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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Premier League safe standing petition reaches threshold for parliamentary debate

The safe standing area at Celtic Park
Celtic introduced safe standing at Celtic Park in Glasgow.

A petition calling for the return of standing in Premier League and Championship games has reached the required number for MPs to consider a debate in parliament on the matter.

The call for safe standing, posted on the Parliament official website, has reached in excess of 100,000 signatures, less than two weeks after UK Sports Minister Tracey Crouch claimed only a "vocal minority" wanted it.

"Safe standing offers a much safer alternative to fans who wish to stand, rather than sit at football matches," the petition reads.

"After the highly successful introduction to rail seating at Celtic Park, as well as numerous Bundesliga clubs, many football fans feel that laws preventing standing areas should be relaxed."

Crouch sparked controversy after she rejected an application by West Bromwich Albion to pilot safe standing in one section of The Hawthorns next season.

Responding to the petition's popularity, Crouch said on Wednesday: "Over a million people watch football every week and I am grateful for the engagement of fans from across the country in expressing their views on this issue. This will now give me the opportunity to discuss at length the nuances and complexities of sports ground safety in Parliament, if and when the Petitions Committee agree to it being debated."

In a statement released to Press Association Sport, the Football Supporters' Federation said: "We'd like to thank every last fan who signed the petition and helped take standing to Parliament -- the sheer number of fans involved shows the strength of feeling on an issue that isn't going away.

"This is not just a 'vocal minority' as the sports minister presumed -- the overwhelming majority of fans back the choice to sit or stand, as do most clubs and a growing number of MPs who will look forward to the debate.

"The sports minister is looking increasingly isolated from fans, clubs, the EFL, the Premier League and even the Government's own safety advisory body, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. We hope the upcoming debate will help change her views."

Jon Darch, who runs the Safe Standing Roadshow that has been promoting Bundesliga-style rail seats as a solution for several years, also welcomed the news.

"It's fantastic to have hit 100,000," Darch told Press Association Sport. "I hope that having now seen the extent of football fans' passion about our particular issue, the government will similarly do us the courtesy of granting a full-length debate in the main chamber."

A dress rehearsal of that debate is scheduled to take place in Westminster on Tuesday, when the All Party Parliamentary Group for Football Supporters hosts a meeting that will be attended by Ronnie Hawthorn, the head of operations, safety and security at Celtic, who installed 3,000 rail seats two years ago as the all-seater rule does not apply in Scotland.

Furthermore, the English Football League is understood to be ramping up its efforts to persuade Crouch to scrap the rule and give the clubs the right to install rail seats, which can be flipped up and locked in place, or some other option with an appropriate safety barrier.

The Premier League, on the other hand, is still consulting its clubs on the matter but last week revealed some polling it has done which showed a clear majority want the choice to sit or stand but only one in 20 actually want to stand for a whole match.

The current all-seater rule has been in place since the 1989 Hillsborough disaster which left 96 Liverpool fans dead.

Campaigners, however, have repeatedly pointed out that the official report into the disaster did not blame standing for the tragedy.

They also say standing is allowed in the lower divisions, Scotland, other sports and music events, and fans are standing at games every week in large numbers, which causes difficulties for stewards and those who do not want to or cannot stand to see the action.

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