Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rangers Reprieve But Problems Remain


How to feel about the news that UEFA have accepted that Ranger’s fans were not giving Nazi salutes at their recent UEFA Cup game in Israel?

Given recent events in Italy, and now France, along with Ranger’s fractious relationship with the authorities last season, the risk could have been that UEFA could have decided to make an example of Rangers and give them the order of the boot.

We should, I suppose, all be grateful that Rangers have been cleared: had they been found guilty it would have been an unthinkable stain on football, on Rangers, on Scotland. That’s not to mention the crass stupidity of people swathing themselves in Union Jacks and giving Nazi salutes.

But, as Rangers' Chief Executive Martin Bain conceded, a bitter taste remains:

"Some Rangers fans continue to give Red Hand salutes, which the club and the vast majority of supporters discourage because they will be misinterpreted. Our supporters will be bitterly disappointed that the club is once again the focus of UEFA attention because of a handful of people who continue to put our club at risk through their mindless actions."

Because how can we be grateful that, far from invoking Nazism, a group of Rangers fans went to a country blighted by religious divides, a country that has seen too many deaths caused by religion, and happily invoked the prejudices and memories of another sectarian conflict?

I know the whole debate about sectarianism and bigotry can appear boring. That it can get in the way of football. But until the Scottish game is completely clear of the zealots it is our duty to point out the absurdity of their prejudices.

People in Northern Ireland want to move on. It’s time for Rangers to do the same. Let’s applaud Bain for tackling bigotry. But his club have to act against the minority or UEFA will act – and Scottish football will be the poorer for that.