SFA chief Neil Doncaster defends clubs and league over disorder and sectarianism

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, left, Sir Boyd Tunnock and Billy Dodds at the Challenge Cup draw. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, left, Sir Boyd Tunnock and Billy Dodds at the Challenge Cup draw. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, has rejected claims from justice secretary Humza Yousaf that some clubs are resistant to the introduction of tougher measures to deal with unacceptable conduct.

Yousaf has been critical of the response to Scottish Government efforts to impose stricter sanctions for those found guilty of crowd disorder or sectarian chanting at SPFL grounds next season.

Scottish clubs have been consistently opposed to the adoption of a Uefa-style strict liability system which would hold them wholly responsible for any supporter-related offences within their own stadia.

Yousaf, pictured inset, wants greater deterrents put in place for the 2019-20 campaign after a string of high profile incidents last season. He is considering giving local councils greater licensing powers which would allow them to enforce full or partial stadium closures, suggesting this week that some clubs are not taking the issue seriously enough.

The SPFL has also been criticised for insisting the full details of sectarian incidents and crowd disorder, as reported by official match delegates, should remain confidential.

But Doncaster says the SPFL board will consider Yousaf’s request to make that information available to the public and insists there is genuine willingness among clubs to clamp down on unacceptable conduct.

“We had a really good conversation with Humza Yousaf last week which was very positive and very constructive,” said Doncaster.

“He has made a request on the phone that we open up for publication the information we hold on unacceptable conduct, we’re happy to take that request back to the SPFL board. It was felt when we put that agreement in place with the Scottish Government and Humza Yousaf’s predecessor that it was important that the information remained confidential for fear of it being misused or misinterpreted. But we are happy to take that request back. It’s important that we have a good working relationship with the Scottish Government because we all working together with the same aim. Ourselves, our clubs, the Scottish FA, Police Scotland, the Scottish Government – we all have an influence in eradicating the occasions of unacceptable conduct when it occurs.

“We all recognise that it’s a societal issue. Wherever you get 60,000 or more people coming together you are going to have some incidents of bad behaviour, that’s whether it’s a sports event or a music event or whatever it may be. What’s important is that clubs take action against those small numbers who engage in unacceptable conduct and we support the very strongest action being taken.

“I don’t see resistance at all. I see a huge degree of co-operation between ourselves, Police Scotland, the Scottish Government, the Scottish FA and our member clubs. If you look back to last season there were a number of high-profile incidents which took place, one of which was south of the border, the Jack Grealish incident at the Birmingham derby, but a small number north of the border too.

“Those have clearly given a prominence and a profile to unacceptable conduct. We understand that and we will continue to work with the cabinet secretary to ensure that our clubs continue to take the strongest possible action against those who engage in unacceptable conduct.

“Individual clubs have obviously got their own responsibilities to ensure they identify those who do engage in unacceptable conduct and we’ve seen quite a lot of investment from different clubs across Scotland in upgrading the systems and ensuring that for those people who choose to misbehave in a Scottish football stadium that they are identified they are caught and they are given bans.

“The request from the cabinet secretary to publish the information will be brought to our next board meeting.

“We had our last board meeting of last season around ten days ago and the next board meeting will take place after our new board has been appointed. That board will 
be appointed at our agm on 
22 July when the clubs elect their representatives and we will set the new board’s schedule for the new season at that point.”

Doncaster was speaking at the launch of Tunnock’s sponsorship of the Challenge Cup. The Uddingston-based bakery replace Irn-Bru, signing an initial one-year agreement which will see the tournament named The Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup for the coming season.

Clubs from Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and the English National League will again participate, entering at the third round stage. Despite some criticism of their involvement, Doncaster believes it has given the tournament fresh impetus and could be a trailblazer for other cross-border competitions across Europe. “I’d like to pay tribute to all of our clubs who embraced some fairly radical changes, bringing in overseas teams and colt teams to a competition that had lost some of its shine,” said 
Doncaster.

“We have seen the competition reinvigorated as a result of those changes the clubs embraced. The result is some really good coverage in the media in terms of TV broadcasters coming on board and also the sponsors.

“To have Irn-Bru and now Tunnock’s come on board says a great deal. There is no question in my mind over the medium to longer term that cross border competitions will feature across Europe. We are aware of certain senior leagues in Europe exploring the idea of cross-border competition at the top level so it is without a doubt the future. To have our own cross-border competition, endorsed by Uefa and within the British Isles undoubtedly puts us in a much better position than we would have been without it.”