Archive for November, 2015

Systematic cheating over many years? Gaining a clear sporting advantage by breaking the rules? Titles gained through cheating? A governing body that looked the other way?

The sporting press has been up in arms over the last two days since the World Anti Doping Agency exposed the scale of Russian drug use in athletics. A consensus seems to have developed that Russia should be banned from next year’s Olympic Games and that all tainted medals should be removed from the cheats.

Phrases like “industrial scale cheating”, “conspiracy of corruption” and “unprecedented deception” have all being used. And there is a general agreement that swift and decisive action needs to be taken for the good of world athletics.

Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister, perhaps summed up the need to clean up the sport after these revelations, stating, “This is what destroys public faith in the competition they see on their televisions or go to see.”

Not much room for shades of grey in this story, is there? And why should there be? When sporting cheats get caught they are punished. Just ask Ben Johnson or Lance Armstrong. They both cheated. They both got caught. They both had their tainted titles removed.

This morning on Radio Scotland there were reports of calls for Yvonne Murray’s medal in the 1988 Olympics to be upgraded because she finished behind an athlete who cheated. So time, it seems, is no barrier to doing the right thing. In athletics at least.

So why does it all seem so different in the world of Scottish football?

The former Rangers Football Club, now known as RFC 2012 PLC (in liquidation), cheated. It did it not by drugging its players but by buying players it couldn’t afford to pay and using an illegal method of tax evasion instead. It was financial doping rather than chemical doping, yet with the same outcome: titles won because of cheating.

So why are the journalists who’re so quick to call for action against the cheats of Russian athletics not also calling for action against the cheats of Scottish football?

Perhaps because of the unwritten law that seems to trump all others in the national game. The asterisk that should sit at the top of every set of rules and regulations with a link to a phrase that says “Does not necessarily apply to any club with the word Rangers in its name.”

But Scotland’s footballing authorities, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League, are membership bodies comprising the country’s football clubs. Our clubs can force those in power to do the right thing and remove the tainted titles – and football fans throughout the country can prompt their club to take action.

In the past we’ve seen the likes of Raith Rovers, in the person of the sadly missed Turnbull Hutton, stand up to those in charge and lead the fight against special treatment for new club The Rangers. The then Raith chairman took them on with the help of other clubs – and he won.

So will come to the rescue this time? Who will take on the mantle of Turnbull Hutton? Who will stand up for the good of Scottish football?

Scotland’s sports media, the stenographers to use Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s lovely phrase, will as always refuse to their job. We know they won’t challenge anyone at Ibrox. The hard questions will be left unanswered and the press releases repeated. So once again it’s been left to Channel 4’s Alex Thomson to get to the truth of the matter. He does it with a succinctness and a directness that has to be admired.

“All the titles and silverware from all the years Rangers cheated at football, as they cheated at tax, must be null and void and wiped from the record.”

If Scotland’s football fans work together we can make it happen.

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Remove The Tainted Titles

It’s a long time since I’ve written about the nefarious tax affairs of the former Rangers Football Club. But yesterday’s decision by appeal judges Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Drummond Young has brought the matter right back into the public eye.

In simple terms, the judges ruled in HRMC’s favour over its claim that the former Rangers were liable for a £46.2 million bill over the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) to make payments to players, managers and staff.

So what I and many others have been saying since the start of this sordid affair is now official: the former Rangers Football Club broke the law many times over many years. It paid football players, managers and ever former managers through a tax evasion scheme that defrauded the public purse out of tens of millions of pounds.

Now the financial consequences of this relate solely to the legal entity now called RFC 2012 PLC (in liquidation) – the old club. The new club playing out of Ibrox, Rangers International Football Club plc Group (formerly Sevco Scotland Ltd), has no liability.

But the sporting consequences of years of tax fraud have yet to be settled.

The Commission for the former Scottish Premier League headed by Lord Nimmo Smith back in 2013 ruled that the use of EBTs without informing the football authorities of the payments was a breach of football’s player registration rules and fined the former club £250,000.

LNS did not however look into the legality of the EBT scheme. That was a matter for the courts and beyond his remit. The Commission assumed the scheme to be lawful and therefore ruled that no sporting advantage accrued to the club from its deliberate administrative omissions.

We now know differently. And that changes everything.

LNS assumed omissions in administering a legal scheme. We now know that the omissions were actually part of an attempt to cover up large scale illegal non payment of taxes.

Failure to register players correctly may or may not have led to a sporting advantage. But failure to pay over £40,000,000 in tax undoubtedly did. And that’s what must now be addressed.

Every club in Scottish football lost out in some way from this long term and wide scale tax fraud. Whether through losing access to European competitions, missing out on league prize money or potential cup runs or receiving a smaller share of tv cash. Everyone lost – and only one club gained.

The former Rangers Football Club attracted players it could not otherwise have afforded to pay. It kept vast sums that should have been paid in tax while every other club fulfilled its social obligations. And it used this unfair advantage to win league titles and cups.

So today I’m calling on all football clubs in Scotland to demand action from the SFA and SPFL. Demand that the matter is looked into again in light of yesterday’s court ruling and remove all of the tainted titles from the former football club. Let the record books show that crime doesn’t pay.

And I’m also calling on fans of all clubs to ensure that this happens. Write to your chairman or chairwoman and ask him or her to act immediately. Scottish football fans have shown before that pressure can be brought to bear – remember how attempts to parachute the new club from Ibrox straight into the Championship were defeated?

If all of Scotland’s clubs call for the tainted titles and contaminated cups to be removed the authorities will have to act. They are membership organisations after all.

If we all work together we can ensure that sporting fairness wins out.

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