Scottish Government
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Offensive behaviour at football

The status quo which allows poisonous songs of hatred to be sung at Scottish football matches has gone unchallenged for too long and cannot be allowed to continue, the Minister for Community Safety Roseanna Cunningham said yesterday.

The Minister was speaking as the Scottish Government published its response to a Justice Committee report on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill.

The Minister reiterated that the vast majority of football fans at all clubs have nothing to fear from the new laws but said that the bigoted minority who continue to sing offensive sectarian hatred in the name of football and who cause the public disorder which follows it should not be allowed to shame Scotland any longer.

Ms Cunningham said:

"The Government welcomes the Justice Committee's conclusion that sectarianism is a blight which must be eradicated from Scottish football, and we must remember why we are acting.

"Songs are being sung at football matches in Scotland which have nothing to do with football and everything to do with hatred, violence and bigotry.

"Bombs have been sent through the post to individuals because of their links to particular football clubs. And death threats against a football manager posted on the internet.

"The police and the Lord Advocate, the most senior law officer in Scotland, have asked for better tools to do their difficult job.

"The issues we seek to address did not just emerge in the last football season. The status quo which allows poisonous songs of hatred to be sung at Scottish football matches or threats of serious harm to be posted on the internet has gone unchallenged for too long and cannot be allowed to continue. It is time to extract the poisonous hatred from Scottish football.

"Banter and passionate support for football teams, even passionate opposition to other football teams, is the lifeblood of football - sectarianism and other expressions of hate are not.

"The critics need to ask themselves - are sectarian or racist or homophobic songs or songs glorifying terrorism, just part of football? Just banter? No, they are songs of hate and they have no place in a modern Scotland. Should faceless bigots be able to hide behind a computer screen peddling threats and hatred on the internet? No. This Bill sends that message loud and clear.

"The well-behaved fans of all clubs, who are the vast majority, have nothing to fear from a Bill which will make Scottish football and society better. This comes down to a choice. You can either do nothing and allow the status quo which allows the mindless bigot to thrive or we can take the strong action needed now and send out a message that this behaviour is not going to be tolerated any longer.

"As the Bill now moves through stages 2 and 3 - and addresses the key gaps in existing law, as identified by the Lord Advocate and the police - we trust that as a parliament and a society we can move forward together."

A recent poll carried out by TNS-BMRB revealed that 91 per cent of Scots back stronger action to tackle sectarianism in Scottish football.

The proposed new laws seek to create two new distinct offences:

  • The first offence targets any sectarian and threatening behaviour expressed at and around football matches which is likely to cause public disorder.
  • The second offence relates to the communication of threats of serious harm or which are intended to stir up religious hatred on the internet or other communications.

They will give the police and the courts vital additional powers to deal with the minority of people who tarnish the image of Scotland through their expressions of hatred and bigotry at and around football. And those who peddle threats and hatred on the internet.

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