FOOTBALL authorities and clubs must face sanctions for failing to address sectarian behaviour if the problem is to be tackled, ministers have been told.


In its final report, the independent group tasked almost three years ago with exploring the issue said clubs were continually failing to address the problem and sanctions were "urgently needed".

It pointed to a reluctance to "act against the remnants of sectarianism" within the game and voiced its support for the introduction of strict liability, where clubs could ultimately be deducted points or have parts of their ground closed in the event of sectarian behaviour by fans.

While acknowledging sectarianism is a much wider social issue, the group said no major effort to get to grips with the problem could succeed without fans, football's authorities and clubs, especially Celtic and Rangers.

The Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism releases its final report today, which crucially includes a raft of recommendations to the Government, councils, police, educational institutions, churches and parading organisations.

It also calls for a better understanding of "polite, educated forms of sectarianism" within Scottish professional life, as well as a new perspective on the history of Scotland.

On football, it states: "We feel very strongly that sanctions are urgently needed and remain of the view that their introduction would not simply be a step towards tackling sectarianism, but also an important step towards clubs and their fans taking responsibility for their actions as we all have to do elsewhere in society.

"Sectarianism cannot be reduced to a simplistic football issue. But it is important that all sectors of Scottish society play their part in tackling sectarianism and, in this context, football has huge relevance.

"Given the strong influence that football exerts on the lives of those who participate in it, the importance of this point cannot be overestimated."

The advisory group, headed by Belfast-based academic Duncan Morrow, also wants more work to be done by parade organisers to reassure the general public about the nature of their events, as well as issues of safety, public order and'hangers-on'.

It claims sectarianism in Scotland tended to fuse politics, football club allegiance and national identity, with religion often far from the most prominent element.

The report talks of the benefits of an investigation into the economic impact to organisations, business and geographic areas associated with sectarianism, as well as calling for more work with prisoners to reduce re-offending.

The group also suggests the development of a "Horrible Histories style timeline of sectarianism in Scotland that can be used within schools".

Dr Morrow said: "We have seen a strong hunger for change across Scotland and a real desire to make sectarianism a thing of the past.

"I believe that this desire amounts to a real commitment from Scotland's communities and a challenge for leaders and institutions to set out a clear and inclusive vision that rejects avoidance and blame.

"Above all, it is time to step up and take action to build a Scotland where difference stops being a cause for division and becomes a cause for celebration."

Community safety minister Paul Wheelhouse said: "No one should have to face discrimination or prejudice in any form in 21st Century Scotland. It is never acceptable and it will not be tolerated.

"The level of debate around this issue has been raised significantly and we are moving towards a position where sectarianism is understood as a social problem that individuals can tackle in practical ways, based on knowledge and understanding."