Leader comment: Football exposes children to hate

The controversial Offensive Behaviour Act was introduced after an Old Firm 'shame game' in 2011.
The controversial Offensive Behaviour Act was introduced after an Old Firm 'shame game' in 2011.
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Who would take a young child to a football match? According to a new survey, more than a quarter of pupils in Scotland’s schools have witnessed offensive behaviour while watching our national sport.

According to a new survey, more than a quarter of pupils in Scotland’s schools have witnessed offensive behaviour while watching our national sport.

While it may inspire some to play the game or at least live an active life, for others it is little more than a training ground for sectarianism, racism, sexism and a host of other prejudices.

It is, perhaps, the main source of such bile in this country as one generation of bigots passes on the baton to the next. For there are few other places where such language and attitudes can be heard. The simple act of passing through a turnstile seems to make some people feel entitled to spout hatred, safe in the knowledge that any retribution is unlikely.

The intentions that led to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act are to be applauded. Introduced in 2011 following the Old Firm “shame game”, its proponents doubtless hoped the mere threat of legal action would calm people down.

Six years on, it may be time to accept this was a vain hope and that the legislation has failed to have the desired effect. However, the attempt by Labour MSP James Kelly to repeal the law – currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament – goes too far. It may be flawed, but abandoning all efforts to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches would be a mistake, as this survey clearly shows.

The Act must either be reformed or replaced by a more viable alternative.

There is an element of pantomime in the chants on the terraces. The other team are, in part, there to be booed, ridiculed and belittled. It is part of the game. But there is a crystal clear line between acceptable banter and outright bigotry that is crossed all too often on a Saturday afternoon.

The culprits complain that their “free speech” is being compromised, but any idea that there is a right to publicly incite hatred against a minority or any other group has long gone.

It is a tough issue to tackle, but the clubs should do more. The abuse heard in the stands is one reason why some parents decide not to take their children to games. It’s too much for many adults.

So, in addition to perpetuating a sectarian culture, it is bad for the beautiful game.