Old Firm face ‘closed door’ matches threat to beat sectarianism

Tough new powers being explored to tackle sectarianism in football could see Scottish clubs being ordered to play matches behind closed doors, it has emerged.

Councils could be handed new responsibilities to licence football stadiums under proposals which are being looked at by the Scottish Government, according to the Sunday Times.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has said "nothing is off the table" as the Scottish Government considers how to react to series of recent flashpoints in matches.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Kilmarnock manager Steve Clark recently hit out at sectarian abuse he suffered during a match with Rangers, while the Ayrshire club's striker Kris Boyd complained of abuse he endured at the hands of Celtic fans.

Police are also investigating claims of offensive chanting at last week's match between Hearts and Celtic at Tynecastle.

The new powers being looked at for councils could see them handed responsibility for public order and safety through a licencing regime. Breaches could met with range of sanctions including the possibility of playing games behind closed doors.

Mr Yousaf said: “When it comes to tackling unacceptable conduct at football, governing bodies and individual clubs must take serious measures to tackle this unacceptable behaviour.

“However, it would be foolish not to also consider what additional action could be taken and we will continue to consider the full range of options, and I will listen to ideas from across the Parliamentary Chamber, be it Strict Liability or exploring what can be done within current licensing laws, nothing is off the table.‎”

Ministers are determined to pursue a "zero tolerance" approach to offensive behaviour at football and want all organisations with an influence to bring that to bear.

Although the Scottish Government would prefer that football gets its own house in order, it is continuing to work with football clubs and authorities, as well as the police to look at what further action could be taken a "full range of options" believed to be on the table.

Last week Deputy Chief Constable at Police Scotland, Will Kerr, who spent almost 30 years in Northern Ireland, spoke of his shock at how "normal" sectarianism was at games in Scotland.

A report into policing at Scottish football, commissioned by Kerr following problems at a recent Old Firm game, will be published this week. The report by Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts looks into operational planning, intelligence gathering and resource deployment."

Labour MSP James Kelly, who was at the heart of the push to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, hinted that he could support the move.

"There is a challenge for the clubs and football authorities to come forward with constructive proposals to ensure responsible behaviour," he said.

"Previously I have not endorsed strict liability or licensing. However, if the clubs and authorities do not engage positively I would need to consider these approaches."

Liam Kerr the Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman added that giving councils new powers would have to be "considered very carefully."