THE Old Firm have reacted strongly to renewed claims that football matches between the Glasgow clubs are to blame for a steep rise in cases of domestic abuse.
Celtic and Rangers said yesterday new research that claimed to have found "firm evidence" of a link between domestic violence and the Glasgow derby between the clubs was too simplistic and that it was an issue that wider society should address.
St Andrews University researchers found a significant rise in cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the 24-hour period from kick-off in all 21 Glasgow derbies between 2008 and 2011.
Official figures showed a year-on-year increase in incidents of domestic abuse between 2002-2003, when they stood at 35,877, and 2011-2012, when they rose to 59,847.
Dr Damien J Williams, a lecturer in public health sciences at the university, said the results of the study showed there was "compelling evidence" of the effect of Old Firm matches on cases of physical, sexual and emotional domestic abuse.
But a Celtic spokesman said: "Before making such judgments, it would be valuable and relevant to also ensure investigations into other major events, sporting and otherwise, are carried out. It is far too simplistic to blame football for these wider societal issues."
In a separate statement, Rangers said: "As the club has stated on many occasions in the past, football clubs have a responsibility to do what they can to raise awareness of social issues. However, there are many contributing factors and it is the responsibility of society as a whole to address them."
The study found the majority of domestic abuse incidents occurred in the former Strathclyde Police area and against females.
Dr Williams said previous reports on the issue were based on crude comparisons on limited data. He said his team's task was to "develop a robust analytical approach to undertake a preliminary exploration of the association between Old Firm matches and reported domestic incidents in the Strathclyde Police area."
He added: "We found a statistically significant increase in the average number of reports following Old Firm matches, compared with other periods. Our preliminary analysis confirms previous speculation concerning the association between Old Firm matches and reports of domestic violence.
"Our approach may underestimate the true impact of Old Firm matches on domestic violence, as not all incidents are reported to the police, but it nonetheless offers a conservative estimate of the severity of the problem."
Campaigners have called for the current break in Old Firm games in the Premiership, with Rangers now playing in a lower division, to be used as a "breathing space" to deal with the violence linked with the clashes.
John Carnochan, former co-director of the Glasgow-based Violence Reduction Unit, said domestic abuse was primarily about the behaviour of "violent men" and not supporters of particular football clubs.
He added: "It's reasonable to say that a breathing space could be utilised, but women will get battered this weekend as well.
"It is, however, an opportunity for both Celtic and Rangers to talk about this 'men thing' - that true fans don't engage with this type of behaviour.
"The scale of the support is a significant factor, as is the link with alcohol."
Scottish Women's Aid described the research as too narrow and said domestic violence was about more than football or alcohol.
Dave Scott, of the anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth, said: "There is an issue here and we need to use this period when the clubs aren't playing each other regularly to work out a way of addressing this.
"Issues we need to look at include timings of matches, licensing of pubs, awareness campaigns led by clubs and ensuring adequate resources are available to support families during these areas of heightened tension."