Thousands back repeal of Offensive Behaviour at Football act

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Thousands of people have backed a Labour MSP's proposals to scrap laws aimed at tackling sectarianism in football.

The consultation on James Kelly’s Members’ Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act attracted 3,248 responses.

Over 70% back repeal of the legislation covering offensive behaviour at football matches, while more than 60% of respondents also back the repeal of laws governing threatening communications.

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The Act, which came into force in 2012, criminalised offensive and threatening behaviour, including sectarian behaviour, related to football matches and any communications containing threats or incitement to religious hatred.

The SNP used its majority in the last Scottish Parliament to pass it, despite a lack of opposition support.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens all back its repeal.

Critics say the Act is flawed and has damaged trust between police and football fans.

Mr Kelly said his consultation has had the most “unique responses” in Holyrood history, with thousands of individuals having their say.

“The people have had their say, it’s time to scrap the SNP Football Act,” he said.

“The SNP were arrogant to bulldoze this piece of legislation through Holyrood in the first place. Every other party opposed it.

“Academics, lawyers, football clubs and football fans opposed it, yet the SNP wouldn’t listen and used their then majority in the Scottish Parliament to rail-road the Football Act through.

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“Having lost that majority, and faced with clear public support for repeal through the consultation process, it would be incredibly arrogant if the SNP do not now think again.

“I will take the next steps in the legislative process. The SNP should consider dropping their support for this bad law, and backing my Bill.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland continues to have a problem with abusive behaviour at football games which tarnishes our national game.

“A hardcore minority is souring the atmosphere for the majority of football supporters and critics of the Act seem to think our only option is just to accept this contempt for fans and players.

“Not one viable alternative to dealing with the unacceptable scenes of violence and abuse we continue to see at matches has been put forward in the entire debate around this law.

“This is not just about sectarianism or language that can be challenged by education programmes - two-thirds of charges under the law in 2015/16 were for threatening behaviour, including physical violence.

“After two full football seasons of the Act being in place, an independent evaluation found that the clear majority of fans condemn abusive behaviour towards people’s religious beliefs.”