Stadium and Event Stewarding in Crisis?


We all love live sport and music events and judging by the thousands of you who support your favourite football, rugby, cricket (domestic and national teams), all relish the opportunity to watch your teams play in stadiums up and down the country.

Undoubtedly Covid and the ensuing lockdown periods where stadiums were closed to spectators and stewards were furloughed, has taken a toll.

Stadiums are full again but what of the safety and security teams?

As we emerged from lockdown a few months ago and the government eased restriction to allow fans back to live sport, Ken Stott the head of inspectorate at the SGSA said:

“I think the impact of Covid has cut across everything. So you’ve got lots of stewards who may have been casually employed or at best been furloughed so have been away from the business for eight months now. You’ve also got the fact that some of the stewards might be from the more advanced age groups. There is a big area in confidence-building to get not just the fans to come back but also the people who actually work and operate the venues to come back with a confidence that they are not being put at any risk.”

So what is the footprint of safety and security staff post covid compared to pre covid? What has changed? Well, as an owner of a training company focused on supporting the event sector to maintain necessary skills for their workforce, I have a hands on and front row view.

Over 10 years training and assessing across the UK Sports and Events sectors and recently internationally, in preparation for global football events, gives me a unique perspective. Stadiums/Arenas that we have and continue to support include:

Our national football stadium - Wembley, plus Anfield, Goodison Park, Ewood Park, Highbury, Old Trafford, Etihad, Bramall Lane, Elland Road, Hillsborough, AESSEAL New York, Glanford Park Villa Park, Pride Park, Molineux, St Andrew's, Ricoh (now CBS Arena), King Power, Stadium MK, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, London Stadium, Portman Road, Madejski (now Select Car Leasing), County Ground, Kenilworth Road, Sixfields, Broadhall Way, St James's Park, Kassam.

Our national rugby stadium, Twickenham, plus Franklins Gardens, Sixways, Ashton Gate, Goldington Road, Allianz Park (now Stoner) Our national Cricket grounds, Oval, Lords, Rose Bowl, County Ground, New Road, Grace Road.

Our national arenas, O2, SSE, AO Arena, M&S Bank, Resorts World, First Direct, Motorpoint, plus our national motor racing circuits, Racecourses and many many more 'green park' festival sites. Wow! Writing that down was quite humbling.

All need a competent, trained and qualified safety and security team in sufficient numbers for the safety and security of spectators and to open in compliance to the venue safety certificates.

Venues which before Covid struck, had a vibrant well staffed stewarding team are now outsourcing to suppliers who in turn may have to reach out to sub contractors to fulfill their quotas. Our larger and national stewarding suppliers have reduced numbers on their books. There is currently a skilled/qualified security and stewarding shortage across the UK.

So should we be panicking?

Well I'm not saying so yet! But there are warning signs. It has been my observation that stewarding numbers are down.

We have never been busier training new stewarding staff at level 2, supervisors at level 3 and safety officers for their level 4; for new stewards who are coming back, supervisors upskilling and as 'in post' Safety Officer's are retiring or preparing to do so.

Coupled to this, recruitment drives that in the past were August/Sept to support the winter sport seasons, are continuing into December as venues are struggling to get the stewarding numbers back to where they were.

Please do not misconstrue my message here. Sports venues, music events around the UK are coping but the impact on teams especially when world staged events take place such as COP26, mean more is being done with fewer, working longer hours. It will take time for recovery and in the meantime careful management. The health and safety of our workforce is just as important as the safety and security of our spectators.

A question I will often ask my Level 4 candidates when assessing them is; "Do you know the competency and training/qualification attainment of your safety and security teams for today's event? If you are visited today by your local licensing authority and/or SGSA can you prove this? Can you say this for your supplied staff from contractors? How have you planned your briefing schedules to ensure everyone at each layer and level of safety management for today's events knows what is expected of them at all stages of the event including contingency action/response?"

The Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) celebrates its 10 year anniversary this month and will be highlighting some of their successes of the last decade. I hope that this year's success moving into 2022 is successfully supporting and seeing through here and around the world the amazing people we have dedicated to ensuring we all can enjoy live sport and entertainment in a safety and secure environment.

Next Steps?

Addressing the issues raised in this article can be illustrated across continual professional development themes. I assert this needs to be promoted together with an examination of  the training culture in our sports and entertainment industry. Vital if the events industry is to possess the skills it requires alongside developing a strong culture of continuing professionalism. The themes are:

I will continue to promote and support to my best to ensure that we have the most skilled, competent safety and security workforce possible. Who's with me?