Humza Yousaf: Scottish football clubs must tackle ‘vile cancer’ of sectarianism

Scottish football clubs have been warned again that they face the introduction of strict liability laws if they fail to stamp out sectarianism and violent behaviour.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs today that if clubs did not “step up”, the government “firmly reserves the right to act to rid this vile cancer from our national game.”

He said the government was already investigating a range of options and added: “It is for football authorities to step up to their responsibilities and frankly they have not done that thus far. It is for them to step up. If they do not, we will consider a full range of options from strict liability to football stadium licensing.”

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Humza Yousaf. Picture: Michael GillenHumza Yousaf. Picture: Michael Gillen
Humza Yousaf. Picture: Michael Gillen
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Under strict liability rules, a club is held responsible for the conduct of its fans. Sanctions include fines, annulment of a match result, the closure of sections of grounds or playing matches behind closed doors.

Clubs are already ruled by strict liability when competing in European competitions but not in the domestic game. Scottish Professional Football League members voting overwhelmingly against such a proposal in 2013.

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But concern is growing that violent conduct, linked to sectarianism, is on the rise in football grounds. Saturday’s Scottish Cup match between Celtic and Hibernian saw a glass bottle thrown at Celtic forward Scott Sinclair and last week footage showed an object almost hitting Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal during the game against Celtic.

Last month Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd criticised Celtic fans after being hit by a coin and subjected to sectarian abuse and Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke also recently highlighted the abuse he received from Rangers fans.

A review of policing at football matches in Scotland, led by South Yorkshire deputy chief constable Mark Roberts, is due to be published tomorrow.

Mr Yousaf’s warning came after he was asked by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur what new measures the government was considering to address sectarianism and violent behaviour associated with football.

Mr McArthur said: I believe the vast majority of supporters are also frustrated that a small minority are bringing our game into disrepute and are frustrated at the lack of action from the football authorities and clubs.”

Mr Yousaf added: “Scottish PFA chairman Fraser Wishart said, and I quote,‘the football pitch is a clear place of work. It’s not unreasonable for a player, like any other employee to be able to work in the knowledge that is a safe environment’.

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“I will carefully consider the Police Scotland report tomorrow and I will be open to suggestions from across the chamber as to how we address this issue.”