Beat bigotry by docking clubs points - top officer

ONE of Scotland's most senior police officers has called on the country's football authorities to hand out heavy points deductions to clubs that fail to stop sectarian violence and threats from their fans and players.

Chief Superintendent David O'Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), told The Scotsman it was "right and proper" that football clubs should be hit with deductions of as much as 25 points for allowing sectarianism to flourish on and off the terraces. Points deductions are currently imposed on teams that field ineligible players or where a club has gone into financial administration.

He said the penalties have to be "an option" to stop a repeat of the violent scenes at this season's Scottish cup tie between Celtic and Rangers, when there were 34 arrests inside Celtic Park and angry touchline clashes.

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The police chief's comments come ahead of the annual conference later this week of ASPS, which supports points deductions, playing matches behind closed doors, and bans on travelling fans for offending clubs.

Mr O'Connor, of Strathclyde Police, said he also wants police and football authorities to work together to abandon matches during play in "extreme cases" of sectarian-fuelled disorder.

He said: "Let us stop the rhetoric and challenge the football authorities to reduce points where appropriate, play matches behind closed doors or ban travelling fans to set an example and show Scotland that we say what we mean and mean what we say. It is not a minority of fans who behave in such a manner and we need to stop talking it down.

"We have a situation where you can lose 25 points for going into administration. It seems right and proper that, if there is serious public disorder and sectarianism, deducting points could be among a range of options that could be considered.

"I think this is something we need to take a look at during the close season. I'm not saying it should be the first option, but it has to be an option."

Mr O'Connor went on to say that the level of points deductions for sectarianism should be decided on a "sliding scale" depending on the seriousness of the disorder.

He said: "There comes a point when the carrot is no longer appropriate and you have to use the stick. It would have to be a sliding scale. At the moment matches can be abandoned because of snow. Where there's serious public disorder we could use this in the last case scenario."

A Scottish Football Association spokesman said it was "committed" to taking part in the joint action group formed to "eradicate sectarianism and discriminatory behaviour".Meanwhile, Celtic have complained to the BBC after programme host Rob MacLean claimed there had been sectarian chanting from the club's fans during Saturday's Scottish Cup final with Motherwell. The club denies the claim.