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.