Anger over ban from pitch side for ‘safety’

Mike Kunz pictured at Yeovil Town's Huish Park
Mike Kunz pictured at Yeovil Town's Huish Park

A DISABLED sports photographer said he was “appalled” after being told he was a health and safety risk as he tried to do his job.

Wheelchair-user Mike Kunz claims he was told he could not sit alongside other photographers at the side of the pitch at Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park because his wheelchair posed a danger to any players who could collide with him should they leave the field of play during the match.

The freelancer had travelled more than 300 miles from Somerset to cover Yeovil Town npower League One game for the Western Gazette last Saturday.

He said he was left “deeply upset and angry” by Pools’ reaction after visiting the town in five previous seasons without any problems – and has never had a problem in 10 years of covering football all over the country.

Pools chiefs said they have recently tightened up their health and safety restrictions on matchdays and have a responsibility to keep their players safe.

Mr Kunz, 42, said he had tried to come to a compromise with officials but was told he would have to retreat to the stand to take pictures.

He said: “It wasn’t the warmest welcome. I was shocked to be honest.

“I tried to compromise and said I would get out of the wheelchair so it was completely out of the way, but they were having none of it.

“They complained about everything but there were other photographers there with metal stools and big plastic cases. I felt discriminated against.

“I’ve been going up there for the last six years and have always been pitchside.

“It was upsetting but I’ll be coming back. Hopefully they will be better prepared then.”

It was only the second time this season Mr Kunz has been to an away game as he was fitted with a new prosthetic leg earlier in the year. He hopes to soon be fitted for a second limb.

He had lost a leg after a skiing accident in 1990, precipitating deep vein thrombosis that eventually led to ulceration and amputation in 1993. Ten years later he had his second leg amputated.

He said being positioned at one end of the ground behind advertising hoardings severely hampered his ability to take good photographs during Pools’ 3-1 win.

Mr Kunz added: “The bloke I do photos for at the newspaper was at the game and he heard everything that was going on and he wasn’t happy about it so told his friends at the paper.”

A spokesman for Hartlepool United said: “We’re well aware of the Disability Discrimination Act but we must ensure that everything is safe for players, officials and spectators on matchday.

“In the past we had an incident where a player was injured and missed games after sliding into photography equipment on the side of the ground.

“We have tightened up our health and safety restrictions on match day and we have a responsibility to our players and to Mr Kunz to ensure the safest possible working environment.

“He was allocated a spot in the away end which is just two metres further back from where he would have been on the pitch side.

“We have invited him to get in contact us if he wishes to return to Victoria Park in the future so we can discuss suitable arrangements.”