport in all its forms, and that includes for people with colour blindness.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities) 10:12 am, 15th March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate Liz Twist on securing this important debate and thank Members for their contributions. There is a fair bit of cross-party consensus on this. I suppose I should, in a sense, come out: I am a member of the colour-blind community and understand the challenges that come with living with the condition. I have a bad case of it. I get colours like red, green, orange and brown confused, and I also get blues and purples confused. I remember being in school and having to draw a map of where we lived, and I coloured a river purple and got told off for doing so. I certainly understand many of the points that have been raised today about educating people about the impacts. I have sometimes come downstairs in the most shocking clothes with colours that clash appallingly, and I have struggled to get my socks in order.

The world around us is often designed for people with standard colour vision, and that can make everyday tasks and activities much more difficult. The hon. Member for Blaydon raised the issue of the different political party colours at the election. I had to be very careful when designing my leaflets that I did not make them purple rather than blue, for fear of being confused with a UKIP candidate; I would not have wanted that.

The Government believe that opportunities to play sport and be physically active should be available to everyone, but we recognise that there are barriers that prevent some people from taking part. I can assure hon. Members that we will continue to work with the sports sector to tackle those barriers. That is an area of high importance to me as the Sports Minister, because I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate in sport, regardless of their abilities.

As we have heard from a number of colleagues, the statistics are that in the UK one in 12 males and one in 200 females have some form of colour blindness. That means that in many team sports, such as football, rugby and cricket, at least one player in every male squad is likely to be colour blind. This condition can affect athletes’ development and performance at every level. The disadvantages that colour-blind athletes face obviously vary from sport to sport. As we have heard, in team sports, the colours of strips can be difficult to distinguish between. Team training presents similar challenges when different coloured cones are used. The hon. Member for Blaydon rightly pointed out—indeed, it was heart-warming to hear—the account from Marcus Wells where he talked about the different coloured cones and bibs for drills or games.

In canoeing, a colour-blind competitor might find it difficult to distinguish between the red and green gate markings that indicate the direction in which to pass through a gate. In cricket, the red balls can be difficult to pick out against a green background, even if the player is standing almost on top of the ball. I struggle with this personally, having always found it difficult to tell the difference between the colours of the balls while watching snooker. I often use that as an excuse for how bad a player I am, but I do recognise the issues.

Of course, it is not just those taking part in sport who are affected; it is, as hon. Members have said, the spectators too. Close to 3 million people have colour vision deficiency in the UK, and kit clashes in team games are an increasing concern. That is where, as we have heard, two teams wear colours that appear to blend into each other if someone has colour vision deficiency. There are many examples of games with clashing kits. Last season, in both legs of the League One play-off semi-final between Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, there were problematic clashes for colour-blind people. When there is a kit-clash game, large numbers of people could be affected.

Football fans have spoken out—we have heard today a number of accounts—on other struggles and highlighted the fact that it is hard to tell a red card from a yellow card. What is more, some fans say that they did not realise—I am one of these people—that a substitution board had different colours to show which player was coming on and which was coming off; some have even said that they could not see the numbers at all. As we have heard, fans with colour blindness arriving at stadiums and grounds to support their teams can also find it challenging if way-finding information is colour-coded.

The Sports Grounds Safety Authority guide highlights various challenges that venues need to consider, such as when information is conveyed solely by colour or when a plain high-visibility jacket is used to show that someone is a steward. Adding the word “steward” to those jackets is a simple solution that helps to improve the safety of all fans. I can commit to hon. Members today that I will happily raise this in my next meeting with the SGSA, because safety is a high priority for us. As I have said, it is sometimes very difficult if signs have red backgrounds and green lettering. I say to Marion Fellows, who spoke for the SNP, that I do not quite have the information to hand yet on the two stadiums, but I will be more than happy to get that information for her and pass it on.

It is important to note that some good work is being done to help to tackle these issues. I welcome the English Football League’s decision to allow clubs to wear away kits at home games next season to aid colour-blind people in differentiating teams. That will benefit players, staff, officials and spectators. By allowing a home club to wear its away kit or third kit to avoid a kit clash, that organisation is making it easier to differentiate between the two teams, and in turn helping to make football inclusive for all. But I will be more than happy to do what hon. Members have asked me to do and continue to raise these issues with the FA and, indeed, with other governing bodies.

Another example in football is that of Stoke City, which ahead of this season made a number of retail changes around its new kit launch in order to assist colour-blind fans with their shopping experience. The club has renamed its replica kit items by adding a description of the colour on to all labels. That simple change makes it easier for colour-blind people to support their club how they want.

In cricket, there has been ongoing research into how pink balls have affected colour-blind cricketers. Actions taken from the results include changing the stitching on the ball to black to help make it stand out against surrounding colours.

World Rugby has also made changes to make the sport inclusive to those with colour vision deficiency. It consulted on proposed new laws that would be introduced for the men’s 2027 rugby world cup. The proposed changes would see international teams wearing different shirts in situations that present a red-green clash.

There is also a collaborative partnership called Tackling Colour Blindness in Sport, which has been doing great work investigating the prevalence of colour blindness in professional sport. Although its primary focus is on football, it aims to identify any barriers to progression for colour-blind players as well as strategies to overcome them. We have heard a lot today about Colour Blind Awareness, which has worked with many sports and organisations, including the Football Association and UEFA, helping them to develop the first guidance document for football.

The Government’s aim is to create an inclusive and diverse sports sector for all. That means sports should take into account the diversity of their players, spectators and workforce. We are currently working on the cross-Government sports strategy, and I want to ensure that inclusion features heavily. Hon. Members have raised a number of issues that stretch across other Departments, such as the Department for Education. We are working towards equal access for PE, and it is important to identify these issues early on.

I was fortunate to have the colour blindness test at school. I remember the coloured dots, where we had to read the number inside the dots. Because of my colour blindness, I could never find the number, and I thought I was just looking at pretty patterns. Identifying the issue early on makes everything easier.

Jeff Smith raised an important point about seating plans when people are trying to buy tickets. I never go on those sites—I have to get someone else to do it for me, because I cannot work out which seats have been sold and which are available, because of the use of colours.

I have a departmental role in terms of the Equality Act. I will have a look at the issues and see what can be considered, although I make no promises.

I thank the hon. Member for Blaydon for securing the debate, and all other Members for their contributions in highlighting this important issue. Everyone should have the chance to watch, play and enjoy sport. The Government will continue to work with stakeholders to make sport in England as inclusive as possible. As a colour blindness sufferer myself, I know acutely how challenging it can be. I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the issue further.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 10:23 am, 15th March 2023

I thank all Members who have taken part today. Jim Shannon is always so supportive in pursuing these issues. He spoke very well about stadium safety, as well as the practical aspects. I thank him for his contribution.

I thank the two Front-Bench spokespeople—Marion Fellows and Jeff Smith—and the Minister for their responses. This is one of those debates where everyone knows there is an issue and everyone is looking to do the best thing, but we just need to do some more.

I thank the Minister for telling us about his personal experience of having colour blindness, and the practical difficulties it entails; I thank him for saying that he will continue to pursue the issues, especially through the sports strategy. He raised an important point about PE in schools, where there is that intersection between sport and education.

People who suffer from colour blindness face very real difficulties. There may be good anecdotes, but those people face real difficulties in their lives, not just in sport. It is good to hear that sport is, in some ways, leading the way in tackling the issues, but we need to make sure that the broader issues are picked up as well. I thank the Minister for agreeing to raise this matter through the broader sports strategy.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered access to sport for people with colour blindness.

Sitting suspended.