FOOTBALL clubs which fail to tackle sectarian behaviour by supporters should be hit with sporting sanctions, a new report recommends.
Dr Duncan Morrow, who has led a report on religious hatred for the Scottish Government, warned teams must do more to stamp out hate crime.
The Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland, which spent 15 months compiling its report, believes it should be treated in the same way as racism by the football authorities.
The campaign group Nil By Mouth criticised Celtic and Rangers for failing to engage with the report.
Clubs should act as role models by disassociating themselves from sectarianism, both inside and outside grounds, while also backing Police Scotland’s efforts to crack down on sectarian behaviour, the group said.
The report’s authors were in no doubt of the links between sectarianism and football, and in particular supporters of the two large Glasgow clubs, Rangers and Celtic.
“The police shared our view that sectarianism would still exist in society without football,” the report said. “However, those officers we spoke to were clear in their view of a link between football and sectarian crime.
“There was evidence that spikes in crime following Old Firm games were not limited to direct violence but impacted on areas as diverse as domestic violence and property crime.
“Furthermore, officers remarked that the recent lack of Old Firm derbies had led to a downward trend in reported offences.”
The Scottish Premier Football League said it welcomed the report and would consider the recommendations carefully.
The advisory group said it contacted Celtic and Rangers specifically, but Nil By Mouth criticised the clubs’ level of involvement.
Campaign director Dave Scott said: “Education is key to eradicating sectarianism and pioneering work is being done in schools in areas such as Armadale, Rutherglen and East Kilbride. It is, however, disappointing that the Old Firm clubs didn’t engage with the group. If we are to rid Scotland of bigotry, we all need to stand up and be counted.”
Rangers said it was committed to tackling the problem. “Given the length of the report we will take time to carefully consider it but Rangers Football Club is totally committed to eradicating all forms of inappropriate behaviour and continues to work tirelessly via the club’s Follow with Pride campaign, and we support all initiatives aimed at tackling this problem,” a spokesman said.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell MSP added: “Where clubs are clearly failing in their duty to tackle discrimination, including sectarianism, the footballing authorities must be strong in issuing sanctions to offending clubs.
“However, a focus on educating children from an early age is perhaps the only sustainable method of eradicating sectarianism completely.”
The Scottish Government welcomed the report, but suggested it was satisfied with the work being undertaken by Scottish clubs.
The report criticised the lack of political leadership in tackling sectarianism. “We were concerned by the apparent reluctance of many senior and influential people across Scottish society to show the kind of leadership that is required to tackle
sectarianism,” it said.