TOUGH new laws on dealing with racism, sectarianism and other forms of unacceptable behaviour in football will be voted on at Tuesday’s annual general meeting of the Scottish Football Association at Hampden Park.
Last month’s FIFA Congress agreed strict punishments for tackling racist incidents and “other forms of discriminatory behaviour”, including the possibility of points deductions and expulsions, the introduction of anti-discrimination officers at games, a minimum five-match ban for players guilty of racial abuse, harsher financial penalties and a hotline for players and fans to report racism.
These measures are, Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, has confirmed, “the big ticket item” which FIFA is presently focusing on. Now Regan wants Scottish sides to adopt “strict liability” in dealing with racism and sectarianism, so incidents are the responsibility of the clubs, regardless of measures they have adopted to tackle the problem.
He said: “At the moment we have rules where clubs are allowed to defend a case based on having taken all reasonably practicable steps in order to make sure there’s no unacceptable conduct.
“The Scottish FA haven’t had one prosecution against those rules. On the one hand, you could say that the clubs are doing a fantastic job and doing everything they possibly can. But, on the other, you could say the rules aren’t powerful enough or strong enough to stamp things out.
“What we’re trying to do is get our members to consider the concept of strict liability, which is very similar to how UEFA approach things. Strict liability starts with the basis that something has happened that is unacceptable and needs to be dealt with,” he added.
Recent incidents that would fall within this bracket include the incident with a fan and Celtic manager Neil Lennon, during a Hearts v Celtic fixture at Tynecastle two years ago. Hearts escaped punishment for this intrusion into the technical area by the supporter because an investigation by the Scottish Premier League board concluded “the action taken by each club before, during and since the match was reasonable in all the circumstances”.
Sanctions imposed on a club or representative team will in principle be issued in a two-stage approach: for a first or minor offence, the sanctions of a warning, a fine, and/or the playing of a match behind closed doors should be applied. For re-offenders, or for serious incidents, sanctions such as a points deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation should be applied.
“What you present to the judicial panel is all the facts and if the club have done everything they can, clearly they will be given the benefit of doubt,” explained Regan. “However, if the same club and the same offences are committed and the same excuses about ‘doing all we can’ get said then something more needs to be done.”
With a 75 per cent vote required to pass these resolutions, Regan is conscious that it is far from certain clubs will agree to tough new sanctions. But, he asked, does that mean they should not try to push these new laws through?
“People will say: ‘what’s the point of putting it forward, members will vote it down’. Do we say, therefore, that we should just stand back and not bother? The world governing body [FIFA] and European body [UEFA] will come down in the future and make it mandatory, and then we have no choice. We would rather take responsibility for own affairs and move them forward.”