Yesterday saw HMRC prevail in the latest stage of the Big Tax Case against Rangers (IL). Perhaps unsurprisingly, today’s media output – with the honourable exception of the Scotsman – contains hints, questions and suggestions that stripping titles from Rangers (IL) might not be a viable option, may not be desirable, or may simply be pointless.
The judgement made it clear that by not paying due tax Rangers (IL) were able to employ players that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
As I explained yesterday, the implication of this judgement (which could yet be appealed to the Supreme Court) is that Scottish football was essentially a lie for the best part of a decade.
Here is a sample of the kind of thing that was being said in the media this morning.
“However, SPFL sources believe there is no mechanism in the current rules for pursuing clubs for the non-payment of tax — and therefore taking titles away.”
“Senior club officials believe the findings of the independent commission set up by the SPL to investigate all financial arrangements between Rangers and its players during that period should be upheld”
“There is nothing that can change how I feel about those experiences. The games were won and lost at the time and there is nothing now that is going to change that.”
And of course Graham Spiers had his say yesterday…
“A guilty Rangers – if this is the end of the matter – also leaves the Scottish FA in a precarious position. Retrospective title-stripping looks a futile business to me, but it goes on in other sports, and the SFA stand accused of being timorous in the face of the wrongdoing. Is title-stripping an option? Yes, it is, though I wouldn’t assent to it. The misdeeds have been done, and Rangers FC paid a high price.”
I am most certainly not suggesting that these journalists – and others – are engaging in some sort of conspiracy to try and prevent Rangers (IL) from having titles stripped. I am sure the opinions are honestly-held, and in the cases of Andy Coyle and Gerry McCulloch I suspect that the questions and points made are genuinely probing to generate discussion.
But what I am pointing out in this blog is that there is already – and will continue to be – a bubbling (and growing) argument that maybe bygones should be bygones, and that we should all just move on. Because raking over the past is difficult or unhelpful.
To which I say: BULLSHIT.
At stake is the very integrity of the game (and yes I DID use the ‘I’ word. If you don’t like it: tough!). This is about whether our national sport should take place on a level playing field.
It is about whether setting fire to a pile of £10 notes is a more worthwhile activity for the football fan than unwittingly watching a grotesque spectacle masquerading as sport for years on end.
It is about deciding whether wrongdoing should be punished and whether there is any moral hazard in our game whatsoever.
It is about deciding whether there should be any deterrent against future wrongdoing.
It really isn’t difficult to get your head around. One of the senior clubs in Scotland didn’t pay tax and was thus able to field stronger teams for the best part of a decade. If that isn’t worthy of the attention of those responsible for running Scottish football, then I don’t know what is!
So spare us the ifs, buts and maybes.
Was wrong done? Yes or no?
If yes, how should it be punished?
We are told by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News that the SFA and SPFL have lawyers looking at the Big Tax Case verdict. Let us hope that the governing bodies take their responsibility to the game seriously. Due process is very important, but hiding behind the niceties of process to avoid taking any action simply won’t wash. In 2012, there was no established mechanism to effect the fast-tracking of a new club into the league following Rangers’ demise. And yet lo and behold a way was found!
An awful lot of us are going to be watching how the SFA and SPFL ultimately respond to the final judgement in the Big Tax Case. The most likely way to ensure action is for the senior clubs to put pressure on them. Senior clubs who perhaps lost prize money, European qualification and trophies as a result of the advantage conferred by EBTs.
And as we all know, the most likely way to get the clubs to act is for the fans – the paying customers – to apply pressure on them.
So please make your voice heard. Early and often!