NEIL Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, yesterday denounced in the strongest terms the anti-Catholic singing heard from some Rangers supporters at Raith Rovers on Friday, while at the same time effectively saying the Ibrox club had no case to answer.
The impotence of the game’s governing bodies to impose sanctions for sectarian chanting has increased calls for Scotland to adopt Uefa’s strict liability rule, which makes clubs responsible for their supporters actions without caveats.
This contrasts directly with the SPFL policy of sparing clubs punishment for their fans’ actions as long as they have followed a number of protocols.
Anti-sectarian campaigners Nil By Mouth last night called on the Scottish game to “drag” itself into the 21st century by adopting strict liability – which they refused to do in 2013 despite a proposal by the Scottish Football Association. The subsequent vote ended with 95 per cent of the clubs refusing to back the change.
The issue has become a major talking point because of the songbook being aired by some Rangers supporters in recent weeks. At Kirkcaldy on Friday, songs heard included No Pope of Rome and the Billy Boys–- which includes the line “up to our knees in Fenian blood” which in 2006 Uefa stated represented a “social problem” in Scotland because it had been tolerated. There was also sectarian chanting at the League Cup semi-final against Celtic three weeks ago and the SPFL then stated they would take no action.
Doncaster yesterday accused a section of the Ibrox support of dragging Scottish football’s reputation through the mud but concluded the problem could only be tackled by police intervention and a form of self-policing.
The SPFL chief executive said: “It remains the SPFL’s position that if it can be established that clubs have done everything required in overall management of the event pre-match, during the game and post-match then they have no case to answer,” Doncaster said, adding that he expects to see the report from SPFL match delegate Tom Purdie on the events at Stark’s Park within the next 48 hours.
“But setting that aside, the vast majority of decent fans will share a strong degree of anger and despair that the good name of Scottish football is once again being dragged through the mud by the distasteful, shameful and selfish actions of a mindless minority who seem hell bent on indulging in outdated and offensive behaviour. I know that clubs, players and many others across the game share this frustration. While we can’t comment further until we review the match delegate report, we will work with our clubs and the police to do everything within our powers to act against those involved in such unacceptable conduct and behaviour. However ultimately we also need the supporters to play their part to help stamp out such behaviour.”
Uefa, through the preciseness of its disciplinary code that is underpinned by strict liability – which has now been adopted in England – can deal with any non-football expressions on their own merits. In Europe clubs may be subject to disciplinary measures if supporters are found to have used “gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature”.
Celtic have fallen foul of the “political gestures” indiscretion, on at least two occasions in recent years, amassing a number of fines for various infractions. The zero tolerance approach is long overdue in Scotland, according to Nil By Mouth campaigner Dave Scott, who stated yesterday that the group are now going to redouble their efforts to bring about the necessary change to tackle the sectarian issues that have reared up around Rangers in recent times.
“We have been calling for a number of years for Uefa’s strict liability principles to be introduced into Scottish football,” said Scott. “We are writing to all SPFL clubs calling on them to bring the proposals back to their AGM in May and vote in favour of it. Sectarianism has been a stain on Scottish football for too long and there are moral, economic and sporting reasons for taking this course of action. Our calls also mirror recommendations made by Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Sectarianism which called on the game to introduce European style sanctions. The English FA introduced strict liability last year showing it can be done and we need to follow its example here in Scotland. By voting in favour of these proposals Scottish football has a chance to stand up to be counted and bring the game into the 21st century.”
Meanwhile, Rangers said in a statement they have consistently pursued measures to more than simply comply with the SPFL’s action plan to discourage fans from indulging in inappropriate behaviour. Among the guidelines issued to clubs include prominent displays of signs around stadiums, messages on website and matchday programmes, and action to ban fans who behave offensively.
Rangers maintained yesterday they go to great lengths. “The club’s position on anti-social behaviour is abundantly clear,” the statement said. “The club is committed to eradicating all forms of inappropriate behaviour and continues to work tirelessly via the club’s Follow with Pride campaign and supports all initiatives aimed at tackling this problem. At every pre-match operations meeting prior to home and away games unacceptable conduct is included on the agenda, drawing the attention of the Police and stewards to the need to deal with this matter robustly. The club has a number of specific initiatives which tackle sectarianism more directly, including Follow with Pride, Rangers FC’s own comprehensive anti-sectarian initiative, the Old Firm Alliance Programme, Sense Over Sectarianism – [a] joint partnership with Celtic, the Churches, Nil By Mouth and Glasgow City Council – and ongoing support for Show Racism the Red Card.
“Rangers Education delivers a programme called ‘Rise together’ in partnership with North Glasgow housing and Exchange Scotland. The programme brings primary schools from the North and south of the city together discussing topics such as sectarianism, racism, immigration and equality. We will assist Police Scotland with their enquiries following the Raith Rovers game. If we are notified of an arrest the club will issue a ban.”
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