The SFA must adopt UEFA's Strict Liability rules, given the imminent repeal of the OBFA.
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I’m sure that I, as with many others, were disappointed with the vote to repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication Act 2012 (OBFA). I, personally, agreed with many MSPs in the chamber when they articulated what they felt were the failings of the act; however, that doesn’t excuse the message that this sends out to those who are habitually targeted by sectarian behaviour at Scottish football match days.
As a result, the repeal of the act sends the message (however inadvertent) that sectarian abuse is considered okay.
The Scottish public have been relatively clear on the issue. Properly sampled and weighted polls conducted by PanelBase (14% believe it should be abolished: May 2015) and YouGov (12.4% tend to oppose: June 2015) have shown clear support for the law, and this is despite media coverage and political commentary from inside Holyrood’s chamber that argues to the contrary. The public seems less interested in the technical minutiae of implementation or conviction rate, as is only obvious, but is singularly clear in that it supports a law it believes to exist to combat sectarianism in Scottish football.
It’s worth noting that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, broached the subject of UEFA’s Strict Liability with the Scottish Football Association less than three years ago. I, and the signatories of this petition, believe that this is the route parliament must now pursue in lieu of the OBFA, particularly given that the Scottish Government has a financial stake in Scottish football. Several millions of pounds have been invested in Scottish grassroots organisations, money paid for by a public that overwhelmingly supports the combating of sectarianism on a match day.
To that end, there can be no excuse for the Scottish Government failing to act.
Scotland’s primary anti-sectarian charity, Nil By Mouth, has been campaigning for Strict Liability since 2013, it has been brought up as a private members bill by James Dornan MSP, and Strict Liability is already in place south of the border (since 2014) where English football has done a lot to combat its past of hooliganism. In simple terms, Strict Liability holds clubs responsible for the behaviour of their fans and uses a scale of punishments that can be tailored to fit the offence. The Netherlands has its example in Feyenoord, following crowd disturbances before and after a fixture in France, but Scotland has its close-to-home example in Rangers football club being disciplined for its fans behaviour in Eindhoven.
I do, however, accept that this has been put to Scottish clubs before – and that they’ve voted against it. The argument is typically that clubs shouldn’t be held responsible for something they’ve no control over, or that it’s a system that “doesn’t work”. Both arguments are, however, unintelligible. The SFA has a range of sanctions it can employ given the offence, and can take into account the efforts of the club in combating the incident that occurred. Equally, arguing that a system doesn’t work when there are obvious examples where it DOES work, betrays an ulterior desire to see the legislation blocked.
But it can no longer be left to the SFA, an organisation that is arguably at an all-time low with supporter trust.
It must now be the Scottish government’s responsibility to deny the SFA public money if it refuses to employ a policy that said public supports. Additionally, it can no longer use the OBFA as a counter-example because parliament has just recommended its repeal.
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