Integrity is defined in the dictionary as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”
There’s no dictionary definition for “sporting integrity,” though there’s been no end of talk about it recently in Scottish football. I thought I’d have a go at clarifying it for you in case you – like me – are finding it a very confusing term.
The two words first appeared together in 2008 when Celtic’s Chief Executive Peter Lawwell said that to retain the “sporting integrity” of Scottish football, the SPL should make Rangers play four games in one week rather than extend the season by a few days. So that’s one potential definition: sporting integrity is penalising a rival for being successful so your own team can benefit.
Celtic also used sporting integrity to explain their July 4 vote against Rangers’ re-entry into the SPL: “the Celtic Board has been of the singular view that the integrity of the game in Scotland is of paramount importance”.
So they want the new Rangers club treated like any other, starting at the bottom and working their way up, right? Wrong. Celtic wanted a crippled-by-sanctions Rangers in the SPL and only voted ‘no’ when they realised that Rangers wouldn’t accept this and that there wasn’t enough backing elsewhere in the SPL to support that position.
So we have a second possible definition: saying one thing and doing another.
The third definition comes from the SPL itself. Last week, the SPL sent lower-league clubs a memo making it very clear that should the SPL push Rangers out, they want the SFL to fly Rangers into their top tier, not the bottom. Why? To minimise the financial impact to SPL clubs.
Rangers could be expected to be promoted in their first season and would only be out of the top tier for one year, so SPL clubs wouldn’t suffer for too long with reduced TV, gate, and sponsorship income.
SPL chairman Neil Doncaster presented a similar case to a meeting of SFL chairmen on July 3, and was described in a Clyde FC statement as “looking for a steer” on whether his wish would come true.
So another definition could be: passing the buck to someone else to make tough decisions.
Also in the July 3 meeting, Doncaster said that should the SFL not make the right decision, they might go ahead and form an “SPL2” to force the issue themselves.
SFA President Stewart Regan told those present that should the SPL vote to retain Rangers, the SFA would not allow the club’s sporting licence to transfer to the company now running Rangers FC. He later denied he said this. (He didn’t say the SFA would block SPL2, so he didn’t need to deny this.)
The Clyde FC statement said the meeting was “full of implied actions and outcomes” and “use of clever language” to allow “anyone to defend with ‘that is not what I said’.”
A further definition of sporting integrity, then, is the use of veiled threats to get your way.
Sporting integrity also appears in the investigation of alleged “dual contracts” issued by the company which ran Rangers FC until June 2012. This investigation is being handled by the SPL board, which includes directors of clubs (Celtic, Motherwell, Dundee United, St Johnstone) which could gain financially should Rangers be found guilty.
So sporting integrity doesn’t require avoiding conflicts of interest.
Sporting integrity seems to be penalising a rival for being successful so your own team can benefit, saying one thing and doing another, passing the buck to someone else to make tough decisions, using veiled threats to get your way, and allowing conflicts of interest.
Looking down this list, it’s pretty clear what “sporting” integrity is: it’s the total opposite of real integrity.
So I give you the definition. Sporting integrity: noun; “the quality of being dishonest and having no strong moral principles.”