Labour will introduce “safe standing” at football matches from next season if they win power at the next general election.
Promising a “modern and safe way for fans to stand”, shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan vowed to “personally ensure that safe standing is introduced in time for the 2020/21 season” as part of a Labour government.
Standing in major football stadiums is banned under laws introduced in 1989, in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy, which demand all stadiums in England’s top two leagues are all-seater arenas.
In recent years, pressure has grown for a rethink of the ban.
A 2018 survey of 33,000 fans by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) and the English Football League (EFL), which represents clubs below the Premier League, revealed 94% believe they should have the choice between sitting and standing at games.
Premier League clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers have installed rail seats in some areas of their stadiums, with a view to a possible change in legislation on standing.
And Scottish champions Celtic have previously trialled a safe standing area.
But Hillsborough campaign groups are split on the issue of introducing safe standing.
Labour has previously supported safe standing, but the party has now gone further with their backing with the promise to introduce it from next season if they win power at an election, which is widely expected within weeks.
In an article for the FourFourTwo website, Dr Khan wrote: “I firmly believe that the current system is unsafe.
“Sometimes the seat in front of you doesn’t go above your ankles, and when a goal is scored people go flying forward. I’ve seen this at matches not only as a football fan, but also in countless videos of supporters ending up on the floor or being knocked unconscious.
“What we are proposing is not a return to the terraces of the 1980s, but a modern and safe way for fans to stand.”
Dr Khan highlighted how football fans are banned from standing at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium, but claimed those who attend a music concert at the same venue would be allowed to stand.
She also accused government ministers of having “dragged their feet” on the issue of safe standing.
Earlier this month, a report commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) found there is “not a robust body of evidence” to suggest standing at football grounds is any more or less safe than sitting.
There is “significant scope” for further research into the issue, the report added, but suggested safe standing should not be trialled in English football’s top two tiers.
The Sports Grounds Safety Authority, the government’s advisory body on safety at sports grounds, subsequently commissioned new independent research over the course of this football season.
The results will be published next summer and handed to DCMS to inform ministers’ consideration of current laws.
A DCMS spokesperson said: “Over a million people watch live football at a ground every week and their safety is paramount.
“The independent review on standing at football found more evidence is clearly needed before any change to the current all-seater policy can be properly considered.
“The Sports Grounds Safety Authority is currently gathering further evidence over the course of the football season. Their report will be published next year.”