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A Wanker's Charter

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It's Monday 11 June 2012 and England have just bowled out the West Indies on the last day of the Edgbaston test match to win the series 2-1. Amid the celebrations it becomes known that an England cricket fan has racially abused a West Indian player.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) immediately announces that it is investigating the case. After finding and imprisoning the miscreant, the CPS announces that not only will England's next test series be played behind closed doors, but that the match result is declared null and void, and the series drawn.

One does not have to be a cricket fan to imagine the press, political and public reaction to that imagined scenario. Yet that is exactly what Nick Hawkins, the CPS lead on football and sports prosecutions, is advocating for football clubs who do not to take firm action against fans who make obscene chants and racial slurs.

In the wake of a Welsh student being jailed for making obscene comments on Twitter about Fabrice Muamba, Hawkins gave a lecture at the University of Portsmouth entitled "Crossing the line - when sport becomes a crime."

Hawkins said attitudes towards abusive chanting by the football association and clubs have been too lenient. He said it is time to hit the clubs and not just the fans, "One area where I would argue we need more support from sports authorities is in dealing with inappropriate crowd behaviour and, in particular, chanting". He went on to say that "Making clubs play games behind closed doors hits them in their pockets, and deducting league points lessens a club's chance of qualifying for Europe or promotion, again hitting them financially".

Hawkins gave a number of examples of chants at stadiums and asked the audience to assess whether they considered them acceptable, "I would strongly urge clubs to stop their fans singing some of their more choice chants - do Pompey fans really need to sing about 'hitting scummers [what some Portsmouth fans call Southampton supporters] with a brick'? - and called for the authorities to take action over clubs that fail to do so if these abusive chants become a habit."

One can imagine the public outcry would Hawkins highlight the chanting and slurs at Twickenham, Lords, or The DW Stadium - when Wigan Warriors rugby league team are at home and demand similar sanctions. But Hawkins won't, because football and football fans are treated very differently. In Scotland, the Offensive Behaviour at Footballand Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 makes it explicit that football fans are no longer equal with others before the law since they can be arrested and convicted of 'offences' - such as singing on a train - which would not be illegal for anybody else. As the Times football editor Tony Evans pointed out in his recent excellent column, there is no shortage of laws in England aimed specifically at football fans either, from football banning orders and public-order measures to alcohol bans and the forced surrendering of your passport.

Hawkins' proposal is part of the growing attempt to create a new etiquette in football. They are trying to use football to teach the 'mob' a lesson about how to behave. His idea is a victim's charter. It is an open invitation for people to take offence and turns fans into spies who spend more time keeping a watchful eye on opposition supporters and reporting what they don't like to hear, than supporting their team. In Scotland, some fans of Celtic and Rangers carry this search for offensive to trailing through their opposite fans websites in search of being offended, to then report it to the police, in the hope that the club may be fined. What's next, Sunderland fans buying tickets to sit with Newcastle fans, hoping that their daft chants will impact on the club?

It's a wanker's charter and should be opposed.