BANNING “offensive” chanting at football matches has made the problem of sectarianism worse, according to a Scots criminologist.
Dr Stuart Waiton says the 2011 law was passed when sectarianism at games was dying down anyway.
And the Abertay University academic believes the law has simply spawned new tension, rivalry and intolerance between fans.
Despite widespread opposition, MSPs passed the “Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill” into law five years ago.
The law made it illegal to offend others in a way that could “incite public disorder” at matches.
Dr Waiton’s paper is entitled: “Criminalising songs and symbols in Scottish Football: how anti-sectarian legislation has created a new ‘sectarian’ divide in Scotland.”
He writes: “There is a weight of evidence to suggest that, firstly, sectarianism is not a growing problem in Scotland, and secondly, that it has declined as a social problem.”
“What may have started as a progressive desire to overcome divisions in society and reduce animosity between people has resulted in the opposite occurring.”
He said the “criminalisation of words” and promoting the idea of “contacting the authorities when you are offended” has stoked divisions.
“A new division is being constructed, not around political or religious ideals, but around…tolerance and offensiveness.”
The academic said research conducted on the fan forums for Rangers showed the greatest level of anger towards Celtic rivals was related to the criminalisation of Rangers fans’ songs.
And he believes the law has backfired by “giving a moral right to bigots to express their intolerance by being offended”.
Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) – a Celtic supporters’ campaign group – agreed the problem of sectarianism was being overstated and dramatised.
A spokesman added: “Like Stuart Waiton we remain concerned about legislation which criminalises mainly young men for the necessarily subjectively-determined ‘crime’ of offensiveness.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson added: “The Scottish Conservatives have consistently argued this act should be repealed.
“It’s unnecessary, ineffective and understandably unpopular among football fans. In short, it is a bad law.
“As has been pointed out in courtrooms several times, the aims of the act are better covered by existing legislation.
“Creating this law was a classic example of the SNP’s something-must-be-done syndrome, without thinking through the consequences.”
But a government spokeswoman defended the legislation, saying: “Legislation to tackle sectarianism and other f?orms of hatred and offensive behaviour is clearly not responsible for unacceptable behaviour at football matches.
“That responsibility rests solely with the individuals themselves.
“The vast majority of football supporters in Scotland are well-behaved and simply wish to support their team.
“Latest statistics show a steady decline in offences at stadiums and a YouGov poll, commissioned in June 2015, showed that 80% of respondents directly support the act.”