Never an organisation known for original thinking, the SFA has recently managed to both shut the barn door after the horse has bolted and then flog a dead horse. However they don’t know who opened the barn door, nor who killed the colt. They need to take a lesson from the Japanese.
Have I put the cart before the horse? OK, let me hold my horses and explain.
In the past couple of weeks the SFA have declared that Craig Whyte is not a ‘fit and proper person’ to run a football club, charged Rangers with bringing the game into disrepute, and asked all member clubs to tell them if they have had any undocumented arrangements to pay players over the past ten years.
Better late than never? In this case, probably not. Whyte will ignore any sanction from the SFA – he’ll never appear in a Scottish football stadium again. Any punishment for Rangers is simply penalising their fans a second time for being screwed by management that was at best incompetent and at worst criminal. And the undocumented arrangements? Good luck with that. They’re undocumented for a reason.
The SFA is nominally Scottish football’s regulator, but in practice they’ve done a pretty dismal job. Just look at the cases of Giovanni di Stefano at Dundee, Whyte the Shyte at Ibrox, and, coming up soon, rogueish Romanov at Hearts. They need to improve fast, and if they don’t, the Scottish Parliament should create an independent regulator for the national sport.
Most significant industries have supervisory bodies to protect ordinary people from rapacious, unethical companies run by thieving, scruple-free scoundrels. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture makes sure that your steak used to moo, not neigh, while in Hong Kong the Jockey Club makes sure that Sunday’s Sha Tin thoroughbreds aren’t thoroughly pumped full of steroids by tricky Triads.
And everywhere in the world, managers of other people’s money are regulated. In Japan, the Financial Services Agency is feared by domestic and foreign banks. FSA agents can walk through the door of any financial firm in the country any time they like and ask to see anything they want. You don’t have Japanese documentation? Translate. You don’t speak Japanese? Get an interpreter, or better yet, get out of the room and let a Japanese employee do the talking. (How do I know this? Let’s say I got it straight from the horse’s mouth.)
If they catch you breaking the rules, you get fined serious amounts of Yen. If you do something really bad, you get suspended – which means you can’t do business, and you don’t make money, for the duration of the punishment. Credit Suisse got a one-month ban in 2005; the FSA doesn’t mess around.
We need football’s equivalent of the Japanese FSA. A regulator that can crack a whip, not dish out sugar cubes. One that is staffed with educated, angry football fans, and whose mission it is to prevent clubs being shafted by horse’s arses like Dundee’s di Stefano, Clydebank’s Dr John Hall, and Third Lanark’s Bill Hiddleston. They would audit clubs every couple of years and pore over the books to make sure everything is accounted for, and they would have the power to do spot audits whenever they have reason to do so.
Our country has the resources and the skill to be a role model for this. Scotland has the oldest professional accountancy body in the world in ICAS, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. We’re know our for accountants like Ireland’s known for its nags, but instead of vanishing like Shergar our product is exported all over the world to places like London, New York, and Hong Kong.
We should pack a few Chartered Accountants on a horseless carriage to Hampden, and with the SFA’s full backing, let them go at the books of every club in Scotland – to make sure no-one’s horsing around with football’s future.
I’ll get off my high horse now. Stewart Regan, I’ve led the pony to water. Don’t look this gift horse in the mouth: give him a drink.