I will start by saying that the prospect I suggest in the heading is unlikely to happen, as I will discuss.
However, as we saw in the Olympics, and previously as example in the World Cup and in cricket’s Benson & Hedges Cup, the rules can be manipulated, within the letter, if not the spirit of the law.
2012 Olympic Badminton
“Eight badminton players have been disqualified from the women’s doubles competition after being accused of “not using one’s best efforts to win”.
Two pairs from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia made a series of basic errors in Tuesday’s matches.
All four pairs were accused of wanting to lose, in an attempt to manipulate the draw for the knockout stage.
A South Korean appeal was rejected by the Badminton World Federation, while Indonesia withdrew an appeal.
As well as the “not using best efforts” charge, the players were also accused of “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport”.
Because of the use of a round-robin group system, the players, all of whom had qualified for the knock-out round, could anticipate whom they would play if successful or defeated. It suited all four pairs to lose, and we were treated to the players deliberately hitting the shuttlecock into the net, time after time.
Was this within the technical rules? Possibly, although I have not analysed the regulations governing World badminton, but it went clearly against the spirit of sport, namely that one tries to win. (Although there are cases where a team or player might contest a match trying not to lose – the operative word is “trying”, I think.)
The players’ plans failed and all four pairs were eliminated.
1982 World Cup
Algeria’s football team was a revelation in the World Cup in Spain in 1982. The unheralded African team started off its tournament with a stunning 2-1 win over West Germany. I still recall the BBC commentator (John Motson, I think) shouting “Belloumi!!!” as the Algerian struck home the winning goal.
After a defeat to Austria but a win over Chile, Algeria was poised to qualify from the group, unless the Germans beat Austria by one or two goals, in which case both West Germany and Austria would qualify, and the Algerians go home.
It should be noted that the final matches in each group, which are now played simultaneously because of this match, were played on different days. Both the Germans and the Austrians knew exactly what they had to do.
As the Guardian reported in a retrospective piece, which I would thoroughly commend to you:-
“In the 10th minute of that match Horst Hrubesch put the Germans in front. Then … nothing happened. Realising the scoreline suited both of them, Germany and Austria effectively stopped playing.
In the ensuing 80 minutes there were no shots, and barely any tackles, crosses or sprints. The game was no longer a contest, it was a conspiracy. The teams’ cynicism provoked universal scorn.
A smattering of Algerian fans in the Gijón crowd burned peseta notes to show their suspicions of corruption, while most of the Spaniards in attendance waved hankies throughout the second half in a traditional display of disdain. The next day newspapers in Spain denounced “El Anschluss” and there was outrage in West Germany and Austria too. Eberhard Stanjek, commentating for the German channel ARD, almost sobbed during the match as he lamented: “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means.” The Austrian commentator, meanwhile, told viewers to turn off their sets and refused to speak for the last half-hour. Former West German international Willi Schulz branded the German players “gangsters”.
Did the Algerian players take offence? Not at all, Merzekane says. “We weren’t angry, we were cool,” he says. “To see two big powers debasing themselves in order to eliminate us was a tribute to Algeria. They progressed with dishonour, we went out with our heads held high.”
From all over the world came calls for Fifa to punish the Europeans or stage a replay, but in the end all the world’s governing body did was rule that henceforth the last pair of games in every group must be played simultaneously. “Our performances forced Fifa to make that change, and that was even better than a victory,” Belloumi says. “It meant that Algeria left an indelible mark on football history.”
West Germany of course went on to reach the final where they were defeated by Italy. Perhaps justice was done?
Here again the round-robin system had provided the means for sporting advantage to be taken buy unsporting means.
Maybe if FIFA had charged both teams with “not using their best efforts” and of “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport”, as happened to the badminton players, justice would have been done?
FIFA did not.
The Benson and Hedges Cup
In 1979 Brian Rose was the captain of the Somerset County Cricket team. He had in his squad all time great players – Ian Botham, Sir Viv Richards and Joel Garner, backed up by a solid group of county professionals. In 1979 Somerset, as a team especially well suited to one-day cricket, went on to win the Gillette Cup. However, they did not win the B&H.
That competition started with, prior to the knock out stages, a round robin group stage.
The rules stated that, if two teams finished level on points, the team with the higher scoring rate would have the advantage.
Rose realised that the only way Somerset would not qualify was with a heavy defeat. He realised though that, if he declared their innings closed after one over, they could not be overtaken on strike-rate.
Rose went as far as to check with the secretary of the Test & County Cricket Board whether the plan was legal. He was told that it was, but it was certainly against the spirit of the rules and that there would be “repercussions”.
Somerset batted, and after one over declared at 1 for 0. Worcestershire took 10 balls to win the game by ten wickets. The match was over in 18 minutes which included the 10-minute break between innings. It was an away game for Somerset – one assumes he would not have done this to his own members and paying spectators. The Man of the Match adjudicator decided it would be inappropriate to make an award.
Brian Rose said,” I had no alternative. The rules are laid down in black and white. If anybody wishes to complain, they should do it to the people who make them.”
As the great John Arlott wrote a couple of days later “Rose did not infringe the rules, he exploited them.”
As Cricinfo states:-
“Rose was the scapegoat, even though it was widely acknowledged that he had flagged his intentions with a number of people within the club and discussed the idea with his team, who had agreed. Somerset’s own committee immediately backed him, although making clear their displeasure at his actions. They also offered to replay the match, but the crowded schedule made that impractical.”
The TCCB acted, holding a vote on whether to expel Somerset from the competition. The vote was 17-1 in favour of expulsion. Bizarrely whilst Somerset voted in favour of its own removal from the competition, Derbyshire voted against, for no reason anyone has ever been able to work out!
Apart from the frequent involvement of round-robin group stages as causes of disquiet, as has also been seen in snooker, cricket and tennis, each of these examples shows a team or players looking to manipulate rules to competitive advantage. Which leads me to the following hypothetical example.
Could a Team Refuse Promotion from SFL2?
Picture the scene. Ayr United (chosen for this example as they have the biggest SFL2 ground) come to the end of season 2012-2013. On the last day of the league season they are away to Forfar. They need a point to secure the title, and with a last minute goal they do so.
Cue scenes of celebration by the hardy travelling support, already imagining trips to the delights of Airdrie, Partick and Dunfermline in SFL1. The trophy is presented – Ayr United – Champions of SFL2!
However Ayr United, like almost every lower division team in Scotland, is desperate for money. The board have watched Rangers FC make a triumphal procession round the grounds of Scotland in SFL3, filling every one, apart from Hampden, but Queens Park still had their highest gates for 100 years.
Every team which played Rangers FC got a huge financial boost.
It is a pity, muses the money man at the table, that being champions we won’t get to play Rangers FC in SFL2. Must we accept promotion, he ponders.
After all, if we were still in SFL2 we would have two visits from Rangers. We have a ground holding over 10,000 people. At £15 a ticket, we are looking at £300,000 gross coming into the coffers, which we would not achieve against anyone else in the league…
In terms of SFL Rule 94:-
“In the event of any club which gains promotion from the Second Division refusing to go into the First Division, or either of their grounds not being suitable, in the opinion of the Board, for the requirements of First Division games, then either or both of the two lowest clubs in the First Division shall remain in that Division.”
There is the answer! Ayr United can refuse promotion to SFL1 and stay, as champions, in SFL2 for another season, getting two matches against Rangers FC, with the hope of being second in the coming season, gaining promotion via the play-offs, and getting two more league games against Rangers FC the next season too!
They do not have to forfeit the title of Champions. Of course the second bottom team in SFL1 is publicly delighted that it has not been relegated, but secretly fuming that the Rangers FC windfall will not benefit them.
Would the fans accept refusing to go up a level?
Would they like to see their team again winning most of its SFL2 matches, as opposed to losing most of its SFL1 games?
As Ayr, like other clubs, is not a going concern, and only operates thanks to the support of the directors, the fans would surely appreciate that taking this step would secure their position for a couple of years at least. In effect they have secured two cup ties at Somerset Park with a giant, and get to keep all the gate receipts!
All of the above is entirely within the letter of the rules.
It would not appear to be in the spirit, but, as was discussed in the Express newspaper at the weekend, and mentioned by me here there are alleged to be discussions within Ibrox abut refusing promotion to the SPL when the time comes.
Indeed the fact that the rules specifically address the possibility of a side refusing promotion suggests that, in certain circumstances, which are not specified, it is legitimate.
It might seem to go against the spirit of “sporting integrity” but if it made the difference between financial survival and insolvency, who could blame a club for doing so?
I have picked Ayr as having the largest SFL2 ground at present. Therefore the financial calculations are starker with them than with anyone else. However, I suspect that other teams might at least consider this as a possibility, if only to rule it out.
At the end of the day, I do not think this will happen.
However, it is far more legitimate than the courses taken by the badminton players, Somerset County Cricket Club or the West Germans and Austrians.
It would also be welcomed, I imagine, by Rangers FC fans who would see this, and rightly, as a sign of their continuing influence and importance in Scottish football.
Maybe the team which gains promotion from SFL2 will not need the money; maybe Rangers FC will not achieve promotion from SFL3 (or as is more likely, maybe I will run faster than Usain Bolt); or maybe football league reconstruction will be effected over the coming year rendering this scenario redundant.
But, if you were the Finance Director of the SFL2 champions in May 2013, wouldn’t you give this plan even a little thought?
Posted by “Riverboat Gambler” Paul McConville