Sporting integrity: what does it mean?
For me, integrity underpins sport. The values and morals that offer a level playing field to all teams is the foundation of competitive sport. Rules must be applied fairly and equitably with all teams treated in the same manner.
And when actions are taken that undermine sporting integrity the culprits must be punished – whoever they are. No one must be above the rules, or too big to be punished.
Regular readers will know exactly where I am going with this.
In Scottish football there will be a vote tomorrow. The Cheats’ Charter will be discussed once more. This is the set of proposed rule changes that would allow a football team that goes bust to set up a new club and have it play in the top league in its place. And these amendments are being discussed for the benefit of one particular club.
Now Scottish football is not a franchise system like the NFL. There are several divisions with promotion and relegation between them on sporting grounds. The top team in a lower division will be promoted. The bottom team in a higher division relegated. And any new team must start and the bottom. It has always been this way. There is not one example in more than 100 years of football of a new team being allowed straight into the top division.
But the rules should be different for Rangers, we are told. And why should sporting integrity be forgotten about? Money. It’s as base and as crass as that. The argument is that the league cannot afford to lose a big club, so the rules should simply be changed to accommodate it.
Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston summed it up quite nicely when he told us that his club would support the Cheats’ Charter:
“Member clubs are mindful of a sporting integrity aspect but the commercial benefits outweigh that.”
So there you are. A man whose version of integrity is that it is second to money. He can be bought and sold. And sadly he will not be the only person in a position of power within Scottish football who thinks this way.
Why should Scottish football dismiss sporting integrity so easily? Other footballing bodies have shown that rules apply to everyone regardless of commercial considerations.
In Italian football, a match fixing scandal in 2006 saw the champions Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina all relegated and AC Milan hit by points deduction.
No one argued that Juve, the grand old lady of Italian football, was too big or too famous to be relegated. The club broke the rules and so the champions of Italian football were punished for their crimes.
In France, Marseilles have had a league title taken away after being found to have fixed matches.
And other sports have taken action against big names too.
Snooker suspended John Higgins, a multiple world champion, on suspicions of match fixing. While it was never proven that he did cheat, even the failure to report an approach made to him resulted in a ban from the sport.
Athletics has acted against many who have been found guilty of taking drugs, at all levels of the sport. Even the winner of the Olympic 100m, the blue riband event, was not immune. Ben Johnson had his gold medal removed and a world record taken from him. The fastest man on the planet wasn’t immune to punishment.
In these cases sporting integrity came first. The big names, all of whom undoubtedly brought great commercial benefits to their sports, were not given a free ride. The rules were enforced in exactly the same manner as they would to any other competitor.
And that is the way sport should work. The rules must be applied to all on an equitable basis without grace or favour.
So when Scotland’s top flight football clubs come together tomorrow will they choose to make sporting integrity a priority?
Or will they put money first and sell off their principles and their sporting integrity?