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Right direction for sectarianism drive

Assumptions have always clouded the sectarianism debate.

In a bid to tackle the culture which causes this social blight, considerable efforts have inevitably focused on football, as a key visible emblem of the west of Scotland religious divide.

There has also been an emphasis on the prevention of sectarian violence, rather than other ills with the same cause. Another assumption widely made is that the problem is most acute in what might be called a "working-class" demographic.

There is some sense in all of these assumptions. But sectarianism is not and has never been confined to the football stands, or to a single social stratum.

Neither does it always manifest itself in violence - indeed it is a shameful part of Scotland's recent history that in parts of the country the faith you subscribe to has been used to exclude certain people from jobs and has unfairly led to advancement for others.

In this context, the initiative by Nil By Mouth to raise awareness of sectarianism at Scotland's golf clubs is a welcome one.

Nobody is saying that all or even most golf clubs have a problem with sectarianism. But it would be a huge mistake to think the issue only affects two big Glasgow football clubs, and not to acknowledge some cling to an outdated culture.

That is a culture in which making jokes about someone's background,or the school they went to, is acceptable, as is treating someone as a perpetual "new" member because of their religion. Such behaviour is far from endemic in golf clubs. But four years of accumulated evidence gathered by Nil By Mouth in the course of its work suggest it is not uncommon. Campaign director Dave Scott claims to hear of one incident every week .

Golf clubs are a singularly visible manifestation of upwardly mobile, middle-class Scotland. If an "us and them" atmosphere is perpetuated on courses and in clubhouses, that is a problem.

In some ways routine prejudice, masked as banter or good-natured teasing can be as corrosive as the 90-minute bigotry of some football fans.

Nil By Mouth is shining a useful light on the issue. Crucially, its funding requires the charity to take its message into workplaces and sports clubs and further to venues not traditionally associated with the issue.

That is why it has written to 50 leading golf clubs, offering free awareness training and advice on the latest thinking about sectarianism, its effects and how to challenge it.

Where there is prejudice such help will enable it to be addressed, but the training will also reassure clubs where the culture is positive, and reassure members and potential members too.

The danger is the golf clubs most in need of guidance on this issue will be the ones least likely to take up Nil By Mouth's offer. But there should be no stigma attached to accepting this awareness training.

Sectarianism is increasingly acknowledged to be more about prejudices and attitudes than outright overt discrimination. We cannot afford to be complacent about it.

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