A HOLYROOD committee has called on a leading football organisation to publish a secret report on the extent of sectarianism at matches.

In a letter to the Scottish Professional Football League, Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell piled pressure on the SPFL by saying that transparency is “essential”.

Dave Scott, campaign director at anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth, welcomed the call:

“It’s good to see the Justice Committee putting serious pressure on the SPFL to publish this material. It was clear from the exchanges in Parliament that there is cross party consensus that this should happen.”

The row can be traced to a 2017 report by academic Dr Duncan Morrow on tackling sectarianism.

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He recommended that “robust monitoring and evaluation” of religious hate at football matches should be published annually.

The SPFL, which runs the top four leagues in Scotland, collated information on “unacceptable conduct” at matches, which is wider than sectarianism, from 2017/18 onwards.

However, although the reports were shared with the SNP Government, civil servants blocked the release of the information as it was shared in confidence.

Quizzed about the secrecy last week, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs that the data was provided only on the basis that it is “confidential and is not published.”

He added: “However, our clear and consistent preference has been for the data to be published. Therefore, I have spoken to SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster today to reiterate that point once again, and I will follow it up in writing. He and the SPFL have committed to discuss the matter at the next board meeting.”

The Justice Committee, which is made up of SNP, Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and Green MSPs, has intervened by making its own approach to the SPFL.

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In her letter to Doncaster, Mitchell wrote to “add to the calls” for the SPFL to publish the report:

“This was referred to earlier this week in the Scottish Parliament and the Committee believes that transparency on this matter is essential.

“You will be aware that the Justice Committee has undertaken a significant amount of work in recent years on the problem of sectarianism at football, including consideration of legislation in this area. The Committee members therefore request that data held by the SPFL and SFA on this matter, and any recent report, is published.”

Football clubs have been accused of taking little action to stamp out sectarianism directed towards players, fans and managers.

Former Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke responded to chants of “sad Fenian b******” at Ibrox in February by saying it was reminiscent of the "Dark Ages”.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes also hit out after Celtic fans called him a “sad Orange b******” during a Scottish Cup semi-final.

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Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “This dodgy agreement to keep essential statistics secret, available only to the SPFL, police and government ministers, should never have been signed in the first place.

“Ministers knew before the SPFL started collecting the data that they never intended to make it public, but didn’t force a change of approach.

“Persistent sectarian behaviour at football is hurting the sport and Scotland’s reputation. It will be impossible to know whether progress towards cleaning it up is being made unless this data is released.”

Doncaster said: "I had a very positive meeting with Humza Yousaf where he formerly requested that a variety of information be made public.

"We will now discuss this as a board before deciding the best way forward.

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"During the conversation, we wholeheartedly agreed on the imperative to do all we can to tackle unacceptable conduct and underlined our keenness to play an active role in the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on combating sectarianism in Scottish society when it convenes, we believe, in the summer."