Commercial Benefits Outweigh Sporting Integrity – Official!
Michael Johnston, the boy who supported Rangers but grew up to be the chairman of Kilmarnock F.C., has told the BBC,
“Members (of the SPL) see the commercial benefits of having Rangers, even as a newco. The clubs are mindful of a sporting integrity aspect but the commercial benefits may outweigh that.”
In a few words, Mr. Johnston has now admitted a scandalous state of affairs which has been apparent for decades to anyone who chose not to ignore it. It is a poor consolation for those of us who have routinely been accused of paranoia that an insider has finally confirmed for us that the principle of rigging football matches and tournaments for commercial benefit™ would be accepted as decent business policy.
This should not come as the slightest surprise to anyone who has watched professional football objectively for any length of time. But it does rather let the cat out of the bag with regard to many of the stock replies to criticisms levelled against referees, to take but one example.
“Nobody should be questioning the integrity of the officials,” we are regularly told.
We now know from an official source, that commercial benefits™ can outweigh the integrity so why should we have any doubt that a controversial penalty could just as easily have been awarded for commercial reasons as for any sporting ones. If referees (or their bosses) believe that there will be more commercial benefit™ for the game – or themselves – if Rangers win the league rather than Aberdeen, it follows that Mark Hately won’t be penalised for fouling the Aberdeen goalkeeper to score in a game which Rangers absolutely need to win.
If the entire staff of (say) Kilmarnock F.C. are instructed by their chairman that their team must, yet again, lie down and accept a hammering in their upcoming fixture against (say) Rangers, it would be entirely reasonable for each of them to reap some commercial benefit™ by betting as much money as they could raise on a bet with a bookmaker. Sporting integrity probably wouldn’t make them nearly as much money as throwing the game, would it? And since we have their chairman’s own word for it that commercial benefits™ can take precedence, then it is entirely fair to suspect that this scenario is by no means unlikely. Indeed, is there any reason for the two teams not to collude in the process for even greater, mutual commercial benefit™? If you’re going to throw the game, why not get a better price from the bookies for a correct score? Why not identify the first scorer as well? And the half-time score. In effect, it’s free money.
Why not, Mr. Johnston?
There would be far greater commercial benefits™ all round in those circumstances and the only argument against it is that it would compromise sporting integrity. That’s no longer any argument at all when it has been openly conceded to be a secondary consideration to commercial benefits™. So why not go the whole hog? Why not rig every single game which is capable of being influenced by people who share Mr. Johnston’s priorities?
It’s easy! In fact, it’s much easier than running an honest game in which financial considerations don’t rule out the possibility of a smaller team vanquishing one with more money riding on a victory. An economic catastrophe such as an early European exit to Kaunus or Maribor or Malmo or AEK Athens is a huge blow to a club which has already seriously over-extended its credit with its bank. If that bank is not in control of the credit lines of the club’s opponents, then catastrophes such as the loss of Champions League money are very real dangers. It is less of a danger if the opponents are dependent upon the goodwill and understanding of the same bank and might be in danger of losing that goodwill if they perform in such a way that the prize money ends up going to one of the few clubs which has a different banker.
Sporting integrity might have excluded that possibility in the old days but now that commercial benefits™ hold sway, it would be naive to suggest that it could not happen. It would be just as naive to believe that it has not happened or that it does not happen regularly.
Most of those whose integrity cannot be compromised by commercial inducements will soon be squeezed out of the picture.
Is there an honest, ambitious manager who won’t follow the script? He can’t force players to play well if they are serving another master. There is also a limit to the number of bad refereeing performances which any manager can overcome. When he can’t get satisfactory results it won’t be long until he joins the countless others who are no longer involved in the game.
What of a player who infuriatingly insists on trying to give his all and is doggedly immune to any suggestions that he ought to “modify” his performance in certain circumstances? He has to get into the team first. Even if he is selected, he also needs his team-mates to give him the right ball or make themselves available for a pass or make the right runs to draw opponents out of position. Players are the easiest figures of all to marginalise. No player can win a game unaided or even force his way into the team if the manager dictates that he isn’t “worthy” of a place.
Ah! But they’d never get away with it, would they? The inherent corruption would soon be exposed by the press. What a scoop! Most pundits and commentators, having been involved in the game themselves, would instantly recognise the signs of . . . oh, dear.
Hold on, there could be a problem here.
Football referees have more discretion than the umpires in almost any other sport and their decisions can not be challenged by any appeal to technological assistance. If Andy Murray’s forehand is called long, he can ask to see the proof. A cricketer can question a run-out or an LBW decision and call for the evidence to be displayed. Rugby, American football, ice hockey, athletics, even horse-racing – horse-racing! – routinely use video technology to ensure that the correct decision is not only made but, even more importantly, it is seen to be made. Not so with football. If Dougie McDonald says it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty. If he says it’s not a penalty, it’s not a penalty. He can even employ the doublethink motif from Orwell’s 1984 and make both decisions for the same incident! History can be rewritten later as, “This is not a penalty. This has always not been a penalty.”
In any case, decisions on penalties and marginal offsides are not necessarily the most influential ones. A football referee, acting in the interests of the greatest commercial benefit™ as opposed to the principles of sporting integrity, has endless opportunities in the course of the match to swing the result one way rather than the other. His discretion constantly allows him to rule that a crude tackle from behind is a foul when one team does it but not a foul when it’s committed by the other team. One team’s defenders can hold on to their opponents without fear of conceding a penalty while the other one dare not give the ref a chance to point to the spot. One challenge merits a yellow or red card while another one isn’t even a foul, despite the fact that they appear to be identical incidents. This is ball-to-hand but that is hand-to ball. And so on.
By the time Robbie Keane has been kicked up in the air for the fifth or sixth time by his opponent, he won’t be capable of trapping a bag of cement even when he’s no longer being fouled. No defender was ever allowed to mete out the same treatment to a Rangers player such as Kris Boyd. In the course of a match between two teams which are relatively closely matched, this kind of refereeing is enough to frustrate one team while boosting the other. If commercial benefit™ is a consideration, then it’s precisely what we can expect to see. It’s precisely what we do see. Often.
All that then remains is for the media to defend the referee’s performance with the standard-issue platitudes with which we are all too familiar – “The refs have a difficult job; he got most of the big decisions right; he might be a bit disappointed with himself when he sees that one again; I’m sure he calls it as he sees it; he’s depending on his linesman on that one; it was a mistake but it was an honest mistake; nobody should question the referee’s integrity. . . blah, blah, blah.”
Job done, off to the bookies to cash in the bonus.
Fortunately, Michael Johnston has now cleared up the confusion which used to surround these apparent anomalies. The sacrifice of sporting integrity before the supreme consideration of commercial benefit™ explains it all. Nothing can be considered fair while people like Mr. Johnston and those who speak well of him are involved in running the game. Every match, every cup, every relegation and every championship title must be suspected of being no more than a meaningless, empty pretence which has been planned, scripted and presented by the game’s controllers for the commercial benefit™ of the self-selecting cheats who are in on the scam.
I’ve reckoned as much for years.
At least it’s now official.