No new discrimination rules, say Scottish FA clubs

Campbell Ogilvie has been re-elected as SFA president. Picture: SNS
Campbell Ogilvie has been re-elected as SFA president. Picture: SNS
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SFA clubs overwhelmingly rejected tougher rules to deal with unacceptable conduct and discriminatory behaviour but did agree to review the existing procedures.

The adoption of a “strict liability” policy for racist and sectarian behaviour, in line with Fifa and Uefa disciplinary protocols, had been proposed by SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and president Campbell Ogilvie.

It would have removed the defence currently available to clubs of having taken all reasonable measures to prevent instances of unacceptable conduct at their stadia.

Regan expressed his disappointment at the failure to have it approved at the SFA’s agm at Hampden but insisted he was also encouraged that clubs recognise the need to make the matchday environment of Scottish football more attractive to spectators and sponsors alike.

“The actual decision today doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Regan.

“The whole story was a healthy and robust debate with strong arguments put forward about why a move from the current position to strict liability is perhaps a step too far. But there was agreement that we need to do more. That there needs to be a viable deterrent to unacceptable behaviour.

“But rather than say clubs are guilty immediately something happens, and they’ve no ability to try to justify themselves, there needs to be some sort of middle ground and that’s what we have agreed. We accept the arguments.

“It’s disappointing because Uefa do this and it works. If clubs are dealt with, and they behave inappropriately again and are dealt with again, there comes a point where fans are spoken to and behaviour improves, particularly in Europe.

“The Scottish FA’s view is that it should be able to work on a domestic level. However, it was a leap too far for the members, although there was a recognition we need to make progress. But we need to do it in bite-size chunks and not the big leap we were asking for.

“Clubs would have been voting to punish themselves in the event of unacceptable behaviour. So you can see there’s a bit of self-interest coming into play. No club wants to sign its own warrant for a sanction.

“But what was positive was the recognition that change needs to happen. Pyrotechnics in grounds, banners with inappropriate comments, sectarian chanting. We want to get families back in and that wasn’t in doubt today.

“There was a recognition here today, to a man and to a woman, that we need to do that. It was about how far we go in one jump. There was a fear that when you hear the term ‘strict liability’ it’s usually associated with criminal activity, possession of drugs and so on. It’s very black and white. What the clubs were trying to argue was the need for a step in between.”

Regan believes Scottish football cannot afford to feel either complacent or self-satisfied about the extent of unacceptable conduct which takes place in its grounds.

“How much of a problem we have depends on which lens you look through,” he added. “If you compare us to Serbia or Italy or some Eastern European countries where they are battling in the streets, and they’ve got police horses and water cannons and tasers, then we haven’t got a big problem at all.

“But when you talk to local bodies in Scotland about the impact sectarian behaviour has on families and on the relationship between kids and parents and schools and it’s something we have to address.

“It may not be as big a problem as some things on the continent but it’s stopping people going through the gates and spending money on football. We shouldn’t compare our unacceptable behaviour with the unacceptable behaviour of others. We need to get our own house in order and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

If a new Scottish Professional Football League is given the go-ahead by today’s egm of the Scottish Football League, the new league body will retain the existing rules on unacceptable conduct. But Regan would ultimately like to see the SPFL embrace strict liability.

“It’s not there in the rulebook at the moment because they have protected the current rule that clubs are allowed to prove they have taken every step they can and there’s no more they could have done,” he said.

“Our argument is that doesn’t eradicate unacceptable behaviour. It’s still there. You might not have been able to do any more but it’s still there and there’s still a problem. If you put together league reconstruction with the atmosphere and environment that goes with a new league body, the two things should work hand in hand.

“The right product means broadcasters and sponsors coming back, fans coming back through the gates to exciting matches – particularly play-offs. What you don’t want them coming into is a den where it feels hostile, vicious and activity is going on that is totally unacceptable.

“If we can get the two things together then surely that’s a positive for the game.”