Ministers criticised over football sectarianism

Graeme Pearson says concrete steps need to be taken. Picture: David Moir
Graeme Pearson says concrete steps need to be taken. Picture: David Moir
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MINISTERS have been accused by campaigners of not taking a tough line against football’s “persistent failure” to tackle sectarianism.

A Scottish Government response to its own advisory group does not promise direct action on any of seven recommendations made.

It says they are “for football governing bodies to take forward”, although it has written to Scotland’s football leaders asking for their responses.

But Nil By Mouth, the anti-sectarianism charity, said ministers needed to do more, particularly when so much public money is directed into football through Cashback for Communities.

Dave Scott, campaign director, said: “Whilst there are welcome elements to this response, it offers little practical in respect of football.

“Government pumps millions of pounds into the sport and needs to take a much tougher line on the game’s governing bodies’ persistent failure to properly confront this issue. We’ve gone beyond words and photocalls. We need action.

“Uefa have taken a firm line in this area and if the government is serious about changing attitudes in the game, they need to follow Uefa’s example rather than the SFA’s.”

While sectarianism in Scotland goes way beyond football, about a third of arrests are related to the sport.

The advisory group suggested seven other tactics for organisations like the Scottish Football Association (SFA), the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and the clubs. They include to “financially support work to tackle sectarianism through grassroots” and advising coaches on tackling behaviour.

The group, led by Dr Duncan Morrow, also wants the governing bodies to introduce “a system of penalties for football clubs where sectarianism persists” and to support police investigations of criminal behaviour.

The SFA tried to introduce “strict liability” where clubs would be punished for their fans’ unacceptable behaviour, but just five out of 93 teams backed the move last summer. Despite this, the SFA insists it is doing all it can to tackle bigotry.

An SFA spokesman said: “We are a committed supporter of ‘Show Bigotry the Red Card’ and are against any form of sectarian discrimination or other forms of unacceptable behaviour.”

A spokesman for the SPFL added: “We are absolutely committed to playing our part – working with government, other football authorities, clubs and partners – in helping to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.

“However, we do believe that sectarianism is a wider challenge for Scottish society, not just for football.”

Politicians agreed with Nil By Mouth that the Scottish Government should do more.

Graeme Pearson, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: “We need to see concrete steps being taken by football clubs and authorities to further eradicate the scourge of sectarianism from our national game.”

He also raised concerns that the Scottish Government, in its response published yesterday, appeared to hint at a future cut in funding for projects.

The government is currently spending £9 million over three years on projects, and has just announced a further £861,558, including £402,740 for the Citizen’s Theatre to host plays and workshops in North Lanarkshire primary schools.