SANCTIONS are urgently required to compel football clubs to do more to tackle sectarianism, a Scottish Government-commissioned report has found.
Football clubs are not doing enough to tackle sectarianism and a “strict liability” rule similar to Uefa anti-racism sanctions may now be the only answer, the Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland said.
European football’s governing body can sanction clubs with racist fans, with penalties including deduction of points, stadium closures, withholding of revenues, exclusion from future competitions and the withdrawal of a club’s licence.
The group was satisfied that no club is promoting a “sectarian fan-identity” for profit but it did find a reluctance to confront sectarianism in case it discourages fans from attending matches or buying merchandise.
Rangers and Celtic told the group that strict liability would be “difficult if not impossible to introduce in Scotland”, as it could lead to stadia being closed for months, leading to financial hardship.
The group, however, said this merely supports the case for strict liability, insisting that sectarian elements which are “so toxic” that they could threaten clubs’ survival must be stamped out.
The Scottish Government’s response to the report makes no mention of strict liability.
Instead, it calls for “independent advice” to support the development of the group’s recommendations for bodies such as football authorities and clubs.
It said: “Independent advice in progressing these could help to ensure that a broad range of perspectives and approaches are considered to support the delivery of work in these areas.”
Advisory group chairman Dr Duncan Morrow said the time for talking is over.
Speaking at the launch of the report in Edinburgh, he said: “It is important that we move from just talking about this and endlessly considering it as an element of Scotland that is hidden away, to something that can be dealt with in a robust and real manner.”
He told Radio Clyde later: “We certainly think there should be some sanctions for anybody who is attacking anybody on a sectarian basis.
“Uefa has actually got very clear sanctions and is very widely understood across Europe, so why not that?
“Scottish football says: ‘No, we have to have something which is more tailored to our circumstances, and that is the discussion that we need to have, and we need it urgently’.
“What we can’t have is an ongoing debate where some people say this is a problem whereas football clubs continue to be in denial.”
The report states: “Celtic and Rangers football clubs intimated to us that the system of ‘strict liability’ for fans’ misbehaviour which has been in place for a number of years in Uefa competitions would be difficult, if not impossible, to introduce in Scotland.
“While the advisory group accepts that there are hurdles and objectors to its introduction, we feel very strongly that sanctions are urgently needed.”
It added: “If elements within Scottish football make it so toxic that it cannot survive the introduction of strict liability, then we need to find ways to address these elements and create an environment which allowed it to survive and thrive.”
The group encountered “worrying levels of anti-social behaviour” at football and “songs and chants that mix religion, politics and national identity in ways that are sectarian”.
“We also frequently heard strong objections to certain songs and chants being described as sectarian and a considerable desire to describe these as being entirely ‘political’.
“The advisory group does not believe that these songs should be ‘excluded’ from the definition of sectarianism, especially if this is part of a process to define sectarianism as someone else’s problem.”
It concluded: “We do not believe that football authorities and clubs are sufficiently active in addressing sectarianism.
“The question therefore remains: ‘if not strict liability, then what?’
“We would strongly encourage the football authorities to address themselves to this question, thereby taking responsibility for creating a new and sustainable vision for the future of Sc