Tackle sectarian abuse by docking points says Margo

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SCOTLAND’S football authorities were today urged to dock points from clubs if their fans indulge in sectarian abuse – because it would be more effective than a new law.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said tough action against the clubs was the best way to tackle the problem of offensive behaviour.

She said she would be pressing for the Scottish Government to get the Scottish Football Association, Scottish Premier League and clubs round the table to discuss the move. The SNP’s legislation aimed at tackling offensive behaviour at football matches – which would mean up to five years’ imprisonment for inciting religious, racial or other forms of hatred in and around football grounds or on the internet – passed its latest hurdle in the Scottish Parliament earlier this week.

Ms MacDonald said she feared the new law would be a waste of time.

She said: “I support the sensible suggestion that the clubs should bear the burden of disciplining their supporters.

“Take points from them. That costs them their place in the league, it costs them money, it will mean they have to sell their best players.

“That’s the most effective method to end the bad behaviour, hooliganism, the chants which are offensive.”

Edinburgh Western SNP MSP Colin Keir supports the government’s legislation, but he too believes clubs have to face the threat of points being deducted.

He said: “We can legislate all we like, but the football authorities have got to get their house in order as well.

“Offensive behaviour at football matches has been around for decades, and yet the SFA has failed to use its power and take decisive action.

“Nothing would make supporters stop being bigoted in the arena more than the thought of their club being docked some points.

“The truth is that Scottish football authorities have been cowardly in dealing with sectarianism in clubs, though I’m hopeful that this will change.

“If the clubs were told ‘Your supporters have been offensive and abusive, we’re going to dock you 20 points’, how quickly do you think these supporters would get the message this was going to affect their team?

“If we’re going to get to the stage where mums and dads can take their kids along to a game without fear of being verbally abused, the football authorities have got to say ‘These are the rules, you play by them or we punish you’.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Football Association said the footballing joint action group – which brings together, government, police, football authorities, Celtic and Rangers – had agreed there should be a code of conduct to deal with all forms of unacceptable behaviour, which it was hoped would be agreed by the start of next season.

“We have agreed to provide a code of conduct which will map out exactly the kind of behaviour we would like to see inside a football ground.”

But he said it was too early to talk about possible punishments.

He said: “We need to define what’s right and wrong first. If there is unacceptable behaviour we have to deal with that from a footballing perspective.”

An SPL spokesperson added: “The SPL is a committed member of the joint action group and will continue to work with members on the 41 action points in the report and review appropriate ways of tackling unacceptable conduct.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com

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