When the Scottish Premier League (SPL) and the Scottish Football league (SFL) merged in 2013 to form The Scottish Professional Football League, the word “professional” has been accepted as applying only to the football side of the business.
However, should supporters, the ultimate paying customers, not expect the administration and governance of the game to be a lot more professional than is evident from the handling, by both the SPFL (SPL/SFL) and the Scottish Football Association (SFA), of the descent into liquidation of Rangers FC, which started in 2000, as well as the subsequent damage limitation attempts from March 2011, that have had serious consequences for the reputation of Scottish football of being a professionally managed business?
Most folk would not argue that there is a glaringly obvious need for a more professional form of football governance, but the question is how can that be achieved? One way towards achieving that aim is the subject of what follows.
there is a glaringly obvious need for a more professional form of football governance
Back in the 90’s the Government embarked on yet another an exercise to modernise the Civil Service using a technique known then as Market Testing. The idea was that units, like Information Technology, Human Resource or Office Maintenance within large Civil Service Government Ministries, should be compared with what was available in the private sector to see if the service the internal units provided in a Ministry could be provided more efficiently from external sources.
At the time, internal units operated to their own standards and were answerable only to themselves for the level of service they provided to the users in other internal units. As a consequence there were no defined levels of service, the users were largely dissatisfied with the service they were receiving, the perception of the IT or HR or OM units was poor damaging their moral and, unlike the private sector, the customer was not the king but the serf.
Before such internal units could be tested there was a lot of preparatory work needed, the most important of which was a change in the culture to one where the customer became king. This was done through the reluctant acceptance that change was necessary in order for those in internal units to hold on to their jobs, followed by the joint establishment in discussion with service users of the level of service that was acceptable to them and the cost in financial terms to the Ministry of that service.
It was a painful and effort intensive process of itself but it did result in a change in culture that not only helped internal staff hold on to their jobs but changed the perception of those both inside and outside the units for the better.
All very fine you say but why am I reading this on Scottish Football Monitor, what is the relevance to the lack of professional governance?
Well I think it fair to say that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) has never at any time in its history been held in such low regard by their ultimate customers, the football supporters, without whom there would be no SFA.
In the public perception, measuring both football and governance performance, the SFA would be lucky to score 10 for incompetency rather than the more likely and damning similar score for corruption, where 10 was the worst possible score.
In spite of this and protected by the inertia in SPFL clubs who should be voicing the concerns of their paying customers to the SFA, there appears no appetite or indeed mechanism for change. This is where market testing comes in.
When viewed from a business perspective the SFA is a service provider to the customers via their clubs. In a sense the clubs act, or rather should act, as agents for their supporters and become the “customer” with whom the SFA provide a number of Services. These services should not be hard to identify, for example.
- Refereeing Services
- Disciplinary Services
- Licensing Services
- Auditing as in Policing Services.
- Fit and Proper Person Services.
The Refereeing Service
Given the current, one might even say perpetual, dissatisfaction of refereeing standards, it, is one activity that could benefit from being treated as the kind of service the SFA might provide to the SPFL.
Under such an approach
- Refereeing would be split into two parts.
- The SFA would be responsible for the recruitment, wage structuring, training and match appointments as the service provider (having taken the nature of the game to be officiated into account and after discussion with SPFL).
- Monitoring and evaluation of a referee’s performance would be the responsibility of the SPFL as the customer.
- Referees or ex refs from anywhere (not just Scotland) hired by SPFL would evaluate performance to a standard set by the SPFL after agreement of standards with SFA.
- Splitting the appointment and evaluation process. would prevent any one person being able to exert any undue individual influence on referees which protects the integrity of individuals, the service itself and referees appointed.
- It would lead to a higher standard of referee because the customer would be setting the standard not the supplier (as happens everywhere in business but football)
- If standards were not met over a period or a particular game required meeting a standard not possible at the time, the SPFL would be free to hire their own referees from wherever they could get them.
- This freedom under a service approach would reduce, if not remove entirely, the burden of suspected allegiance that bedevils every decision made by match referees by supporters to the detriment of the referees and so of Scottish football.
- The corollary is the SFA would also be free to offer their referees to other national associations encouraging the SFA to recruit and train to the highest level possible (and charge the other associations for the service).
- Competition for appointments would raise standards and if Scottish referees consistently reached higher standards, they would be in more demand outside Scotland which gives them a financial incentive to be the best referee they can be.
- Any national association could adopt this service provider approach leading to an international professional refereeing occupation in a world where football is almost a daily event somewhere requiring a steady supply of good referees.
Refereeing as a service has been chosen as but one example of how to establish a customer/service provider relationship between the SFA and SPFL, but the principle would apply to the other services listed. SFM readers are invited to give their views not just on the potential hurdles, like inertia, no driving force etc, but also the benefits of overcoming such hurdles if the approach were applied to those services plus any not on the list that would lend themselves to the approach.