Sectarianism targeted as Holyrood committee backs Offensive Behaviour Bill

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By a Newsnet reporter

The Holyrood justice committee has backed new legislation that seeks to address sectarianism in Scottish football.

The cross party committee voted in favour of the Bill by five votes to four, the vote came on the same day that Labour performed a U-turn by withdrawing their support for the Scottish government’s proposals.

The Bill is the result of an outcry after violent scenes at games involving the old firm last year.  Celtic manager Neil Lennon was subjected to a hate campaign that allegedly saw bullets and other devices being sent through the post.  Mr Lennon was also the victim of a high profile touchline attack after a Hearts fan leapt from his seat and launched himself at the Celtic manager.

The committee also voiced its support for “efforts to prevent harmful and inflammatory communications online and in other types of new media” as they called on all parties to play their part in backing the Offensive Behaviour legislation.

There was criticism for Scotland’s football authorities with the committee demanding they put their house in order and determine who has responsibility for disciplinary issues concerning supporters of football clubs.

The SFA and the SPL were attacked for allowing the problem to “drift” for years and for failing to take firm action which the committee said may have prevented the current situation.

Rangers football club have already seen their fans banned from European matches after Europe’s governing body Uefa found the club’s supporters guilty of sectarian chanting.  Investigations are currently underway after claims of sectarian chanting at the recent Hearts versus Celtic match.

SNP MSPs John Finnie and Humza Yousaf welcomed the Justice Committee’s recognition that there are “lasting problems surrounding offensive behaviour in Scottish football that need to be dealt with”.

Speaking after the publication of the report Mr Finnie, a former police officer, said:

“This report and the vast majority of evidence to the committee recognises the need to take action to deal with offensive behaviour around football and to introduce this legislation.

“We cannot tolerate a situation where offensive behaviour that could incite public disorder is able to continue and we can no longer accept a situation where the football authorities shift responsibility for the behaviour of football fans.

“The police want action, the prosecutors want action and 91% of the Scottish public want to see action taken against offensive behaviour at football matches.  Those politicians who want to oppose this vital step have a serious responsibility to explain why.”

Fellow committee member Humza Yousaf MSP said:

“The Committee has recommended some changes to the bill and the Government has already made clear that it will pay close attention to the Committee’s recommendations.”

“However this report also shows those parties who are shouting loudly about their opposition to the bill didn’t try to make a single change to it.”

“It is now for those opposition members who do not want to see action taken to explain why we should do nothing or to put forward their own proposals to seriously tackle the problems Scotland faces.”