Leader comment: Offensive behaviour at football hits a new low

David Cox is a brave and decent human being who has been to the depths of despair. While suffering from severe depression, he self-harmed and tried to kill himself.
David Cox in action for his previous club, ForfarDavid Cox in action for his previous club, Forfar
David Cox in action for his previous club, Forfar

But, being the person he is, Cox, a footballer for Cowdenbeath, decided to speak publicly about what he had been through in an attempt to help remove some of the stigma those with mental health problems can feel.

The response from some supporters and even some other players has been utterly appalling. For people to shout “hang yourself and do it right this time” and for players to taunt him on the pitch is beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour. Or, to use the name of an Act of the Scottish Parliament that MSPs have just voted to repeal, it is Offensive Behaviour at Football.

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Football stadiums appear to be virtually the only place in Scotland where it is permissible and all-too-common for people to be racist, sexist, homophobic, and make abhorrent remarks like those directed at Cox. This behaviour has been taking place in football’s house for generations, yet the game has failed to take any effective steps to set its house in order. Many would say they have not made any serious efforts at all. The Scottish Government did try to do something about it – after the 201 Old Firm “Game of Shame” saw their patience evapourate over sectarianism – but MSPs appear intent on getting rid of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act without any attempt to replace it.

It may have been flawed, but the intentions of the Act were sound. Simply repealing it will be hailed as a victory by those in the stands who revel in the apparent freedom to act as they have always done and they will no doubt redouble their efforts.

Football will be the loser. The Scottish game may currently be doing reasonably well and feel like there is no pressing need to clamp down on the worst among their supporters.

But most people don’t like being near a human fountain of hate; it is unpleasant and intimidating even for those not actually the target of the abuse.

And that means the game is likely to lose supporters as parents decide that raising their children to be upstanding, moral citizens – like David Cox – can no longer involve a trip to the big match.

Unless, of course, they are the ones mocking people with mental health issues, singing sectarian songs, hurling racist abuse. In the end, they may be the last ones standing.