POLICE are continuing to voice concerns about new laws to stamp out offensive behaviour and religious hatred in and around football grounds.

They warn that there is still confusion around areas such as the definition of sectarianism.

As the contentious Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 comes into force today, the organisation representing rank and file police officers – the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) – said earlier misgivings had not changed.

But the minister overseeing the law's implementation said 91% of Scots supported tougher action on sectarianism and the new legislation would be "the beginning of the end" of bigotry in football. Roseanna Cunningham also said it will not impact on "banter and passionate support" and will instead target the "hateful prejudices of a small minority", while the Scottish Government will be looking to bring forward further action over its five-year term in office to tackle sectarianism.

However, Brian Docherty, the newly installed chairman of the SPF, said doubts remained, particularly around the definition of sectarianism.

He said: "Reservations are still there. But the law has passed and we now have to run with it regardless of concerns over impact on resources."

Leading anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth previously criticised ministers for failing to provide a clear definition of sectarianism.

Last night, campaign director Dave Scott said: "We will be monitoring how the new law is being implemented closely.

"While much of the focus will be on the behaviour of football fans before, during or after games, judging by our inbox I suspect the threatening telecommunications aspect of the law will be the one to watch."

But the lead officer on sectarianism for the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, Strathclyde Deputy Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan, insisted he had no misgivings and that there had been extensive preparations and training.

Mr Corrigan said there had already been notable behavioural changes at recent Old Firm games and in conduct on the internet, adding that the success of the law would not be measured in arrest figures.

He said case law would cement what was and was not permissible at football and agreed with Nil By Mouth that the rapid spread of social media could see the threatening communications aspect of the law yielding greater results.

He also admitted there were concerns that a culture of one-upmanship and moral high ground among Celtic and Rangers fans could result in a flood of investigations but that this was no reason for not going ahead with the legislation.

Mr Corrigan added: "The key concern of match commanders will remain crowd safety and the potential destabilising of crowds. If large sections of crowds are singing songs which fall foul of the law what would happen is ring leaders would be identified retrospectively."

The Act creates two new distinct offences, punishable through a range of penalties up to a maximum five-year prison sentence and unlimited fine.

Ms Cunningham said: "The overwhelming majority of football fans who have been supporting their teams in the true spirit of the game for years have nothing to fear from this legislation.

"In fact it is designed to improve their experience, ensuring they can focus on football and not be distracted by the mindless, hateful prejudices of a small minority.

"This legislation will have no impact on the banter and passionate support that goes hand in hand with supporting football teams. It is not about discouraging the competition and rivalry that is the lifeblood of football, it is about eradicating sectarianism and other unacceptable expressions of hate from our national game."

Meanwhile, Ms Cunningham has written to Scotland's licensing boards following concerns from the pub trade that they could fall foul of the legislation due to the behaviour of supporters on their premises.

Despite calls for clarity and lists of the type of songs and slogans which could see them prosecuted, the minister claimed it could be up to the courts to decide if the new law has been breached in a pub and that licensees "do not need to act differently because of the Act".