Leader comment: Repealing anti-sectarianism Act may send wrong signal

Anyone with an ounce of decency who has follows football in Scotland knows the problem. Sectarianism has been 'Scotland's shame' for far too long and football grounds are its incubating chamber.

Kick it out: Sectarian hatred cannot be allowed to persist in Scottish football
Kick it out: Sectarian hatred cannot be allowed to persist in Scottish football

Ask yourself where else can you hear vile chants celebrating violence against people of one faith or another? Where else are your children learning that it’s okay to hate?

So the potential repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act – something which took a step closer after it was backed by Holyrood’s Justice Committee – risks sending all the wrong signals.

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The legislation may have been a knee-jerk reaction to the Old Firm “Game of Shame” in 2011, it may have been poorly drafted, but it was done with the right intentions. If it’s proved problematic to implement, it should be reformed or replaced with something that works.

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The committee believes existing legislation can be used to tackle the sectarianism that has made Scotland’s beautiful game look decidedly ugly.

But, if that was the case, why have large sections of football crowds been able to sing to their malignant hearts’ content for decades?

If the Act is ditched and not replaced, at the very least there will need to be significant efforts by the Scottish Government and leading figures in Scotland to find new ways to address the situation.

And, yes, included in those leading figures are the clubs where sectarian singing takes place, the managers, the players and the supporters. Their words and actions can have a significant effect as the Game of Shame, one of several, showed.

Football has made great strides in relation to racism – although this remains a problem to be eradicated from the game across the UK as the dearth of managers from ethnic minority backgrounds demonstrates.

Sexist attitudes towards women playing the game and female officials have changed radically in recent years. But there has been little progress on homophobia and, in Scotland, sectarianism.

Changing any society’s values for the better is a hard thing to do, but it is important for democratically elected politicians to recognise they have a leadership role and to make the direction of travel clear.

If the Scottish Parliament does decide to repeal the Act, MSPs will need to think very carefully about the presentation of this decision. No one should be left in any doubt that offensive, sectarian behaviour at football will not be tolerated.