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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:44 am on 15th March 2023.

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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.