Flora (la_fiora) wrote in ontd_football,

Scottish Government Takes On Soccer Violence

"Scotland has banned religious or historical slurs by its often sectarian soccer fans."

The Scottish Government recently passed a law making religious slurs/insults/chants/songs illegal in response to football matches, which is an interesting step. Here's the full article, I bolded some parts for the tl;dr crowd:

Taking On Soccer Violence, One Derogatory Chant at a Time

GLASGOW — It was a normal Saturday game at Ibrox Stadium, home of the Rangers soccer team. A prematch fight broke out on the subway. The crowd lobbed trash onto the field. Fans of Rangers and their mutually despised opponents, Aberdeen, abused one another with traditional chants, songs and obscene gestures.

At times, it seemed that the only thing preventing a violent free-for-all was the heavy presence of police officers and security guards. And lest the message — control yourself, or face the consequences — was lost on anyone, there was a direct request from Rangers authorities.

“If you witness any form of unacceptable or offensive behavior, including sectarian singing,” a notice inserted into the ticket envelopes said, “please advise a steward or police officer.”

No one yet has been able to defuse the visceral hatred that runs through Scottish soccer. But in its latest effort to tackle game-related violence, the Scottish government recently passed a law making it illegal for fans to attack one another using religious, ethnic, regional or violent historical slurs in songs, chants, Internet postings or even stray remarks at a stadium or pub.

That means that fans of Rangers, a team with roots in Protestant Northern Ireland, cannot sing “The Billy Boys” — a song that refers to Irish blood and to William of Orange, a Protestant hero from the 17th century — for fear of being sent to prison. It means that fans of their mortal enemies, Celtic, cannot sing “Up the ’Ra,” which celebrates the Irish Republican Army and is a throwback to their Roman Catholic Northern Ireland origins.

And it means that no one is allowed to take part in once-common chants in which fans goad their opponents by gleefully rehashing past tragedies like players’ untimely deaths, or, in the case of Rangers, the infamous 1971 incident in which 66 fans were crushed and asphyxiated to death at Ibrox as they rushed for the exits.

“This is a minority of fans who are carrying out this behavior, but these laws send out a strong message that it simply won’t be tolerated,” a Scottish government spokesman said in an interview.

The legislation, called the Offensive Behavior at Football and Threatening Communications Act, was introduced at the request of the embattled Strathclyde Police after a series of violent incidents in Glasgow.

Many games bring trouble in Scotland — the rivalry between Aberdeen and Rangers is particularly sour, and Saturday’s charged atmosphere reflected that — but none are more potentially violent than those between Celtic and Rangers, the two Glaswegian teams collectively known as the Old Firm.

Last year a homemade bomb was mailed to Celtic’s manager, Neil Lennon. At one Old Firm game, 34 fans were arrested for offenses like racial abuse and breach of the peace, referees issued 3 red cards and 13 cautions to overly aggressive players and the postgame handshake between the managers — Lennon and Rangers assistant manager, Ally McCoist — descended into a nose-to-nose shouting match that ended only when the men were pulled apart.

“If you hate Neil Lennon, clap your hands,” was the chant that greeted Lennon at another game.

Slurs, taunts and racist behavior against players have long been rife in European soccer, despite repeated efforts to stamp it out and despite most teams’ racial and national diversity. In England, the Chelsea captain, John Terry, was charged late last year with making a racially abusive remark to Anton Ferdinand, a black player for Queens Park Rangers, and is due to appear in court next month.

Mean-spirited chants and songs are also endemic in British soccer. Some chants focus on intimate details between players and their wives. Others might accuse opposing fans from economically depressed cities of being unemployed and on welfare. But Scotland is a special case because the chants reflect longstanding personal enmities that are rooted in ancient religious differences, though the differences now are more cultural than religious.

Under the new legislation, people convicted of soccer-related sectarian behavior would face unlimited fines and as many as five years in prison. The law covers not only what happens in stadiums, but also behavior in pubs, encounters before and after games and Internet postings.

The already ubiquitous police will be given an extra 1.8 million pounds to form a “football intelligence unit,” the government said. Its officers will patrol stadiums carrying cameras and recording devices, keeping the peace and gathering evidence for later use.

“Clearly, you can’t go and arrest a large group of fans if they start singing a song in a football ground, as it could lead to mass disorder,” said the government spokesman, who asked that his name not be used, in keeping with government policy. But the police would be “targeting ringleaders and others involved in this behavior — then arresting them afterwards,” he said.

What this means for fans, steeped in the verbal rough-and-tumble that is an integral part of Scottish soccer, is murky.

The government promises not to arrest people for banter.

“At football games you get banter and a bit of windup and tongue-in-cheek comments — that’s all part of sport — and we’re not going to try to outlaw that,” the spokesman said. “However, offensive chants about someone’s religion, singing songs in support of a terrorist organization or expressing other forms of hatred are not acceptable.”

The new legislation has been widely condemned by opposition politicians, who say it was hastily written, and by soccer fans, who say there are already plenty of laws that restrict their behavior.

“It’s just a politicians’ drive to get votes,” said Arthur Numan, who runs a fans’ group in Milngavie. He called the government the “P. C. brigade,” for politically correct, and said it had already created a culture of terminally offended people who can settle scores by falsely accusing one another of sectarian remarks.

“No matter what’s going on, there seems to be a continual group of people e-mailing complaints all the time,” Numan said in a telephone interview.

One newspaper recently published a list of supposedly banned songs, but in truth, there is no such list, only a general “we know it when we hear it” attitude. The police say they know which songs have caused trouble in the past and will be working to focus on those.

Bobby Simpson, a 53-year-old construction worker at the Rangers’ game, said that even before the new law, an acquaintance had been jailed overnight for inserting an unflattering reference to the pope in a traditional Rangers song. He was released without charge, Simpson said, but lost his job when a Celtic fan reported the incident to the man’s boss.

He said going to Ibrox was like being in a police state. “Watch that policeman over there — he’ll search that kid,” Simpson said, as an officer looked through a boy’s pockets.

Graham Steele, a 46-year-old shop owner, said that at a recent game, he was ordered to put away his British Union Jack flag because it might offend Celtic fans, who favor the Irish flag.

“They treat us like animals, grabbing us and throwing us out for no reason,” he said. He turned to a friend. “Wasn’t David chucked out for being drunk at the stadium?” he said. “If he was, why did they let him in the first place? You can smell of alcohol without being drunk.”

During the game, it was hard to understand all the words to the chants, though Rangers fans claimed afterward that the Aberdeen fans were singing about the 1971 stadium disaster, and Aberdeen fans said that Rangers fans were accusing them of lewd acts with farm animals.

The final score was 1-1. When Rangers scored, their fans immediately turned to the Aberdeen fans, swore at them and made obscene hand signals. The Aberdeen fans were confined by rows of yellow-jacketed stewards to one corner of Ibrox and allowed to return to their buses, under heavy police escort, only when all Rangers fans had cleared the stadium.

In the stands, a Rangers fan, 15-year-old Keiran Magennis, helpfully reeled off a long list of slurs that are common, he said, at soccer games and at his school. He kept his voice down because three police officers were nearby.

“This is the way we’re brought up,” he said. “I don’t think the law will make any difference. The hatred is so deep.”

Here is the article on the NYT site.
Here is the full law if you missed it in the article.

What do you guys think? Will it be effective? Will it even be enforceable? Do you think any other governments will follow up with similar laws?
Tags: article, league: scottish premier league, very serious

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