The shambolic ballot and ensuing mess needs answers from the SPFL as the clamour for an independent inquiry grows
In a useful news diversion a bloated, 14-person task force formed to consider reconstruction in the Scottish Professional Football League convened for the first time on Monday. A vote will be required to approve any of its recommendations. No sniggering at the back.
Meanwhile the chairmen of Aberdeen and Heart of Midlothian have joined their equivalent at Rangers by calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ballot to abandon the 2019-20 season. This means 25% of the top division is seeking the same inquiry, which the SPFL – recently very keen on percentage mandates – has intimated no desire whatsoever to hold. “The SPFL looks an absolute mess,” Steven Gerrard said last week.
But it is more serious than a PR fiasco. Ongoing doubt – triggered partly by a lack of transparency – into the governance of Scotland’s national sport is unfair on customers. Nicola Sturgeon’s stark comments on Monday regarding the non-viability of football in Scotland any time soon, including behind closed doors, will set off alarm bells but the SPFL should not simultaneously be allowed to brush off a damaging saga.
Immediately after Gerrard’s comments, the Guardian asked the SPFL for clarity on its position on the convening of an independent investigation and received no reply. On Monday, the following straightforward questions were submitted. “There won’t be anything further from the SPFL on the below,” a spokesman replied.
These were the questions:
1.Why does the SPFL remain reluctant to permit an independent investigation into the circumstances with chairs of 25% of the top division now supporting such a move?
Speaking on Sunday, the SPFL board member Les Gray said: “There is no wrongdoing here, we are absolutely certain of that. So there is no need for investigation in my view.” This at least infers the SPFL has a predetermined position. So, too, the comments of the SPFL chairman, Murdoch MacLennan, to members: “I am entirely satisfied, based on all the information at my disposal, that the SPFL and its executives and legal advisers have acted wholly properly at every stage in this process.”
By allowing an independent investigation allegations of impropriety could be comprehensively dismissed. Moreover, given the language used by Rangers in particular, the league would have scope to fight back against highly damaging claims. Instead, the SPFL is strangely reticent to permit external focus.
2. Why were emergency loans not detailed as an alternative financial distribution option in the paperwork sent out to clubs before the vote, with particular reference to the fact the league already had funds to pay end-of-season money?
The key basis for calling 2019-20 as it stands, as vehemently pushed by the SPFL board, was the release of end of season prize money. “The SPFL documentation received by all clubs on Wednesday 8 April made it clear that declaring the season ended was the only way to achieve distribution of funds and to then proceed to the next stage,” a Raith Rovers statement said.
However, it has emerged that the SPFL board has the power to issue emergency loans to clubs. This wasn’t highlighted or explained when the paperwork to which Raith refer to was issued. The league and its directors, naturally, need to be protected against loan defaults but there has been no articulation as to why any such payment would not be protected against - and limited to - prize money the SPFL had in its possession. The league appeared in a frantic rush to abandon the campaign.
3. Will the league publish the electronic timeline of Dundee’s two votes – and recall – from Friday 10 April? If not, why?
Dundee’s role in this farce is now infamous. MacLennan explained it as thus: “One Championship club attempted to submit a voting slip, which did not reach the SPFL until late that evening. Earlier, at 6pm on Friday, that club had confirmed in writing to the SPFL that any attempted vote from that club should not be considered as cast.” The precise reasoning for Dundee’s subsequent volte face – no to yes – remain unclear.
The timings of Dundee’s submissions will have an online template. The information contained therein is not remotely sensitive. In fact, one of their voting slips was in the public domain within 24 hours. There should be no problem with the league showing the public the exact details.
4. As per the Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack’s comments on BBC Scotland, why did the SPFL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, call him at 4.40pm on the aforementioned Friday?
Cormack said he had “no problem” with Doncaster calling him 20 minutes before the guidance deadline of 5pm for the vote to close. Yet Cormack stated Doncaster’s advice was that Aberdeen’s vote “didn’t matter” because the top flight had already reached the necessary 75% threshold to call the season. So Aberdeen, who had been undecided on the resolution, were given notice of an irrelevant vote. Dundee sent in two.
5. Which other clubs did Doncaster call that same day and why?
As the chief executive of the league, Doncaster is an official for all 42 member clubs. The SPFL board’s strong wish for the resolution to pass was well known but if the chief executive was speaking to clubs on that theme, governance questions would be raised.
6. What was the rationale behind the “result” of an incomplete vote being published on 10 April?
Much of this wholly unacceptable affair can be traced to the SPFL’s unprecedented decision to release “result” figures with a number of clubs – including, crucially, Dundee – still to register a vote. The league has not addressed why this move was taken.
7. Have the Championship clubs been asked if they felt threatened during the voting process?
Cormack said the vote was “forced down our throats”. Ann Budge, the Hearts owner, has raised the possibility of the SPFL board exerting “undue influence” on the resolution process. Rangers said in a statement: “We are aware several club directors claimed they were being bullied.”
The Championship, though, emerged as the most significant – and fraught – voting domain.
These are only seven of the questions that the SPFL should answer but instead silence prevails. It is a wholly unsatisfactory response.
This is an article from Ewan Murray in the Guardian.