Rugby League: Exploring Stadium Safety

Rugby league is a fast, exciting sport and it’s hard to beat the atmosphere of going to a live match. Unlike soccer stadiums where the rival fans have to be segregated to stop them from killing each other, you can happily take your kids to rugby games without them hearing a constant tirade of foul-mouthed abuse. The atmosphere is far more convivial with supporters from both sides mingling over a beer or two and sharing a bit of light-hearted banter. After the match, the finer points of the game will be discussed in local pubs.


Improving Stadium Safety


There might be a number of injuries sustained on the pitch, but for the spectators there are strict safety criteria to which the stadium operators have to adhere. You don’t hear of disasters at rugby matches and it is ironic that ever-improving safety standards at grounds in the UK are largely due to football stadium disasters.


One of the most significant was the Bradford fire disaster of 1985 in which piles of rubbish under a wooden stand were ignited by a cigarette. The fire quickly took hold and fans trying to escape found exit gates and turnstiles locked and there were no fire extinguishers. Fifty-six people died in the fire.


The Heysel disaster in Belgium happened 18 days later when the collapse of a retaining wall caused the deaths of 39 Juventus fans and injured 600 who were trying to escape from rampaging Liverpool supporters.


In 1989, but still very fresh in the mind, the worst sporting disaster in British history occurred at Hillsborough. With the match due to kick off, the police ordered a gate to be opened allowing too many people into the stand and in the crush that followed 96 people died and 766 were injured. Many couldn’t escape because of the pitch-side “safety” fencing.


As a result of these and other events there was severe scrutiny of all the sports stadiums in the UK to see how the safety of spectators could be improved. Among the immediate actions was the condemnation and closure of most wooden stands which would have to be demolished and replaced.


The necessity of this action was highlighted this month by the fire in the historic wooden stand at French rugby league club, Lezignan. The structure was completely destroyed as the fire quickly took hold, but fortunately the ground was empty at the time.


Other measures taken at British stadiums included the removal of fencing which kept spectators contained and the conversion of all stadiums of top flight sports clubs to be seated only.


Match Day Safety


Before, during and after a rugby match, the highest priority of the stadium management is the safety of the spectators. The capacity of the stadium is not determined by the number of people who fit in. Each area is assessed by how many people can quickly be safely evacuated if there is an emergency. The fire and ambulance services and the police consult with the management to create an emergency plan.


Every stadium must appoint an appropriately qualified safety officer who will have overall responsibility for ensuring that all areas of the ground are inspected before and after a match so that any potential risks are eliminated. All stairways and access routes should be clear of obstructions, no accumulated litter, leaks and spills dealt with and broken seats removed and taped off.


The match day stewards should be suitably trained and proportionate to the expected size of the crowd. Pre-match briefings should be given so each steward knows their duty. Each exit point has to be supervised throughout the game to ensure it is kept clear and will be open if an evacuation is necessary.


Spectator Responsibility


Any event which involves large numbers of people crowded together has risks and, while the stadium management will fulfil their obligations, spectators have a duty of care to themselves, which is mostly down to common sense.


Crowded venues are a magnet for pickpocketing gangs so, if you have to carry valuables, keep them in a safe place. Also taking advantage of crowds, and much in the news, are terrorists who have been making personal attacks, although this is unlikely in a stadium. Just be aware of the people around you and if someone arouses your suspicions, report it to the police or a steward.


In an emergency situation resulting in an evacuation, panic can be more dangerous then the initial cause of the problem. Know your nearest escape route and try to stay calm and help those around you to do the same. Stairs are particularly hazardous in a crush. As the saying goes, “Hurry up and take your time!”


Fortunately, alcohol is still allowed to be served at rugby league matches, unlike at football stadiums where the fans can’t be trusted. While anybody getting out of order at a rugby game would probably be amiably brought into line by those around them, it could be advisable to alert a steward to keep an eye on them.


Personal Injury at a Rugby Match


For all the precautions taken to ensure the safety of spectators at stadiums, accidents can happen. If you sustain an injury through a slip, trip or fall and you think that the stadium management were negligent in some respect, you can find lots of information online regarding how to make an injury compensation claim.


It is not easy to prove negligence and you are considered to have responsibility for your own actions. But if, for example, you slipped on liquid from a leak which had obviously occurred some time ago, you might reasonably have expected it to have been repaired or cordoned off prior to the match.


You should take pictures of the scene and get statements from witnesses as evidence. When you consult a legal expert who specialises in this area of law, they will advise you on the likely success of your claim. You may be recompensed for your injury and any related expenses.


In summary, rugby matches remain a safe and enjoyable environment for all the family to attend and enjoy, providing you remain cautious to the potential risks that can occur in public places such as stadiums, taking the necessary steps to avoid any accidents and injuries.

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