Kenny MacAskill: Football must face strict liability sectarianism offence

Following the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour of Football Act and an apparent rise in sectarianism, the Scottish Parliament needs to take action, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Kilmarnocks Steve Clarke and Kris Boyd complained of sectarian abuse during games against Rangers and Celtic. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

An old maxim is “legislate in haste and repent at leisure”. For sure, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was troubled from the outset but the inverse of the maxim now applies.

After the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament flexed their political muscle against the new minority SNP administration, it’s now “repeal in haste and repent at leisure”.

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Back then, opposition speakers berated an infringement of the civil liberties of football fans. Not just unfair and unjust but an attack upon working-class youth were the arguments put forward as a reason for repeal. Football exceptionalism was decried and, they decided, the solution should be found in wider society.

Now sectarianism is back at football and with a vengeance. Anecdotally, it seems worse since the repeal which is probable as it empowered those most vociferous in denouncing it, yet often least active in condemning the manifestations the law was there to address.

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Off the field, the chant has become “something must be done”, though it has to be said that the crowds on the opposition benches are strangely silent in offering any solution.

Education has been tried and firmer action is required. Now the demand is for strict liability that clubs will view with horror though it applies in the European and international game.

There’s little alternative to that, but it will have to be enforced by Parliament as it won’t be taken up voluntary by the game.

Given the background to how we’ve got here, the Government would be wise to let Parliament resolve the mess and avoid being seen as the sole enforcers, given the antipathy it might bring.

But fitba is finding another maxim which is “beware of what you wish for”, OFBA affected fans, strict liability hits the clubs.

But so be it, chant the wider public.