SPFL must not hide truth about sectarianism in football – leader comment

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs that he was unable to publish an SPFL dossier about sectarianism because of a confidentiality agreement (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs that he was unable to publish an SPFL dossier about sectarianism because of a confidentiality agreement (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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The SPFL must allow a dossier on sectarianism in football to be published if it is to show it is committed to eradicating ‘Scotland’s shame’.

Sectarianism has rightly become known as “Scotland’s shame”. However, as almost everyone knows, it is more precisely described as Scottish football’s shame.

Football is the arena in which this mindless prejudice is played out. It’s where the vile songs are sung and the abuse hurled. It’s where successive generations of Scottish children have learned to sneer at and despise people who otherwise might have become their friends.

Some who take part appear to have persuaded themselves that it’s harmless fun, a bit of banter, a real-life pantomime where it’s all just a “joke”, however nasty. But for others, it becomes an irrational ‘reason’ for lasting hatred and serious violence. How much energy and passion, indeed how many lives have been wasted in such a ridiculous and thoroughly despicable way?

The Scottish Professional Football League and the Scottish Government have a dossier that may shed considerable light on the extent of sectarianism as it contains statistics covering two years of matches.

READ MORE: SPFL accused of ‘gagging’ Scottish Government on sectarianism at football

However, facing calls from MSPs to publish the figures, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told Holyrood that he was unable to do so as they had been provided on the basis that this information was “confidential” and not to be published.

He had, he said, asked the SPFL to make the document public both verbally and in writing and the league had agreed to discuss his suggestion at its next board meeting. Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur urged Yousaf to “rip up” the agreement with the SPFL, adding it was “inconceivable” that the Government had agreed to be “effectively gagged” in this way.

Having entered into an agreement, it may not be right for the Government to break it, but it is clear that the SPFL has a moral duty to allow the figures to be published.

If it does not, the suspicion will linger that Scottish football is not really interested in driving out sectarianism from our national game even though they are ashamed of the information contained in this ‘secret dossier’. The football world likes to claim bigotry is a societal problem, not a football one, but football is part of Scottish society and must play its part.

It is often said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we are to rid ourselves of this most pernicious disease, there should be no question of hiding the truth, however ugly, in the shadows.

READ MORE: Billy Connolly is right about Scottish sectarianism – leader comment