Tag Archives: Offensive Behaviour

Football Bigotry, Rationality & Irrationality

To be bigoted is to be intolerant of other people’s beliefs, preferences and opinions.

Arguably, there is a difference between being a bigot and engaging in bigoted behaviour.

An individual we may wish to describe as bigoted would be someone who thinks in a bigoted fashion or engages in bigoted behaviour as the norm. It is part of their psychology to think and behave this way in most situations.

Whereas an individual to whom we may wish to attribute a bigoted action on a particular occasion, would not necessarily be described as a bigot generally.

It may be an isolated occurrence, a single unit of behaviour which would require a specific type of explanation relative to that occasion, rather than a manifestation of a wider behavioural pattern.

To engage in bigoted behaviour in the latter sense may be the most appropriate way of describing much of the behaviour witnessed at football games, during which opposing supporters engage in behaviour they would otherwise condemn or be embarrassed about.

Rather than categorise an individual as bigoted because he has been found to have engaged in illicit chanting, for example, it may be more appropriate to recognise that he is not generally a bigot, but has simply engaged in bigoted behaviour on this occasion.

In this sense, that individual’s bigoted behaviour may be described as irrational. It is neither logically consistent with his general background beliefs and attitudes, nor is it typical of how he would behave in other circumstances.

The causes of such types of behaviour vary. It is likely that an individual who has engaged in illicit chanting at a football match, but who would never contemplate intolerant disrespect of other people’s beliefs, culture or heritage outside of this occasion, would have experienced emotional triggers that elicited this type of response at that moment in time.

In order to understand bigoted behaviour of this type, we need to understand more about the emotional triggers and the seeming lack of control over the outward expression of these emotions.

There are times when the emotional triggers are heightened through intense excitement, disappointment or fear; other times they are heightened through intoxication; and at times it is simply about group-belonging.

It is not uncommon to get caught up in the moment. Whatever triggered the bigoted behaviour at the time, many individuals subsequently express regret about their behaviour once the source of their irrational response has abated or has been removed entirely.

In cases like this, bigotry at football is irrational. Oddly enough, there are many other individuals for whom such behaviour is the norm, and for whom bigoted behaviour would be perfectly rational in the sense that it would be logically consistent with their background beliefs, attitudes and wider behavioural patterns.

To engage in bigoted behaviour of any sort is wrong and may have devastating and unintended consequences; to be a bigoted individual in general is so much worse, and the consequences of their behaviour are typically intentional and justifiable in their own mind.

To remove bigotry from football games, it may be that you need to adopt a different type of approach, depending on the type of individual you are dealing with.

Dealing with individuals who have engaged in an irrational display of bigotry in the heat of the moment would require helping them rationalise the event and the context of their response at a later point, in the hope that they can learn how to break the causal links and associations that tend to trigger the behaviour.

Dealing with individuals whose lives are steeped in bigotry is a different case entirely.

It is not obvious how to undo the connections and associations, because in their mind they are watertight. They are completely logical, they have been reinforced time after time through the way they experience the world, and they sit consistently with the way they live their lives on a daily basis.

In fact, it may be the case that we just have to admit that such individuals are unlikely to change or be changed. Sadly, they may be lost causes in the fight against bigotry.

Only encouraging a complete shift in their framework of beliefs, emotions and attitudes could bring about the changes required. Only something akin to a total re-evaluation of the way they see the world is likely to have the desired effect.

The problem is such individuals would be unlikely to see this as necessary in the first place, because they do not see anything irrational or wrong in what they are doing.

In this sense, it could only be hoped that their influence is limited and that they do not infect others with their distorted and bigoted worldview.

It could only be hoped that there is sufficient knowledge and awareness in those around them, especially those of an impressionable age, that they do not inherit their bigotry.

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A Fresh Approach to Tackling Sectarianism?

It is hardly surprising that the continued efforts by the Scottish Government to introduce legislation to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches have come under heavy criticism from various quarters.

Not only has the proposed legislation been criticised as being unworkable, it has also been said many times, and by many people, that it is completely unnecessary, and that it fails to tackle the root cause of the problem.

So in order to supplement the proposed legislation, perhaps because the general consensus seems to be shifting strongly against it, the Scottish Government has recently announced a package of funding totalling £9m over the period of five years, which is to be used to support community and education projects.

Community Safety Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, said that, “We need to develop a fresh approach to tackle sectarianism in different ways across society, from community projects meeting local needs and matching local circumstances, through to education projects and other initiatives which address the root causes of sectarianism.”

This is fair enough and actually gets slightly closer to tackling some of the real issues, depending on what these ‘projects’ will actually involve and how they will be managed, and by whom.

But in a cynical manoeuvre, having previously supported the Bill, many MSPs in opposition parties have now changed their stance and have refused to back the Bill in its final stages, putting forward what they believe would be more effective alternatives.

Having previously stated, “We must ensure that the authorities have got the appropriate tools in legislation at their disposal to clamp down on this”, Labour MSP, James Kelly now argues that, “our package of practical measures recognises that sectarianism does not stop at the stadium gates and demands a much more sophisticated response and none of the proposals require new legislation.”

The crux of the matter is that the Scottish Government suddenly felt the need to do something to address the problems that were always there anyway, having allowed the status quo to rumble on for a number of years, because of the level of public anger and disgust at some of the events that were taking place at or around, or in connection with, Scottish football.

The proposed legislation was initially regarded by most politicians as absolutely essential, until they started to tie themselves in knots regarding the wording and interpretation of the Bill, and until there were so many objections coming from so many people that the Scottish Government realised it would need to introduce a multi-million pound package of measures to support it, whilst the opposition parties realised they could gain more public support by opposing it.

The problem is if you choose to turn a blind eye to this type of issue for as long as Scotland has done, there is no easy solution. And whatever suggestions or proposals are put forward, there will always be people who feel passionate about supporting them and people who feel passionate about objecting to them.

Roseanna Cunningham is right. We do need to develop a fresh approach to tackling sectarianism. But when politicians shift their position because it is starting to look more popular to do so, or when they make considerable sums of money available for as yet undefined projects and initiatives to prop up badly defined pieces of proposed legislation, there is more than a hint of desperation and political point-scoring going on, rather than efforts to find a fresh approach to dealing with old problems in our society.

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Should Politics be kept out of Football?

I think that football supporters should keep their politics out of football and I think that politicians should keep their party policies out of football.

I believe that this should apply to all football supporters, whether they hold minority, majority, moderate or extreme opinions, and all politicians, whichever policies they promote and wherever they happen to sit on the political axis.

However I suspect that this separation is highly unlikely to be achieved, for different reasons, depending on which perspective you come at it from.

From the perspective of football supporters, politics and football are both highly emotive subjects. Supporters are generally very passionate about their clubs and many also have very strong beliefs and views about the decisions and policies that control their daily lives now, and that have shaped their histories in the past.

It is difficult to stop political leakage at the best of times when emotions and passions have been stirred up within the context of fierce competition and bitter rivalry. The difficulty is exacerbated when certain types of politics have been illegally smuggled into the stories of what some of the clubs are believed to represent, or what some of the supporters would like their clubs to represent.

And when these stories are lived out within a setting of racial discrimination and religious intolerance, there are so many vital emotions tangled together that extinguishing politics from football becomes a very challenging project indeed.

From the perspective of politicians, football is a highly visible forum that plays a pivotal role in society. There is too much at stake, namely status quo, money and political reputation, not to get involved when problematic situations emerge that threaten the uneasy, and quite often distasteful, equilibrium.

Recent events have compelled politicians to interfere in football with the promise of new legislation to deal with an old set of problems, from offensive chanting to acts of violence, and their interference in turn has compelled certain football supporters to reinforce and reinvigorate their political statements.

If supporters believe that they have the right to raise their political voice at football matches, regardless of their position or intent, and regardless of strongly worded requests to desist, it is only inevitable that political interference in some shape or form will follow.

Whether such interference is clear or confusing, justified or unjustified, too little, exactly right or excessive, it is an inevitability that comes with the territory. Politicians have to be seen to be doing something when emotions are so high and media scrutiny is so tense.

Raise your voice too often and too loud about matters that bring politics into football, and politicians, for better or worse, will only be too happy to oblige. And you will just need to settle for whatever measures the prevailing political party deems fit to introduce.

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Why tackling offensive behaviour has become a battle of wills

When you tell people to stop doing things that they have been doing for a very long time without recourse, it is highly likely that they will just dig their heels in and keep on doing it, particularly when they feel strongly about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Even more so, when the reason they have been told to stop is that their behaviour has been deemed offensive towards other individuals, many of whom, as it happens, have been behaving in a similar way themselves, and who are also perceived to hold a specifically discriminatory attitude towards their racial origins, ethnicity or religious preferences.

Whether you believe, within your own frame of reference, that your behaviour is reasonable and legitimate because you are simply promoting your cause, expressing your commitment to a particular heritage, or just lamenting a troubled past, there are specific points at which your own understanding of what is reasonable can come into conflict with what the vast majority of other people understand as reasonable.

The problem here is that what other people understand as reasonable may sometimes be viewed with a certain degree of contempt, sometimes outrage, depending on how the conflict was brought into focus in the first place.

If it was brought into focus in a crass, volatile and unsympathetic manner, what should have started out as a plea to another person’s reasonable self, becomes part of the unfolding and rapidly escalating conflict. And the war of attrition begins.

Drilling down to specifics, certain football clubs are inextricably linked with certain communities, past and present. The formation of these clubs, their original reason for coming into existence, and their continuing scope and influence today cannot be separated from the lives, the passions, the hopes and struggles, of the people who support them.

Therefore the very identity of these clubs is so bound up with the identity of the people who support them that they feel it is their right to express their support and tell their stories in the manner they deem appropriate. After all, it is their identity. It is their history as much as the club’s. And there is absolutely nothing wrong, unreasonable, offensive or illicit about doing so.

Now, it is one thing to tell the story of these clubs and the lives of the supporters in song, when they are one and the same thing. But when certain songs pick out and celebrate some of the wider historical events and political movements, that may well have affected the lives of some of the supporters at some point in time, but that have absolutely no connection with the identity of clubs themselves, there is a clear divergence between what the clubs represent, and what these particular supporters represent.

Again there is nothing particularly wrong with this, if the supporters are simply telling a wider story. It is wrong, however, when the events and political movements referred to embody ideologies of hatred, bigotry or terrorism that, however they are judged in their own right, are judged to be offensive and inappropriate within the context of football matches.

And when the clubs concerned openly disown, discourage and distance themselves from the wider stories that are being told, a clear signal is being sent that this type of behaviour is not part of who they are and that it is not tolerable in their name.

But the problem with the way in which all of this has been brought into focus recently is that it was done in a confusing, clumsy, crass and cack handed manner by politicians trying to make a name for themselves, pundits and journalists trying to sell sensational headlines, some opposition fans trying to blame each other, some people feeling that their right to express their heritage was being ripped away from them, and many others feeling that they have been left in a state of bewilderment about what is acceptable and what is not. And within this state of bitterness, resentment and confusion, the seeds of an enduring battle of wills have been sown…

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Two songs don’t make a right

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, recently said that that unless sectarianism is eradicated, there will be no game of football left in Scotland. He said this within the context of a parliamentary discussion about the proposed new legislation to criminalise sectarian behaviour in and around football grounds, believing that our current laws are not sufficient to deal with this type of offensive behaviour.

The type of behaviour Salmond was referring to includes singing songs that would be deemed offensive to people of other ethnic, racial or religious persuasions.

But one of the biggest problems with making this legislation work is the mind-set of the people concerned. It may punish their behaviour, if the politicians manage to get it right, but it will never eradicate it. The reason why is that it is aimed at people who are quick to recognise this type of behaviour as wrong in other people, but slow to recognise it in themselves. And when they are brought to account, the common response is “what about them?”

Many examples of offensive singing and chanting at football matches are thrown up on an almost weekly basis. Both sides of the divide have done it at different times, in the attempt to incriminate the other and prove that the problem of racial or sectarian hatred is always someone else’s: “we might have been singing about this, but it is just about history and heritage, whereas they were singing about that, and that is so much worse…”

What this suggests is that our sense of justification is driven by raw emotion, personal preference and group belonging, and is underpinned by the view that our own response is somehow entitled to be equal to the other person’s offence. It is a belief expressed in the often heard, “if someone hits you, hit them back,” and so it is a belief that we can absolve ourselves of responsibility for our actions, if our actions have been provoked by similar actions in others which we find offensive and reprehensible.

Carrying this approach through to its sorry conclusion, we arrive at a point where we can no longer recognise what is wrong about our own offensive behaviour and yet we still feel that we are perfectly entitled to pass judgement on the same behaviour in others. Each side is as guilty as the other. We have just lost the perspective to realise that.

So when this sense of justification is allowed to take root, it becomes difficult to find a clear way of distinguishing between right and wrong and the clear sightedness we need to live a decent and upstanding life is quickly lost. The upshot is that introducing new legislation will never succeed in bringing about a lasting change in behaviour. And this is what we really need.

The roots of this type of behaviour run too deep for legislation to have any significant impact. It is one thing to criminalise behavioural expressions of hatred. It is another thing to educate this hatred out of people already infused with it, and an entirely different matter to create the conditions in society that would never have known this type of hatred in the first place.

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