Female football supporters have challenged a women’s organisation over its stance on a law to tackle sectarianism and online abuse.
Campaigners have urged the Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) to withdraw their submission to a Holyrood committee considering whether the legislation should be repealed.
SWC opposes a bid by Labour’s James Kelly to repeal the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.
In its submission, the convention said “sectarian abuse that can be spouted specifically at women prior to and after football games is extremely discriminatory and should be viewed as reprehensible”.
It continued: “Women have reported being groped, physically assaulted or even threatened with rape all because they support a particular team. This is unacceptable violence against women.”
Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, the convention’s development assistant Debbie Figures said the legislation offered extra protection to women.
But she acknowledged that as the result of a campaign over the weekend, the organisation had received 40 emails from women “asking us to take back our evidence to this session”.
The evidence for the convention’s submission had previously been questioned by Jeanette Findlay, from the campaign group Fans Against Criminalisation, which vehemently opposes the Act.
Ms Figures told the committee that SWC had held round table discussions on the repeal of the legislation with around 60 women, in addition to hearing views at roadshows and conferences around the country.
She said: “Women are not protected by hate crime, it’s not part of the hate crime legislation and we feel breach of the peace for things like rape threats and sexual harassment when football games are on is unacceptable. So that’s where we’re coming from with our evidence.”
Ms Figures acknowledged that she personally did not attend football matches but added: “We can only take the voices of the women that attend our events, which are in their hundreds. We are a very small organisation but we do cover a Scotland-wide spread.
“They have felt increasingly terrified and scared about particularly public transport and public places like pubs when football games are on. They’ve given us evidence on that and our evidence does contain the quotes directly from women.”
She added: “Every woman’s voice is important to us hence why I did bring up the 40 women who had contacted us over the weekend.
“We wouldn’t ignore the fact that there’s been a campaign over the weekend to contact us, but we do say that the women who turned up to our events in their numbers have said what is included in our consultation response.”
The committee later heard from Stewart Regan, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, and Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League.
SNP MSP Fulton McGregor said evidence from the SWC and others suggested the legislation was making some people feel safer when attending football matches.
He asked if its repeal could make the game less accessible to some groups.
Mr Regan said “perception is not reality”, arguing that a hate crime review being conducted by Judge Lord Bracadale could consider these sorts of issues alongside any potential gaps in the law left by repealing the Act.
“None of us would want to get to a position where fans don’t feel safe, but clearly if part of this Act is not being used, if the police themselves are challenging the ability for it to be implemented, then I think it does need addressing,” he added.
“I believe that perhaps the way to deal with that is to let the hate crime review play out, let’s see what comes of that, and then decide whether or not the Act can be repealed.”
Both Mr Regan and Mr Doncaster raised concerns over fans’ views of the legislation.
“I think there is no doubt that as a result of the Act some fans groups feel demonised,” Mr Doncaster said.