Strict Liability not the OBFA is the Answer

scottishfootballFootball has dominated the headlines this week with events at last Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final once again fuelling a degree of public debate on how the sport deals with the anti-social behaviour it can generate.

I say a degree because, as always seems the case in Scottish football, there is much more heat than light in the round of recriminations, finger pointing and playing of the blame game we have witnessed this past week. Indeed, if Scotland’s players passed the ball as well as its clubs, fans and officials passed the buck perhaps we’d be enjoying the European Championships from the stadiums of France rather than the comforts of our armchairs.

Now I should state at the outset I believe the majority of Scottish fans of all clubs are decent people. I’m not writing this because I hate the game, the fans or any club. I’m writing this because I want to see Scottish Football made accountable to these very people.

If the scenes witnessed on Saturday had taken place in a pub with staff being assaulted, bouts of sectarian chanting breaking out and violence taking place on the doorstep the licensee would be hauled before the licensing committee and face serious sanctions. Football has no such problem as it seems to be only accountable to itself despite the tens of millions of pounds of public money which have been pumped into it over recent years.

Part of the problem is the perception that the Scottish game doesn’t do enough to tackle its demons and this was reinforced back in June 2013 when Scottish clubs voted overwhelmingly against implementing UEFA’s ‘Strict Liability’ principles without any real public debate or, more importantly, any fan involvement in the decision making process.

‘Strict liability’ is UEFA’s standard for fan behaviour and can see sanctions imposed, such as fines, points deductions or closing sections of a ground where offensive behaviour or crowd disorder has taken place. It has been used to great effect in European matches and over the last decade this has included fines for Scottish teams in European competition. In possibly the most serious sanction imposed under the principles, CSKA Moscow, having seen fans charged with racist behavior on three separate occasions during 2014, were forced to play three Champions League games behind closed doors and were banned from selling tickets for away fixtures.

No one is advocating that, in Scotland, we should simply leap into a round of ground closures but Strict Liability provides a clear framework for reporting and dealing with instances of disorder and offensive fan behavior including sectarianism and racism. Something you’ll struggle to find in the nearly two-hundred-page SFA rulebook.

Over the last few years we have been campaigning for ‘Strict Liability’ to be introduced into the Scottish game. Sadly, clubs have been running in the other direction and offer up, un-costed and unworkable ideas such as ‘facial recognition’ rather than embrace UEFA’s standards.

Strict Liability would not replace the law of the land; those who carried out cowardly assaults on Saturday would face the full legal consequences. Nor will it be a ‘magic bullet’ to solve all the problems. What it will do is provide a positive direction of travel for the game in terms of tackling anti-social behaviour and a framework to support or punish clubs as required. By introducing it the game has the chance to stand up and be counted and give encouragement and a voice to the thousands of real fans who turn up to support their teams.

Nil by Mouth aren’t alone in calling for this change in thinking. Last year, the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Sectarianism published its report and made a number of recommendations for Scottish football to implement to create change in this area. These included implementing European-style sanctions. Over a year has passed and this report appears to be gathering dust on a Hampden shelf.

Given the millions of pounds of public money pumped into the game politicians should not be slow to make football honour its responsibilities in the debate which lies ahead on the future of the Offensive Behavior at Football Act. If Scottish football continues to forfeit on its moral obligations Holyrood should establish a panel, independent from the game and modelled on UEFA tribunals, to hear cases brought under strict liability with the power to force sanctions.

Indeed, we need only look over Hadrian’s Wall for encouragement: in 2014 the English FA successfully implemented Strict Liability after consultation with campaigners, clubs and fans. There is no reason the Scottish game cannot follow this example.

So if you are one of the vast majority of decent fans who are sick and tired of seeing your game being dragged through the mud drop your club secretary an e-mail asking them to ballot season ticket holders on whether or not they support ‘Strict Liability’. Or e-mail all eight of the MSPs who represent your constituency and region asking them if they will ensure that ‘Strict Liability’ is properly debated and considered during the debate on the OBFA.

Because no longer can we allow football to pick and choose the issues it wants to have a conscience on.

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  1. Doug says:

    “No one is advocating that, in Scotland, we should simply leap into a round of ground closure” in what world is no one advocating this? I’d advocate its imposition immediately.

  2. John says:

    Maybe we could get all SFA and Football Club committee members before a select committee in Holyrood to explain why they are so much against Strict Liability . The questioning would have to be done by non partisan members of the Parliament , they would have to be well chosen MSP’s with no axe to grind . Football is Scotland’s shame , no one wants to tackle the mayhem it causes , (although the Snp are trying ) . Why is that , who does it serve , it must serve someone . If it is to keep the religious divide going they are doing a great job .

    1. Jo says:

      “The questioning would have to be done by non partisan members of the Parliament ,”

      Good luck with that!

  3. JamesMac says:

    Is the problem not that the SFA refused to sort out sectarianism? I don’t know why anyone has faith in the organisation now.

    1. John says:

      I would say sectarianism is a huge percentage of the problem , the SFA and the clubs know that it is . They have known this for decades , why are they not prepared to do anything about it , is the divide a big money maker for them . Maybe they see it as not their problem and it is a society problem and they just exploit it .

  4. Andymac says:

    Football is a game played by numpties who can do nothing else and watched/supported by morons. It’s the ideal milieu for generating sectarianism and violence. I’m fed up to the back teeth hearing and reading about it as if it was of any importance – it isn’t: it’s an escapist fantasy for dolts who have f*** all else in their narrow lives. I don’t doubt my view will scandalise/antagonise many. That will prove my point. It’s an overrated game, a cynical money-spinner and totally unimportant as far as human endeavour is concerned – bread and circuses, that’s nothing new.

    1. Douglas Stuart Wilson says:

      “Everything I learned about ethics, I learned on a football park” Albert Camus…

      …and Nabokov was a decent keeper too by the way…

      1. Andymac says:

        I don’t know that I’d see Albert Camus as an ethical touchstone: I much prefer him as a playwright. As for Nabokov, aside from his novels, I think his work on recording butterflies by far outweighs any proficiency he had between the sticks. Mind you, for all I know, Dostoevsky might have been a great striker and Hesse a brilliant winger – I’m just glad they had other, more important things to do.

  5. James Cassidy says:

    Strict liability is to be welcomed as a tool used alongside the OBFA in the fight against sectarian behaviour.
    There is no one magic bullet policy which will reduce sectarianism, anyone who thinks so is either deluded or lying.

    1. Don’t think there’s a single magic bullet but Strict Liability puts the responsibility on the clubs and this is key. This is what they won’t accept it and it needs to be imposed by higher authority and civicl society (fans).

  6. Douglas Stuart Wilson says:

    This sounds like a good initiative, and I agree with the basic principle that it should be about Scottish football taking responsibility for itself and reforming from within. If the Tartan Army did it back in the 80´s, it can clearly be done, and Police Scotland have better things to do with their time than arrest people for signing songs I would say.

    But we really have a problem in Scotland with sectarianism, let´s face facts. I watched the Champions League final in my local bar here in La Latina, in Madrid. There was a mixture of Real Madrid fans and Atleti fans, and the atmosphere was great. There was no trouble I know of in the city at all.

    Can anybody imagine what Glasgow would be like if Celtic and Rangers played a Champions League final? It would be mayhem, you wouldn´t go out, and it is due to the sectarian nature of Scottish society…especially on the West coast.

    And so how do we tackle sectarianism? It truly is a blight on Scotland, and for that reason alone, I believe that the monarchy has to go. We just cannot have a Head of State who is a declared anti-catholic or anti anything. The richest woman in Britain, but he or she cannot be of the Catholic faith or any other faith? It is absolutely bonkers….and its effect is wide-reaching and pernicious.

  7. Jo says:

    I think it’s ridiculous that all FAs aren’t obliged to operate with a common code governing behaviour. It’s shocking that individual FAs (including, to its shame) the SFA have the authority to block such a code.

    The scenes after the cup final should have horrified all football fans, but no, we had fans split into green and blue corners (with the Glasgow greens supporting the Edinburgh greens) and not a word of sense was contributed by any of them to the debate. All the more irritating because the Scottish cup final was far superior to the match produced by Man U and Crystal Palace at Wembley. Yet all of that was wasted because what made the headlines were the ugly scenes afterwards. Clubs and national sides all over the footballing world should get hammered when scenes like this occur. On the flares business, introduce legislation that as soon as flares are set off in a football ground the section they came from will be immediately emptied and spectators occupying it will need to leave. All of them, even if they didn’t set off the flares. That would soon lead the majority to deal with the minority of lunatics who take these things into large crowds.

  8. Owen Anderson says:

    Strict liability is, of course, the only real answer. We’ve tried the softly, softly approach for years with the SFA and the results have been dire. This isn’t news to the SFA – it’s oooolllldd stuff – ‘Rangers’ were first fined by UEFA for sectarian chants in 2006. 10 years’ ago.
    This means the time for warnings etc for clubs to get their act in order is long gone. We need strict liability, now, everyone knows it’s the only thing that will work but the SFA will not act against themselves or Rangers/Celtic.
    That’s why Dave Scott is exactly right and the Scottish Government must force the SFA’s hand. They can quite easily do this – they have just refused to do so as they see it as a political quagmire.
    I strongly object to my taxes going to an organisation that refuses to take the steps necessary to stop this nonsense still being sung across Scotland. My children still have to witness this crap when I had really hoped it could die out with the current generation of bigots.

  9. Andymac says:

    Strict liability is not the answer – personal responsibility is. If the supposedly “decent” fans, who allegedly detest the sectarian behaviour by what we’re always told is a thuggish minority, stopped attending the games, the teams would soon put their houses in order. Loss of revenue is the potential solution. All the talk about deducting points is just that – talk. Mind you, bigotry is endemic in this country and I sincerely doubt it it will end for many, many years, perhaps lifetimes, but denying it the oxygen of fitba’ would be a good start.

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