Spectator safety: Striking a balance

Posted in Football

Co-author: Olivia Cook

The Jim Clark Rally is a motorsport event named after the Formula One champion. It was around on the British Rally Championship calendar until 2014 when three spectators died and many more were injured after a rally car lost control and struck people watching the event from the side of the road. After extensive talks with the Motor Sports Association, the implementation of new safety procedures and the results of a public consultation, the rally is now due to re-open next month.

By nature, rallies are not restricted to a confined space and tend to cover wide areas. This is what makes maintaining the safety of its spectators so challenging: marshals must keep spectators at a safe distance whilst also allowing them to enjoy the event they have paid money to see. As a result of the fatalities at the Jim Clark Rally in 2014, the Scottish Government passed new legislation which now means that safety procedures and the views of the public must be taken into account in order to issue a permit for a motorsport event on public roads. The Scottish Borders Council consulted the public on the rally’s planning and implementation, and received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Incidents involving fatalities and/or injury among spectators at sporting events have historically resulted in important improvements to safety procedures:

  • At Shoreham Air Show in 2015, 13 people were injured, and 11 killed, after a performing aircraft crashed on a neighboring road. A subsequent investigation found that there were ineffective measures to mitigate the effects of an aircraft crashing outside the air show boundary. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch made 32 safety recommendations for the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • At Hillsborough Stadium in 1989, overcrowding in the central pens caused a crush where 96 people died and 766 people were injured. Since then, the Sports Ground Safety Authority Act 2011 has established the Sports Ground Safety Authority which has helped ensure most football grounds in the UK are now seated only and that all grounds employ competent Safety Officers to oversee the safety of spectators.

Following a recent incident at the Ryder Cup in 2018, where spectator Corine Remande was struck by a golf ball from an errant shot resulting in loss of sight in her right eye, the adequacy of safety procedures and risk assessments at golfing events were thrown into question. Some argued that there should be further measures put in place to prevent such an incident happening again. Others argued that spectators know the risk they take when attending a sporting event such as the Ryder Cup and that to regulate anymore would negatively impact the spectator experience.

Indeed, whilst tragic incidents at sporting events have undoubtedly had a positive impact on safety procedures in the past, it remains unclear how much further these procedures can be amended. To eliminate the risk to spectators at sporting events altogether would be to restrict their viewing platform to a television screen. The question remains where the balance lies between spectator safety and spectator experience. The recent approach of the Scottish Government after the Jim Clark Rally incident would suggest that for incidents of this scale, at least in Scotland, there is a preference to let the public decide if this balance has been well struck.

The Jim Clark Rally 2019 is taking place on November 8 and 9.

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