After making inquiries into progress on Resolution 12 to the Celtic AGM of 2013 there is little doubt in my mind that the SFA made a serious error in the process of UEFA licensing.
Here are some facts:
- UEFA does not issue licences to clubs who have due tax bills outstanding,
- UEFA require the SFA to satisfy themselves of a club’s eligibility for a licence and that clubs have provided proof no overdue tax payable exists,
- UEFA also require a club to tell the SFA and UEFA if, after the issue of a licence there are material changes in their circumstances which would affect their eligibility – including the situation at #1 above,
- UEFA awarded Rangers a licence to play in European competition in March 2011,
- In May 2011 Rangers received a tax bill, which they did not contest or appeal or agree a payment plan. The bill (which remains unpaid) was overdue by 30 June 2011,
- UEFA received no notice of this,
- Rangers did not lose their licence and in fact competed in both the Champions’ League and The Europa League in that season.
None of these facts are disputed (as far as is known) by anyone connected to the saga. What is in doubt, because the SFA won’t answer the question, is whether they received a copy of the tax bill and the May letter that accompanied it from Rangers or not.
If they did send it to the SFA, Rangers could reasonably argue that they did their bit and the SFA fell down on the job by failing to notify UEFA of their new unfavourable tax status.
If Rangers did not send it, then they had broken not only UEFA FFP rules but more importantly the trust amongst SFA members that full disclosure is honestly made in a self-certification process. The SFA in not carrying out their monitoring responsibilities properly and using the powers UEFA FFP gave them also broke that trust.
In either case, there is a systematic failure by the SFA to administer the sport effectively; either through a failure of trust, a failure of administration – or both.
Even worse, in the four years that have elapsed since this incident, it seems that nothing has been done to put matters right. The SFA have been very active in refusing to answer questions on the matter, particularly this one;
“How will you prevent it happening again?”
Incredibly, up to now, no measures have been put in place to add rigour to the licensing process. Are they really saying that they think the process was carried out satisfactorily?
No they are saying nothing. Silence and denial, followed by silence and inaction.
So what is the point of this article? Let’s call out the elephant in the room right away – it is unequivocally not to have a go at Rangers. This is no longer really about Rangers at all, but about the SFA’s mal-governance of the game. Besides, clubs affected by this seeming failure on the part of the authorities (in that year Celtic, Dundee United and Hearts and Kilmarnock) are hardly likely to successfully sue a club now in liquidation (although small shareholders might take a different view with regard to the SFA’s conduct).
Nor am I seeking to find some retrospective punishment for the club (as far as I know sanctions are neither available retrospectively, nor useful in this case ) but to be aware that the question above urgently needs to be addressed if the status of football as a sport is to be maintained.
To the extent that this is about what has happened to Rangers, does anyone – no matter what club they owe their allegiance to – seriously consider that TRFC would NOT be in a better situation today had the SFA acted with propriety and applied their rules correctly in 2011/12?
With the kind of money on offer these days for entry into Europe, and the interdependent nature of the game, it seems fairly self-evident that trust is not enough to allow effective regulation, and that incompetent governance where money is the paramount consideration is unacceptable.
The SFA has long enjoyed a misconceived impression of its function as being that of a quasi-legal body, bestowing upon it a status of independence and aloofness from the partisan interest of the clubs. In the main, fans have largely bought into that myth. However the SFA is nothing of the kind.
It is in fact merely a cartel which is allowed to govern itself for its own benefit and is only accountable to the clubs that make up its membership, and not the fans. Check out the last sentences of almost any rule, where discretionary powers awarded to itself effectively render the rule worthless and unenforceable.
Literally, a nihilistic approach to governance
Maybe it is time the SFA scrapped the get out of jail discretionary clauses, and put some robust regulation in place to ensure the financial transparency of all clubs?
Even better, politicians are never slow to tell us of the importance of football to the social fabric of the country – in that case why not follow their own rhetoric, recognise that it cannot be allowed to self regulate in narrow self interest, and legislate to have football governed independently?
If I was a Rangers fan, I’d be thinking that the SFA’s failure to police the UEFA licencing issue helped accelerate the club’s demise – by making it easier to paper over the cracks.
If I was a Celtic, Hearts, Dundee United or Killie fan, well the consequences for them in terms of lost financial and competitive opportunities are fairly obvious.
Conclusion? The clubs can no longer be trusted to run the affairs of the industry themselves.
A new independent, accountable regulatory body (funded by the clubs) is the minimum we need to save the game in this country. It should comprise representatives of the clubs, the fans and other stakeholders – and it should have a holistic remit as its prime directive, whilst ensuring fair and equitable treatment of all clubs.
It can take decisions on the basis of what is good for the game without the baggage of self-interest, and without any west of Scotland institutionalised bias. Of course Scotland isn’t alone in this. Football is a powerful political force across the world, and as developments at FIFA over the past couple of years have demonstrated, it is institutionally corrupt. The clubs can no longer be allowed to run it as they see fit, and we need to begin a campaign which will ultimately convince the pay-at-the-gate fan of the truth of that.
The UEFA licensing issue is only a pebble in the sand of football incompetence and corruption, but it is a microcosm of what ails the game. The good of the sport, and not individual clubs, is paramount. The SFA cannot and will not deliver that.
The case for a new regulatory body is clear, and the status quo is not an option unless the death of the sport is deemed acceptable.
There is little doubt in my mind that unless regime change is effected, in a few decades there will be no regime .