Institutional bias - the inherent tendency of a process to support particular outcomes.
Consider that phrase and its definition and try to tell me that the Scottish football disciplinary system in its current form doesn’t match it perfectly. Now let me tell you where we are, how we got here and what I think about it.
We (Scottish football collectively) are currently in a place where we have a former chairman of another club coming out and stating that the Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell has been pulling the strings in Hampden. Not many people will dispute this. In real terms this means he’ll look after Celtic's interests - which by nature implies he’s not looking out for the interests of others, or anyone, and often infers that he’ll pull strings to act against others if it suits.
We have a compliance system which has been a Celtic-leaning closed shop ever since Paul McBride entered the fray to make it fit for purpose. Or more accurately fit for somebody’s purpose - hold that thought. It’s not stretching things to state that the subsequent Compliance Officers Vincent Lunny, Anthony McGlennan and Clare Whyte are of a narrow demographic. Hand-picked, these individuals certainly don’t showcase the rainbow of diversity that is Scottish football. And all bountifully bolstered by the likes of the SFA's integrity poster-bhoy Rod Mackenzie. Even so, the anomaly of a dynasty of cultural clones and the acknowledged fact that Celtic are pulling strings doesn’t necessarily have to translate to wrong-doing or foul-play. However, the output certainly does.
The statistics since the beginning of 2018 are astounding. Not that we'd have read about these in the press. A recent table based on citations from the SFA website suggested that 25% of charges go to Rangers players. That’ll be higher now following Kemar Roofe's ban of this week. The argument that big clubs get more exposure and therefore are more likely to be brought to the attention of the compliance officer is weak on many levels but is obliterated when considering that Celtic are seldom cited. Ryan Christie was cited and banned; of course, this also coincided with him having mid-season surgery. Ajeti was also cited recently for his dive, but no-one was surprised when the charge was dismissed as 'not proved'.
The other edge of these stats is that roughly 40% of citations come in games against Celtic. A cynic would say that a non-too-subtle message is being delivered here - to players and referees?
Beyond this, we know it’s not because Celtic players aren’t committing citable fouls or acts. We watch the games and we see the clips on the internet - though don't expect too much comment from the Sky or Sportscene commentators. For reference and to keep it topical, at St Mirren (10/02/21) both McGregor and Brown had late and dangerous fouls and a penalty was awarded for yet another dive. This isn’t new, here’s a Gersnet article from early 2019. The same questionable bias, the targeting of our players and the incredulous ignoring of others around Re-refereeing Scottish football.
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So what is happening? Well, we have a system fit for somebody’s purpose. We have zero transparency in the capture and reporting of incidents, where incidents can be overlooked on a whim and where valid referrals can simply be thrown in the bin, and no-one has to answer for either. The next stage is equally cloudy and any application of the rules can be applied from benign or dismissed to extreme as the panel sees fit. It's all very lawyerly and all very weaselly.
The transparency thing has always bothered me. Why wouldn’t it be applied equally to all SPFL Premiership games as it's only six games? Why wouldn’t we want everything to be out in the open? It’s only football. Any decision can be backed up with video evidence, the rulebook and common sense. We would all accept that. There’s no need to hide anything, unless there’s something to hide.
So how did we get here?
My recollection is that late in 2007 Gordon Smith, the then Chief Executive at the SFA, had proposed a “cheats charter”. This was effectively a mechanism to punish players who’ve gained advantage by diving or tricking the referees. The concept seems fair enough.
Gordon Smith then stepped down in April 2010. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in this at the time so never paid it much mind. However, I do remember the feeling that he’d been moved or pushed out. Sections of the press had targeted him. The signing of a confidently cause and reading between the lines of articles at the time, suggests of conflicts within the SFA.
With hindsight, we now know that tectonic forces were working on Hampden around this time.
Stewart Regan would replace Smith in the role of SFA Chief Executive. Regan was known to Peter Lawwell beforehand and in-situ would prove to be very much his dog. Regan marked his arrival with a friendly cup of tea at Parkhead - contrast this to the cold shoulder shown to the Rangers support genuinely concerned for the future of our club in following years.
Moving forward to April 2011 and Paul McBride was locking horns with the SFA. The SFA disciplinary system was creaking from the prodding and pushing from McBride. From memory Celtic and Lennon were almost totally out of control around this time. Again with hindsight, this could easily all have been fabricated pretence, who knows?
Regan then starts the ball rolling on 'internal and constitutional reforms which will benefit Scottish football going forward'. The Trojan horse was invited in (and presumably offered tea too). The public were told at the time that the rulebook was outdated and not fit for purpose. We have since been subjected to the likes of Lunny, McGlennan, Whyte and Mackenzie. Each of these in full-time and/or well-paid consultancy positions. How much progress have we seen? How much improvement? How much value for money have this lot provided? It's very similar to Neil Doncaster in that regard, key people are being well rewarded, and protected, for some very poor work. I’m looking at supporters outside of the Old Firm for a reaction by this point.
Let’s cut through the sh!t. We get the system they want, a murky and biased system. Scottish football is painfully naïve because it appears to be an amateur game at heart. It relies on trust and honesty and somehow still believes in good intentions and common goals despite Hampden being a self-serving and incompetent basket-case. The problem is it was invaded by a cold, insidious professionalism in 2011. And it hasn’t been able to admit this to itself. I think even the Rangers board has struggled with this leap and possibly still do. The compliance officers and many administrators are mercenaries. Their loyalty is to whoever got them the gig and whoever pulls their strings. It’s certainly not to transparency or justice or parity. I’ve called it corruption and even cheating in the past and that view has only solidified. The farce at the end of last season and the sneering conviction in their actions was just another extension of this toxicity.
Institutional bias sounds like something the social justice warriors and perma-woke in the Scottish press pack would surely be triggered by. One group openly discriminating against another, whilst using the games shared, sacred apparatus to do so. I guess principles go out the window when it’s Rangers on the receiving end.
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