Sectarianism - segregated in football and in life, Celtic and Rangers fans at a recent football match between the clubs.

By Bill Heaney

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today warmly welcomed the Scottish Information Commissioner’s “important decision” to force the publication of the contents of a secret report documenting sectarian incidents at football games.

A joint investigation conducted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Nil By Mouth last year, uncovered that the football authorities have compiled a report on sectarian incidents at football.

Nil by Mouth was formed after a teenage Scottish Celtic supporter had his throat slit by a Rangers fan from Northern Ireland.

This investigation followed an agreement with the Scottish Government and Police Scotland, but was conditional on ministers agreeing to be gagged and to keep its contents secret from the public and the Parliament. 

The Scottish Information Commissioner has now ordered ministers to “disclose the information found to have been wrongly withheld”.  

The Commissioner added that “any attempt to keep this information from public view is in clear conflict with this identified public interest”.

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Liam McArthur MSP, pictured left,  said: “This important decision proves we were right to call out the hush-hush agreement the SPFL struck with the Scottish Government to keep data on sectarianism at football games under wraps. 

“Sectarian behaviour at football matches continues to tarnish the sport’s reputation and spoils the game for the vast majority of fans. There’s no place for it in sport or in Scotland.   

“The fight for this information has been ongoing for 21 months now. The prevalence of this behaviour needs to be properly monitored and understood if we’re to have any chance of stamping it out.

“Between them, the Scottish Government and SPFL made a mockery of the spirit of transparency at the heart of an international expert’s independent recommendations.

“I’m delighted they are now being forced to change tack and publish data that should always have been in the public domain.”  

Dave Scott, director of the anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth commented: “”This is a welcome decision from the Commissioner and a long overdue message to the SPFL that it has to be accountable to both Parliament and the wider public.

When millions of pounds of public money flowing into the SPFL through Cashback funding, the furlough scheme and gift aid from donations to its Charitable Trust it’s breathtaking to think that the SPFL board felt it could stick two fingers up to government ministers, MSPs and campaigners on this issue.

“We will pass the report on to the Justice Committee next week to allow elected members to examine the detail.”

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