17 October 2012

Sporting Integrity: Where's the journos?

by Chris Graham | CRO Contributor

Everybody knows what a spectacular omnishambles the SPL is, so when it was announced yesterday that they had secretly imposed a transfer ban on Hearts last month for not paying their players on time, without announcing it and during a period when the transfer window was shut, the reaction was a shrug of the shoulders and a few blasts of “Doncaster Must Go”.

The issue runs a bit deeper though. It’s about the lack of questions being asked of both this shambolic body and the SFA who oversee the whole game in Scotland.

What the Hearts story highlights is how journalists in Scotland are just not asking the right questions of the governing bodies and if they are then they are not demanding proper answers. I wrote recently on TRS about the SFA stonewalling enquiries about why Turnbull Hutton was never charged for his “corruption” outburst. Then when they finally answered one journalist, she declared the explanation “off the record” and didn’t even report the general reasoning. They only got away with it because no pressure was put on them to give a proper answer.

So with that in mind I thought I would put out a few questions that perhaps, if they are a bit embarrassed at the Hearts transfer embargo slipping under the radar, the press and TV guys could ask of the SPL board. I would say they should ask Neil Doncaster but, despite his obvious incompetence, he is not running the SPL – he acts at the behest of the more powerful clubs still in the league.

In March there was much talk of a fairer distribution of income in the SPL.  It was one of the reasons cited by the so called “Gang of Ten” for possibly not allowing Rangers back into the SPL or at least demanding a change to the voting rules if they were allowed back in.

So what happened to that then? Celtic should now be isolated and it should be easy for the other 11 clubs to push through the fairer distribution that they all said they wanted.

So, why no vote? Why no proposal for a change even? There isn’t even a need to change the voting rules anymore – all they need to do is propose to distribute the TV and sponsorship income more evenly and let the 11-1 vote pass the change.

Is it possible that Rod Petrie and Steven Thompson have disappeared so far up Peter Lawwell’s arse that they can’t be located for a vote to take place?

Whatever happened to that pesky TV deal? You know – the one that was off because Rangers might be out the SPL and then back on even though they were out the SPL, but only if their SFL games were included. That was reportedly cut by 50% but which reliable ginger Jim Spence then told us was only down by 10%.

Usually these deals are trumpeted from the ramparts of Hampden as a huge success despite almost always being a pittance, so why no announcement? Why no details of the value or the term of the contract?

Let me give some additional guidance to anyone who wants to ask. How long is the contract? 5 years you say? Are you sure Mr Doncaster? Is it not just a year? Ok, if you insist, let’s say its 5 years…. Is there a review due? Is there a review this summer to be more specific? Can Sky and ESPN walk away for nothing in the summer depending on the status of league reconstruction? So it is effectively a one year deal? You don’t know Neil? We should ask Peter? Tut, tut.

Why was this transfer embargo for Hearts kept a secret then? Would it have been embarrassing for you to admit you had to take action against a skint member club whilst in the same breath declaring that things were all fine and dandy in the thriving football Mecca that is the SPL? Yes I can see that.  

Tell me, what is the point in a transfer embargo when the transfer window is shut? Do you feel that is an effective or appropriate punishment? Should you not have fined them? Sure they were skint, but so were Rangers when you fined them – they were in administration weren’t they?  How many times is that now that Hearts haven’t paid their players or haven’t paid tax? Is there going to be an escalation in their punishment as repeat offenders? Is the one month transfer embargo just going to be applied each time? If they get to the point where the transfer window is actually open will the embargo be implemented?

I’m being slightly flippant obviously but you get the idea. This story about Hearts is as much a failure of the journalists as it is of the SPL. They take too much that they are told, by both the SPL and SFA, at face value. They don’t rock the boat.

So what we get is a situation where an SFA Chief Executive can preside over the biggest clusterfuck that Scottish football has ever seen and not come under any sustained pressure due to the highly advanced media strategy of refusing to answer questions or take interviews. Whatever happened to opinion pieces?

Regan saw referees go on strike. He introduced a flawed disciplinary process which has been successfully challenged several times and which is wholly down to the whim of his pet compliance officer, Vincent Lunny. Regan has bullied and lied to SFL clubs during the Rangers affair. He has stood by a disastrous national manager; our national team has plummeted down the rankings and yet again failed to even get close to qualifying for a major tournament.

The SPL has been a disaster. League reconstruction is still being blocked by self-interest despite the best attempts of David Longmuir and the SFL. Revenues are down, crowds are down, interest is down and TV viewing figures have disappeared through the floor.

All this and Regan and Doncaster would have been lucky to see two consecutive days of negative headlines in the press. It has been left to bloggers and fans groups to apply the pressure.

I’m not going to start banging on like some demented Tim about the “Mainstream Media” and their flaws. Lots of journalists work hard and do their best, but they are being too easily fobbed off by both of these organisations and it is time for them to grow a set and start demanding answers.

Chris isn't exactly new to you or to the CRO, but this is the first time he gets to be called a "contributor" so make sure to congratulate him. He can be reached on Twitter at @ChrisGraham76 or via email: cgraham@thecoplandroad.org