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Offensive Football Chants and Public Order Offences

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Football Association is seeking to crack down on the use of the anti-Semitic term ‘Yid’ by Tottenham Hotspur fans.

This has caused some consternation amongst Tottenham Hotspur supporters who are known to chant ‘Yid Army’ at matches as a term of support. It occurs because historically the club had a large contingent of Jewish supporters and the chant was used as a defence mechanism to deflect anti-Semitic abuse.

The recent controversy highlights the difficulty of managing and policing these issues for the authorities and the police.

Badge of Honour or Anti-Semitic?

In a recent statement the FA acknowledged that such a chant is used as a ‘badge of honour’ by Tottenham supporters but stated that any use of the term would be deemed offensive and derogatory.

It was further suggested that the use of the term by Tottenham supporters clouds the issue by making it more difficult for the authorities to differentiate between those using the term in an intentionally offensive manner and those who do not.

The FA also warned that the use of the the term in a public setting could amount to a criminal offence, which could lead to a prosecution and potentially a lengthy football banning order.

The FA’s approach to the issue has been commended in some quarters where it has been suggested that the use of the term, whether used positively or not, brings the issue of religion into football where it has no place.

However, the Prime Minister David Cameron asserted that Tottenham supporters should not be prosecuted for hate speech by self-describing themselves as Yids and there should only be prosecutions if use of the term is actually motivated by hate. This is also the official line of the football club who have stated that their fans do not use the term with any deliberate intent to cause offence.

So Are ‘Yid Army’ Chants a Public Order Offence?

This raises the question of which hate speech laws football supporters may be charged under for chanting or shouting offensive or derogatory words such as ‘Yid’ in a stadium or other public place.

The Public Order Act 1986 prohibits expressions of racial hatred, which is defined as hatred against a group of persons by reason of the group’s colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins.

Section 18 of the Act states that a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offensive if there is intent to stir up racial hatred or racial hatred is likely to be stirred up.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 amended the 1986 Act by inserting a provision which states that a person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred. The 2006 Act also provides for a defence on freedom of expression grounds.

It is evident that there needs to be intention to stir up racial or religious hatred for a prosecution to be successful and the Tottenham supporters who chant ‘Yid Army’ lack this intention. However, a supporter who uses threatening words with the intent to stir up religious hatred would be guilty of an offence under the legislation. It should be emphasised that even in a non-football context, say in a workplace or public area, this intent by the antagonist to stir up either racial or religious hatred is a key element.

A person convicted under the 1986 Act shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding £5,000.

A prosecution could also be taken under the Football Offences Act 1991 as amended by the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, which was alluded to by the FA, whereby indecent or racist chanting is prohibited.

Anyone affected by these issues should contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848 for help and advice.

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