LEADING doctors have expressed grave concerns about plans to overturn a ban on football fans drinking at matches as a summit on the issue at Hampden Park takes place today.


Fans group, clubs, the football authorities and police officers are due to take part in the discussions at the event which has been organised by Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.

He has been running a campaign to change the law which has been in force since 1980, and a Holyrood motion calling for a debate by MSPs has gathered enough support.

However, organisations including the medical campaign group Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and Alcohol Focus Scotland say they have not been involved in the debate.

In a letter to The Herald, which is signed by Dr Peter Bennie, the chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland, Dr Peter Rice, former consultant psychiatrist and chair of SHAAP, and Dr Frank Dunn, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, serious reservations about the proposals are raised.

The signatories say: "We are disappointed that there has been no discussion with or involvement of our organisations in the consultations which are taking place.

"These discussions need to go well beyond the world of football. This is not merely a matter of 'consulting with the fans.' Alcohol's impact on health, families, work and safety goes much wider than those attending the game and those hoping to profit from the sale of alcohol should not have the dominant voice in discussions."

The letter, which is also endorsed by Dr Christine Goodall, a senior clinical lecturer in oral surgery at Glasgow University Dental School and Karyn McCluskey, director of the Violence Reduction Unit , acknowledges that there are some signs that policies to change attitudes to alcohol are having some impact.

The promotion of booze in supermarkets through deals such as by-one-get-one-free was banned in Scotland in 2011.

However, the signatories add that alcohol related deaths are still almost double the number in 1980, when the ban was introduced following a pitch invasion at the Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Celtic at Hampden.

They continue: "Those arguing that we have a more mature attitude to alcohol in 2015 need to explain that. The burden of alcohol harm is considerable among young adults, a key demographic among football supporters and is estimated to contribute to over 20 per cent of deaths in men and women aged 25-44."

Mhairi McGowan, head of domestic abuse advocacy service ASSIST and Laura Tomson, co-director, Zero Tolerance, a charity working to tackle violence against women, have also signed the letter.

The letter says: "There is a time and a place for alcohol. That is what the licensing system is intended to regulate. Too often the time is all the time and the place is everywhere, an approach which stretches emergency departments and increases the risks to women and children experiencing domestic abuse. Restrictions on alcohol at football have been understood and respected by spectators and the rest of the community for many years."

Murphy has been campaigning for the law to be changed and has pointed out that rugby fans watching the Six Nations at Murrayfield are allowed to drink alcohol within the stadium.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "Today is the start of a consultation.

"There should of course be further stages in the consultation process. We are also calling for a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament so that all of these issues can be discussed.

"The truth is that alcohol can be bought before matches in football stadiums in England and at Scottish rugby games. We shouldn't be treating today's football fans as though we were still in the bad old days of the 1980s.

"They shouldn't be treated differently from other sports fans."

Mr Murphy spent last weekend canvassing the opinions of fans outside football stadiums.

Former SNP Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskilI is among those who has backed a members debate on the subject.