Tag Archives: politics and football

An Ugly Impasse

It is hard to think that the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation has had anything but a negative impact on the attitudes and behaviours of those it was intended to manage, despite the Scottish Government’s bullish claims to the contrary.

Whilst the police argued that they required a greater range of powers in order to deal with the perceived escalation in sectarian hatred in connection with some aspects of Scottish football, many others were reluctant to entertain the idea that existing laws were inadequate.

One outcome of this is that the greater range of powers seems to be stretchable to match whichever interpretation of the occasion is deemed to suit, with the interpretation sometimes appearing to be influenced by the media, other times by an inability to understand political context and poor knowledge of historical fact.

As a result, a strong belief has emerged within certain groups, particularly the Green Brigade, that the manner in which they choose to support their team has been criminalised unnecessarily and that some of their members have been subject to police harassment, victimisation and disproportionate response.

Whether the controversial containment tactics used by Strathclyde Police in Glasgow on Saturday were appropriate to the situation has been challenged. Whatever the eventual outcome of that, it is clear that the march was unlawful in the sense that no permission was sought from the local authorities in advance. The police would have failed in their duty had they not intervened.

It is difficult not to acknowledge that the Green Brigade has become a powerful force with strong political views, a fact which may sit uncomfortably with some individuals within Celtic FC. But it is even more difficult to avoid the thought that extinguishing, rather than monitoring, a force of this nature is a primary objective of the police. It may draw into a long and complicated war of attrition. Neither side will back down. Neither side will win.

Whichever way you view it, the central issue remains that the Scottish Government caved into pressure to introduce a piece of poorly written and completely unnecessary legislation. In doing so it managed to create a context of confusion, mistrust and tension – perfectly illustrated by the now toxic relationship between the police and the Green Brigade – and we are still no closer to eradicating the problem of bigotry in Scotland.

Like most, I would be relieved to see the end of the type of bigotry that infects football here. As it happens, I would also prefer that political views were not expressed at football matches in a manner that risked creating the impression that such views were in some way reflective of an unwritten part of a club’s story.

Given the background causes, I am not convinced that either will transpire any time soon – but that neither justifies the Scottish Government’s poorly conceived legislative solution to the problem, nor does it excuse disproportionate police response to perceived episodes of non-compliance with that legislation.

We may have reached an ugly impasse. It is time for a re-think – without the media circus, without politicians positioning themselves to win favour, and this time with people who understand the true nature of the problem in this country.

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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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