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Regan Attempts to Jump on Sectarianism Bandwagon....and misses


The sectarian industry in Scotland - and it is an industry - has long provided an outlet for those seeking either self-promotion or a distraction from more pertinent events. Raising the spectre of sectarianism has been a sure fire way for ailing journalists to resurrect their careers and a convenient bandwagon for minor, or even more high profile, politicians to jump on in times of trouble. Today, it seemed to be providing an opportunity for Stewart Regan to give the appearance that he is moving the Scottish game forward.

The SFA announced earlier in the week that, at their AGM today, a number of matters would be discussed and voted on by member clubs. Amongst these was the adoption of strict liability rules for clubs whose fans or staff are deemed to have engaged in sectarian or racist behaviour. On the face of it how could this possibly be a bad thing? Nobody wants racist or sectarian behaviour in football, whether it is monkey chants aimed at El Hadj Diouf or “Go Home Ya H*ns” belted out at visiting Rangers fans. However, much like the Scottish Government’s shambolic attempts to legislate on these matters, I have no faith in the SFA to deal properly with this issue. It would appear that their member clubs don’t either since the resolution was rejected.

It all sounds fine in theory. Fans sing a naughty song; their club is hauled up in front of an ‘independent’ SFA panel and three wise men hand down a punishment of their choosing, within a scale of possible punishments. The club are suitably chastised, the fans see their club being hit with sporting sanctions and therefore stop singing the naughty songs and we all go about our business in a footballing nirvana.

Of course this had a few holes in it. The first is the tribunal system itself, which was introduced by Regan and his sidekick, Vincent Lunny, to much fanfare. The idea of using a panel selected from around 100 potential candidates was supposed to give the panels an air of independence. They are still selected by the SFA however, and could include people with wildly differing opinions on football in general and more importantly specific clubs. We have already seen at least one case of a tribunal handing down a punishment which is contrary to the law of the land. Rangers were given a registration embargo which was only able to be enforced off the back of the infamous “5 way agreement” for SFA membership transfer.

Secondly these panels tend to hand out almost inexplicably inconsistent punishments. Rangers were fined £160,000 for entering administration, Dunfermline received no fine. This is an issue of a defective set of rules being used as a framework and also of using different people to decide on similar matters. One panel might feel that Kenny Shiels suggesting Celtic rule the roost at the SFA is more serious than Neil Lennon’s latest bout of snarling at a referee – another might not. There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to these decisions. They certainly show no consistency and the accused tend to appear under the catch all charge of “bringing the game into disrepute”.

So how would the SFA have dealt with the minefield of defining sectarianism? Would they have prescribed a list of songs, chants and types of chants which are unacceptable? Would certain words or phrases have been outlawed? Or would they have relied on the whim of a random three man panel to decide whether they have been offended?

Furthermore, who would have decided which clubs were to be charged? Would we have used what I like to call the “Lunny Test”, which seems to involve checking whether or not the incident has been flagged up by the BBC or the Daily Record? Would it have been down to the press to decide which songs are bad and which are simply “political”? Would the SFA have learned from the shambolic Offensive Behaviour at Football Act and actually taken a stand against continued chanting, singing and banners in support of IRA terrorists? Or would that have slipped through the net as those who defend it continue to claim (wrongly) that it has nothing to do with religion or race and therefore can’t be acted upon?

The question of the press dictating the agenda was actually already answered by Regan on the Good Morning Scotland radio show today. He admitted that Vincent Lunny would act on “video footage”, “radio coverage” and “photo” evidence. So, once again, the SFA wanted to do half the job. If they feel that this is a problem which needs addressed then why not send an observer with recording equipment to every senior game to ensure that all instances are dealt with - not just those highlighted by the media? Given the pay rise they just handed to Regan you would think they could have afforded to tackle this properly.

There are many questions but, given the inconsistency of the SFA tribunals on matters as simple as the behaviour of managers, it is probably for the best that clubs did not trust them to deal with this issue. I would hope that they would have shown the same appetite as UEFA to tackle behaviour that falls outwith the convenient definitions of sectarianism that some would foist on us - the odd idea that somehow insulting someone’s religion is more unsavoury than lauding those who murder children. Regan said that this was “an opportunity for Scottish football to get its own house in order”. Indeed it was, but sadly it had to be done properly and that is where Regan’s plans tend to hit the buffers. Soundbites are one thing, execution is quite another.

From the Rangers point of view it would have been churlish to suggest that we would not have been impacted by this. We still have a small number of people who occasionally let us down in the stands and, for the vast majority of us who want to see an end to that, this could have been a positive step. Sadly, the suspicion is that we would have seen a continuance of the media and political tendency to take aim at Rangers whilst ignoring the behaviour of clubs like Celtic who have an increasing issue with pro terrorist chanting. If the SFA truly wanted to clean our act up in this country then this behaviour would have had to be tackled alongside what people would term as ‘traditional sectarianism’.

What Rangers can say with absolute certainty is that if our support had stepped out of line then this proposal would have seen us hammered for it. The Rangers fans cleaned up their act many years ago and watched as a blind eye was turned to the behaviour of others. This injustice led, on occasion, to slips in our own behaviour. There is not currently a level playing field and we are under more scrutiny than others. That is a fact. We have to hold ourselves to that high standard whilst demanding it is also applied to others. In the current environment, the second part is only possible when the first has been achieved.

If we are squeaky clean then this proposal would have given us the platform to demand parity. There would have been no need for ‘whataboutery’.

Perhaps the SFA would finally have got something right. Perhaps they would have learned from the mistakes made by the Scottish government and come up with a framework to deal not only with negative religious expression but also the expression of pro terrorist views in our stadiums. Perhaps Regan would finally have been able to say that one of his initiatives had a positive impact on our game. We’ve been waiting long enough.

With the rejection of his proposal, Regan becomes the first person in many years to attempt to jump on the sectarianism bandwagon and miss. It is yet another embarrassing reversal for him and another clear indication that not only is his tribunal system not trusted by SFA member clubs but that he is not trusted by them. The sooner he is gone and proper leadership is installed the better. Perhaps then issues like this could be successfully tackled.

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One other interesting proposed resolution from today’s meeting that has only received cursory mention is the following:

“Following arguments about whether Rangers were a new club or are the same club under new owners after their liquidation last year, a measure to expand the definition of a club to include their owner or operator will also be considered.”

I suspect the inclusion of this proposal in an article on the BBC website did not have quite the desired effect. This simply acts as further confirmation that the club and company are treated as separate and is another nail in the coffin of the New Club, Flat Earth Society from the East End. I’d be very interested to hear more about who tabled this resolution and whether the SFA were stupid enough to either accept the change (contrary to documented legal opinion) or will attempt to impose it retrospectively.  Watch this space.