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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:12 am on 15th March 2023.

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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.