This seems like a good time for a quick round-up. It’s been a few weeks since we published a report into misgovernance at the Scottish Football Association, calling for an independent inquiry to ensure a level playing field and greater accountability to fans. Now things are moving…
To recap briefly, we identified two main issues around the SFA’s treatment of the pre-2012 Rangers. One, around the inquiry into Rangers’ concealment of player payments; and the second, around the handling of Rangers’ application for a licence to compete in European football.
In our view, the first of these is the more serious - both in terms of the behaviour revealed, and of the implications for the skewing of the Scottish playing field over the course of a decade. The second issue, however, has more immediately captured attention for now.
The report has received a huge response, over 50,000 people reading the relevant post. More people than the average home game at Ibrox this season.
Media coverage included a great summary in The Times (£), where Graham Spiers noted that “The TJN further impales the SFA over its granting of a licence to Rangers to compete in Europe in 2011-12”. The Herald carried Neil Cameron’s full interview with our George Turner, billed as the lead author of the “controversial report” which “has dominated social media among Scottish football supporters for weeks.” BBC Radio Scotland also had a lengthy discussion among its panelists on Off the Ball.
The Daily Record published a blog on their website this week. Sadly it made no attempt to engage with the substance, instead referencing some of the silly conspiracy theories about ToG whilst calling into question our ‘journalistic integrity’. On that, the author of the blog at no point contacted us before publication. We gave that opportunity to the SFA before we published our report but they chose not to respond. That is what responsible journalists do. They certainly have our number - the Record’s sports and news teams have called us on various occasions to discuss the report. But perhaps there’s some obstacle to their running a story about the actual substance?
This week, things have started to move - triggered, in particular, by the group of Celtic shareholders who had previously tabled a resolution asking the club’s board to raise questions on the UEFA licence. This ‘Resolution 12’ was adjourned in order for further discussion to take place. And now they have…
This week, the Tribune de Geneve carried the advert below from the #Res12 group - very kindly referencing ToG. It’s worth saying that we had no knowledge of the advert until we were contacted after publication by a journalist from the Tribune, and also that we have a different interpretation of the licensing issue from #Res12, in at least one significant respect; but we share, with them and a growing number of others, the conviction that much more full disclosure is needed for fans to start to recover any confidence in fair governance. Click the picture to see it as it appeared in La Julie’s print edition.
The immediate success of the group is that, finally, the Scottish FA were forced into responding publicly - albeit only very partially.
It’s not much, but it’s a start. You can enjoy the full, 81 second video clip on STV. Which is 81 more seconds of comment than we ever got, as we put each part of the report’s claims to the SFA before publication. The start of Grant Russell’s question makes clear why the issue is being raised: “You’ll be aware there’s an advert in a Geneva-based newspaper today…”.
The most striking feature is that Regan presents the SFA role not as a regulator, but as a regulated body itself.
He doesn’t argue, for example, that the SFA did a good job of ensuring Rangers met the criteria to compete in Europe. Instead, he says: “Our position on that is that we have complied with UEFA requirements in the period immediately following March 2011.”
Regan goes on to make it clear that he sees no further accountability of the SFA either to Celtic, a member club, or more importantly to Scottish football fans. Only if these other actors are able to convince UEFA itself to take action - even though it is the SFA which is the member here - will the SFA take any further steps. And these will be reactive only: in such an event, “we will fully cooperate and comply with any requests for information from UEFA”.
Two other points are worth noting. One is that Regan seems to misrepresent the #Res12 group, claiming that they are happy with the granting of the licence to Rangers (and only unhappy in respect of the subsequent ‘monitoring’). As far as we understand it, #Res12 objects to the granting of the licence - only that they focus on the June deadline rather than the March one (or any of the previous years) as being the critical point. This may just be a presentational slip from Regan (it’s a live piece, after all), but it’s not a great look…
…especially in what appears to be a prepared answer, which is the other point. Regan’s last answer was to dismiss a follow-up. A journalist (unknown) asked something on the lines of “Can I just ask, I’m assuming there was some kind of internal SFA investigation-“, before Regan cut in: “I’ve made my point clear on the question that was asked, and as far as we’re concerned we’ve dealt with it in accordance with UEFA regulations.” Again, this makes clear that only one line of accountability is recognised; but it also suggests, perhaps, that the one question had been agreed beforehand.
THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT
In exploring the potential to establish an independent inquiry into the SFA, we considered which bodies have both the power to do so, and a natural interest in accountability for fans, and in a level playing field for clubs. One contender is the Scottish government, so we wrote to them to see what they thought.
Here’s the reply, on behalf of Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health:
Whilst we recognise your interest in this issue, it is not appropriate for Scottish Ministers to become involved as this matter is primarily the responsibility of UEFA and the football authorities within Scotland. In terms of the issue on taxation, that is a matter for the UK Government to answer, with HMRC the lead department on taxation.
In relation to UEFA specifically we will obviously consider any issues raised by them in due course as appropriate.
While the first paragraph looks like the washing of hands that might have been expected, the closing line is an interesting one. The letter from the Scottish Government can be seen here.
There is, in effect, a full alignment of views - however unlikely that might once have seemed. The Scottish FA, the Scottish government, Celtic and their #Res12 shareholders, along with many fans of other Scottish clubs, are all now looking to UEFA for answers.
What can we expect of UEFA? It’s hard to say. UEFA is an organisation with fundamental governance challenges of its own. See, for example, Matt Scott’s damning assessment of UEFA’s involvement with the Greek FA - most of which occurred while UEFA was run by the new head of FIFA, Gianni Infantino (now facing possible suspension there). We also have been highly critical of Infantino.
Do improvements at UEFA lie ahead? If the suspension of Michel Platini gave you hope, Pål Ødegård’s piece on one of the favourites to replace him, vice president Ángel María Villar, should give you pause.
There may be a couple of reasons for cautious optimism. One is that UEFA has led the way on financial fair play generally, and has taken meaningful action against clubs over this precise issue - disclosures of overdue payables during the season in question. The other is of course the ongoing pressure, on FIFA and each of its regional members, to step up and demonstrate that they are fit for purpose in terms of governance and accountability (no laughing at the back).
In the meantime, we’ll continue to seek full answers from the SFA, and other key players; to support ongoing efforts by a number of journalists to take the story further; and to explore other channels to achieve an independent inquiry into the running of Scottish football.