In 1996, Madeline Albright, then Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, was asked if she thought the death of half a million Iraqi children due to United Nation sanctions was a price worth paying in the cold war against Saddam Hussein. Her answer, amid much humming and ha’ing, was basically: “Yes”.
Albright later castigated herself for falling for the simplest of interview traps – the loaded question. She knew there was only one defence against such a weapon, and it’s to reframe the question.
The ten “wee clubs” in the Scottish Premier League could use a lesson in reframing right about now. It might get them out of the “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” trap that the Old Firm have set for them.
On April 30th, the members clubs of the SPL voted to defer for a week any decision on sanctions against Rangers. One week later, they decided to give themselves another three weeks, deferring any action until the end of May. They then spent five hours discussing the situation, and left the meeting no closer to any agreement than they were on Valentine’s Day, when this whole Rangers fiasco first flared.
If the other member clubs boot Rangers out of the SPL, Rangers fans point out, TV revenue will fall significantly – Dundee United chairman Steven Thompson spoke about a million-pound impact on his club. On top of this, crowds will fall as the Rangers hordes won’t come visiting. (Some teams’ fans dispute this, saying increased competitiveness might make up for it – but with Celtic strolling to the league title, I doubt that.)
However, if they don’t boot Rangers out of the SPL, Celtic fans say they will boycott every club that voted to keep the Ibrox side in the league – and at least some fans of every other club have said they’ll walk away, sick of a league which will have given up any pretence of “sporting integrity” or fair play.
The consequence of either course is that every member club will have to make savage cost cuts to offset reduced revenue. A few clubs might themselves fall into administration, setting off a vicious chain reaction.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t – and the SPL clubs (except the Old Firm) are clearly looking at both options, fancying neither, and kicking the proverbial can down the road.
But with a bit of imagination they could completely change the rules of the game.
One punter on the Scotsman comments board suggested the following: create a 16-team SPL, let Rangers in but with a 20-point penalty for three years, have a post-split playoff of the top four for European slots and “something similar” at the bottom.
I’m not sure I agree with the specifics of the proposal, but I think this is genius thinking. Use the opportunity to make changes to Scottish football that would never have a chance otherwise, but without the self-harm of ejecting half of the Old Firm.
Under this Scotsman subscriber’s scenario, Rangers do get punished. Maybe not to the extent that others want, but frankly, short of every Rangers fan being hung, drawn, and quartered in a burning Ibrox stadium, no punishment will satisfy Scottish football’s moral majority. With a points penalty, a fine, and restrictions on signing players, the club will be sufficiently hampered to give the non-diddy wee teams a fair crack at success.
Though Rangers get punished, they remain in the top league – so the existing TV deal can remain in place. Perhaps with only three Old Firm games a year, but that’s manageable.
Rangers fans will feel they have had a fair crack of the whip – “fair” being the key word. Few bluenoses think they should escape scot-free; manager McCoist’s line has always been just that those dishing out sanctions should be careful not to destroy the club.
Rangers and Celtic supporters should have no reason to boycott away grounds – well, only the exceptionally bitter ones would – so finances remain largely intact and there’s no collateral effect of collapsing clubs.
Who loses? Well, long-term, the Old Firm duopoly, if the distribution of TV money is changed. That’s maybe no bad thing. And Celtic will no doubt feel publicly aggrieved that their rivals remain in the top tier – Lawwell will squeal to that effect. But I suspect much of his “we don’t need Rangers” line is simply rhetoric and he knows how his club would suffer without a strong local challenge. God knows, the Old Firm suffer in Europe already for not having strong competition domestically.
So, messrs. Thompson, Yorkston, Brown, and co: stop answering loaded questions from Ibrox and Parkhead. Create your own narrative, and as the saying goes, “F*** the Old Firm.”