Covid ticketing rules exclude people not online from major events

Campaigners call on entertainment and sport sectors to ensure inclusion of those without access

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Last modified on Thu 1 Jul 2021 08.11 EDT

People without internet access face being shut out of major sporting events because Covid restrictions have moved some ticket sales exclusively online.

The ballot for this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament was online only and a ban on ticket transfers means that relatives cannot purchase on behalf of fans who do not own a smartphone.

Sally Parker bought a ticket for her 79-year-old mother to attend the final day of Wimbledon on centre court, but discovered she was not allowed to give it to her.

“I was told that as I’d made the purchase I must attend and names can’t be changed,” she said. “My mother can’t use a computer let alone an online ticket portal and I feel this discriminates against older people.”

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said the pandemic has caused big changes to this year’s ticketing arrangements that would take fans time to get used to.

“Mobile ticketing is increasingly considered to be best practice at all forms of events across sports and entertainment,” said a spokesperson. “It has also been required by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) for any events taking place while we are still in the midst of the pandemic.

“We recognise that there are those who are less comfortable with a change of this magnitude. We have offered our assistance to anyone struggling with the technology and have handled thousands of enquiries to provide comfort as best we can.”

The SGSA said that its pandemic protocols were guidance rather than requirements. “We recommend the use of mobile ticketing where possible in order to reduce the touch points which could be potential Covid-19 transmission,’” said a spokesperson. “However, we highlight that any decisions should be made by the event organiser based on their local knowledge of the demographic of attendees.”

A protocol drawn up by major ticket platforms to create minimum standards for sporting clubs, governing bodies and venues requires digital ticketing and obliges sellers to log the health-risk category of purchasers before proceeding with the transaction. The stated aim is to deter fans at higher risk from Covid from attending sports events.

Almost a fifth of Britons were not online as of 2019, according to a survey by the Oxford Internet Institute. The majority are older, poorer or live with disabilities. Nearly half of people over 65 do not own a smartphone, which is a vital requirement under the new sports ticketing rules.

Campaigners fear that increasing reliance on internet booking will exclude a significant section of society from daily life.

“At the moment it seems that many businesses in the events and entertainment industry are requiring customers to book online or via a smartphone, which automatically rules out many older people,” said Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK. “A policy of this kind therefore risks widening the digital divide and reducing the opportunities for many older people to go out and enjoy socialising once again. While we fully understand the need for event venues like Wimbledon to prioritise infection control, we also think they need to ensure they are being genuinely inclusive, and that means offering an easily accessible offline booking option as well.”

Parker said she had received no replies when she attempted to seek advice from the AELTC, which describes itself as committed to ensuring accessibility and eliminating discrimination on the basis of age.

She said her fit and active mother has also been unable to attend her local gym sessions because she is not computer-literate. “She joined the gym for the classes, but they’ve now moved all class bookings online,” she said. “Her friend of a similar age has to get her daughter who lives in America to book her classes at the gym, as she can’t do anything online.”

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