This was not a planned addendum to our previous pieces on Bigotry in Football, but the debate stirred up by the recent match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park seems to have stirred the issues up once again. The start of the series can be found here and the previous installment here.
It is relevant because it once again stirs up an issue which it seems to suit people to avoid and distort in Scottish Football. As we discussed through the series, in Football UEFA deals with all bigotry on protected grounds in a comparable way. It is dealt with under the auspices of Article 14 and there is no difference in seriousness or punishment regardless of the type of insulting behaviour or on which grounds it is insulting the human dignity of a person or group. It includes Racism. It includes discrimination on religious grounds. It includes ‘sectarianism’, which is not yet defined in law (though that is in process as this goes to print) which is effectively a hybrid as it it is commonly used and applied in Scotland.
While the match on Sunday was a breathtaking affair that Rangers deservedly won, much of the post match furore has centred on gestures made by Alfredo Morelos following his red card and reported abuse of the player. A Rangers spokesman had reported that:
“We believe Alfredo was racially abused and we would expect now that all measures will be taken to identify and deal with those responsible.”
“We are aware of the gestures made by the player towards Celtic supporters. We have received no reports of any racial abuse but would fully investigate any should these be brought to our attention.”
In the meantime there has been speculation about the exact nature of reported abuse. Certain videos which appear to have been taken by fans show the player being roundly booed and raised voices shouting abuse which, depended on various sources were either of a sectarian or racist nature. While it can be clearly heard that he is called a ‘hun b****rd’, it is not so clear either in the videos widely circulated or the responses whether the other shouts are the same second word preceded by ‘orange’ or ‘black’ or indeed a combination. The fact is that it really doesn’t matter. Both would fall under the same articles reproduced above and be treated interchangeably. Both are equally reprehensible and have no place in our game.
Whether this particular incident was racist in nature, sectarian (in the sense that it equates Orangism with Protestantism and with Rangers, regardless of the players own personal beliefs) – or a combination of both – does not need to be evaluated nor distinctions drawn. The SFA have responsibilities to ensure that our game remains free of such prejudice under the auspices of its ‘fair play’ requirements and its subserviance to UEFA principles on the matter. The problem it has is that it doesn’t have the same ‘strict liability’ powers that UEFA does to address it with.
While its unpleasant to admit, in Scotland black players are regularly racially abused. This season there have been incidents: Morelos himself has suffered it in front of the camera’s against Hearts in the past, Kane Hemmings of Dundee against Dundee United. Nor are Rangers immune from dishing it out: Moussa Dembele received racist abuse in a game against Rangers.
What these incidents thankfully have in common though is that they are ordinarily the province of a handful of idiots rather than indicative of widespread attitudes throughout the support. It gives a degree of credence to the idea that better self policing and reporting procedures (such as those discussed at the forum in February) can help drive it out of the game. Personally we’d love to see fan charters like this at grounds along with easy accessed and well signposted reporting lines.
It is winnable and it is rightly known to be unacceptable behaviour. I’m not sure that in any cases it is all that helpful for particular clubs to be finger pointing on the issue at other clubs, but if it is to happen it would seem sensible for all clubs to equally apply the same thresholds to themselves. That also seems to be a trend clubs are for the most part following in making it explicitly clear when such behaviours are unacceptable, though of course there will always be ‘whataboutery’ on such issues.
What is less widely remarked upon on an incident-by-incident basis though is the much wider spread issue of Article 14 abuse sung about en masse from the stands and occassionally presented on banners and flags. At the risk of ‘whataboutery’ (which to be fair is probably justified, but this is actually just the best example I have given the case history on the song itself) the following song was also sung during the game discussed by the Rangers and Celtic statements:
There’s a clear case precedent with UEFA on that song and its very audibly clear. It wasn’t picked up by either of Celtic or Rangers in their statements on the game yet it is in clear breach of the same principles. But I don’t mean this point as just about this one incident. It is far from the only unacceptable singing or chanting that both teams (and indeed many other teams in Scotland) engage in. Anything that insults the human dignity of person or group in such a way is simply not allowed and everyone knows it, but it is tolerated. Fierce rivalries simply do not need proscribed behaviours to be equally as noisy and boisterous.
The difference is, a bit of this kind of stuff (both directions) is generally quite good for business for both clubs in the long haul. It is disturbing that in this day and age picking and choosing which abuses are okay can be left to the whims of clubs when it is representing a Nation in showpiece events. It leaves the distinct impression when dealing with other clear racist issues that the clubs are really only posturing, kow-towing and influencing the narratives rather than serious about the issues themselves – and that the SFA is so behoven to the clubs that it is powerless to act as UEFA would have them.
That itself really is a worry.