Scrapping Offensive Behaviour law ‘sent out wrong signal’ to Scottish football fans

Mr Dornan said the vote in Holyrood in May last year to scrap the law suggested the issue of unacceptable fan behaviour is not being taken seriously
Mr Dornan said the vote in Holyrood in May last year to scrap the law suggested the issue of unacceptable fan behaviour is not being taken seriously
Share this article
Have your say

The decision to repeal Scotland’s Offensive Behaviour at Football Act sent out the wrong signal to fans, according to an MSP.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the SNP’s James Dornan said lifting the legislation had led to an increase in the number of incidents.

On Wednesday, Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke was the target of sectarian abuse during his team’s match against Rangers at Ibrox. In his post-match press conference, he suggested fans in Scotland are living “in the dark ages”.

On Sunday, sectarian songs were directed towards Kris Boyd during Kilmarnock’s match against Celtic at Rugby Park, with a coin also thrown towards the Kilmarnock striker - the latest in a string of similar incidents this season.

Mr Dornan said the vote, by 62 to 60, in Holyrood in May last year to scrap the law suggested the issue of unacceptable fan behaviour is not being taken seriously.

“I do think that we sent out the wrong signal when we repealed the Act,” said Mr Dornan.

“I think it’s quite clear that football fans feel more enabled to sing their songs, there’s more invasions of pitches, we’ve seen more coin throwing, we’ve seen all sorts of behaviours seem to increase over the last couple of years.

“The Act was by no means perfect, but I think that by repealing it we sent out a signal that we don’t take this seriously and to be honest, the football authorities and the two big clubs (Celtic and Rangers) do not take it seriously enough as far as I’m concerned.

“It’s a football issue and a society issue and football has to deal with it.”

All four opposition parties at the Scottish Parliament had argued against the legislation, claiming it unfairly targeted football fans and failed to tackle the problem.

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly described the legislation as a “botched attempt” to tackle the issue of bigotry and intolerance.

“It didn’t work and it was right to appeal it because it targeted football fans,” said Mr Kelly.

“I think there’s an onus on all of us, politicians and wider society, to tackle this issue.

“This issue was with us before the Act, it was there during that and it’s still here now. I don’t agree that in some way it’s increased because of the repeal of the Act.

“We need people working together to look at how we tackle it in wider society, we need to condemn in absolute terms all instances of bigotry and intolerance and the clubs do need to do more, and there’s an onus on them to do that immediately.

“They need to come out and say what they’re going to do around tackling issues of hatred.”

Rangers issued a statement on Thursday condemning the abuse targeting Clarke and saying the club will work towards tackling the issue.

It read: “Rangers Football Club wishes to make it clear unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated at Ibrox. Everything possible will continue to be done to eradicate this kind of behaviour.”

A statement by the Scottish FA said the body “condemns in the strongest possible terms the spate of incidents this season involving unacceptable conduct”.

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: “We have witnessed match officials and players hit by coins, sectarian singing at matches and abusive and threatening behaviour towards match officials, players, managers and coaching staff.

“Football has a responsibility to take action. We must do all that we can under our current rules and engage with clubs to seek to eradicate such behaviour.

“This issue, however, is not one that football can solve on its own.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government confirmed on Thursday it has spoken with the Scottish FA and Rangers regarding the matter of fan behaviour.

She said: “There is no place for any kind of prejudice in Scotland and we are committed to tackling all forms of discrimination. This is why we have committed to maintaining funding to deliver work to tackle sectarianism.

“The vast majority of football supporters are well-behaved, however there is still a problem and we must never lose sight of the collective need across society to have a zero-tolerance approach on offensive behaviour.

“We have discussed this with the Scottish FA and Rangers and will continue to discuss with them, and others, what further action can be taken to address this issue as there continue to be problems with unacceptable conduct in Scottish football, highlighted by a number of recent incidents.

“There needs to be stronger action by football clubs to tackle this vile cancer still plaguing our society and beautiful game.”