This post will provide a definition of boycotting, outline the historical rationale underpinning boycotts and, within this historical context, discuss Rangers’ boycott of the Scottish Cup tie with Dundee United, including the potential unintended consequences of Rangers’ action.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a boycott as an activity whereby a group of people “combine in refusing social or commercial relations” with another person, group or country. Importantly, it is a voluntary activity normally requiring support out with the core protagonists. Hence the precarious difficulty of predicting both a successful outcome and long-term unexpected repercussions.
The name boycott can be traced back to Captain Charles Boycott, a land agent acting on behalf of Lord Erne in the year 1880 (that date, for some reason, is so familiar). Erne’s tenants wanted a 25% reduction on their tenancy rent but Erne would only offer a 10% reduction. The tenants responded by spurning any contact with Charles Boycott. They ignored him in the street, refused to collect the harvest, the house staff downed tools, local businesses ceased trading with him and even the postman refused to deliver the mail. So, although the principal stakeholders effected by the rent were the tenants, the wider community supported the action and, furthermore, participated in the protest.
In an effort to break this protest, 50 Orangemen were brought into the community, under armed protection. The story caught the attention of the national press and the wider public opprobrium precipitated a successful outcome for the workers. Ever since, the voluntary withdrawal of services and/or custom has been referred to as a ‘boycott’. However, boycotts did not start in 1880 (for example, in 1820 the abolitionists in Pennsylvania, USA started a “boycott” of goods produced by slaves). It would be more accurate to state that Charles Boycott is honoured with the unfortunate distinction of giving a name to this type of protest.
The primary reason for boycotting has mainly been altruistic and egalitarian in nature: to make a difference for the greater good. Related to that higher purpose is the perception of self-enhancement for those that participate i.e. it is a good feeling to do something for a good cause. For example, prior to America’s entry into the Second World War there was an organised boycott of Nazi goods and Japanese silk; the intention was not only to hinder those at war with America’s allies but to encourage Americans to reflect on the evils of fascism and so make the participants feel that they were personally contributing to a greater good. Similarly, the cause of the 1995 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama was done for a greater good: in 1955, Rosa Parks, a soft-spoken delicate African-American with a strong sense of dignity and self-worth, bravely refused to surrender her seat to a white woman and was promptly arrested – her actions snowballed into a boycott of public transport until colour segregation was removed. The courageous and moral actions of a group of African-Americans was done for the greater cause of an egalitarian society. The boycott was successful because it was based on a moral indignity and because it had the support of the wider community, including many whites.
Presently there is a call to boycott Amazon, Google and Starbucks because of their aggressive tax-dodging practices. There is a groundswell of opinion, including Government ministers, that these companies, while behaving within the law, are operating in a grossly immoral fashion and that by participating in circuitous business practices they are, in relative terms, paying less tax than their customers. A boycott of those companies, it is argued, if successful will force them to pay their fair share of tax for the greater good.
Let us now turn our attention to Rangers’ boycott of the Scottish Cup tie with Dundee United. When reflecting on Rangers’ boycott, keep this in mind: the purpose of a boycott has historically been to change something for the greater good. On the official Rangers website the word boycott is not actually used. Instead, Charles Green makes the following statement:
“Rangers Football Club will not be taking its allocation of tickets for the forthcoming Scottish Cup match against Dundee United at Tannadice. This is a unanimous decision by the board, senior management and staff at Ibrox. Everyone at this club is dismayed at the actions of certain SPL clubs, which were actively engaged in trying to harm Rangers when we were in a perilous situation and we are acutely aware of their attitude to us. Not all clubs who voted against Rangers returning to the SPL fall into that category and indeed we made Motherwell very welcome when we played them at Ibrox in the League Cup competition recently. However, feelings remain very raw and it should be no surprise that we as a club feel this way. It is unsurprising too that there has been a reaction from our supporters to this particular fixture. The last thing we as a club want to do is to compromise security arrangements for any match. I therefore appeal to all fans not to travel to this match and to Dundee United not to sell tickets to Rangers supporters. Our only regret is that this turn of events will not assist Ally McCoist and the team in what will be a very difficult fixture.”
A statement from the Rangers Supporters Assembly clarifies that it is indeed a boycott that is proposed: “The Rangers support has waited patiently for the opportunity to send a clear message to those that tried to destroy our club and starve them of their much-needed cash by boycotting this game”. So, this protest takes the following shape: a) Rangers are to reject the briefs for the game and b) Rangers fans are not to attend the game.
Rangers’ boycott is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, historically boycotts involve an individual or individuals protesting against a group or company or, indeed, a country. However, this boycott has been orchestrated officially by one company against another company, Rangers against Dundee United. It is rare for one company to instruct its employees and customers to boycott another company’s trade. Indeed it is quite extraordinary to find a Chairman of a company orchestrating a boycott of a neighbouring company’s trade.
Secondly, the rationale behind a boycott has historically been to make a change for the greater good. What is the “change for the greater good” in Rangers’ case? Charles Green’s stated reason for the boycott is punitive: Dundee United was, according to Rangers, “engaged in trying to harm” his club. The Rangers Supporters Assembly reinforce that perception: “[it is] a clear message to those that tried to starve our club”. Thus, not only is the type of boycott historically out of kilter with other boycotts but so also is the rationale. Revenge is the motive and Dundee United is the target. There is no moral cause and no plan to correct an evil to advance a higher purpose for society. It is punishment for perceived injury.
A boycott can be summarised in the following equation:
Boycott = Moral Cause + Support = Successful Outcome for the Greater Good
Let us try and fit Rangers’ proposed boycott into this equation. What is the Moral Cause? Rangers do not have a moral cause: their protest is based on a perceived injury. They believe that Dundee United participated in actions, unspecified by Rangers, that particularly harmed their club. Nearly all the SPL clubs voted not to accept The Rangers into the SPL, and given that Rangers are not boycotting all those clubs then their must have been some other reason for Rangers to call for a boycott of Dundee United. Charles Green’s boycott now becomes historically bizarre. It is the first time in history that a boycott has been called for unspecified reasons. When Dundee United voted to deny Rangers entry to the SPL they did so for reasons of sporting integrity and had the support of other clubs and the wider Scottish football fan base. This sets another world record in the history of boycotts: it would be first time that a boycott was called because a company behaved in a moral fashion for the greater good – in this case for the higher purpose of sporting integrity – and was punished for doing so. In this phantasmagoric boycott created by Charles Green the ‘moral cause’ belongs to Dundee United and not Rangers.
In terms of Support for this boycott, the Rangers fans will support it. In that sense it will achieve its ostensible and abrupt aim of ostracising Dundee United for the aforementioned Scottish Cup tie. Nonetheless, the lack of support from other football fans, and the wider public, may come back to haunt Rangers in the long term. It is not just that there is an absence of support from outside the core geography that is Rangers, it is that the wider community may view Rangers’ vengeful action with disdain. That is when the boomerang effect of intended consequences come into play.
Lastly, what is the Successful Outcome for the Greater Good? This leads us to yet another aberrant historical first in Charles Green’s proposed boycott. Oddly, this protest appears to be an end in itself. The practical purpose of any boycott ought to be to change something for the better and to ensure that a larger interest group benefit. That is why Rosa Parks – God bless her – and fellow Americans in Montgomery took the action they did. In this case Rangers have not declared how they want Dundee United to change whatever they are doing wrong and how that change will impact positively for a wider stakeholder population. In the context of a boycott, revenge is neither a cause nor an end product. It is also shameful that the manager of one club supports the boycott of a sporting competition, harming the interests of another club and image of the competition itself. He should hang his head in ignominy. If this is a personal attack on the Chairman of another club then find a way not to take it onto the field.
The overall purpose of this protest could be construed as a threat to other football clubs: do anything that we view as injurious to our interests and we will respond as above. A protest based on revenge that sends out potential retaliatory signals to other parties is not one that could in any historical sense meet the higher purpose of aiming for a greater good for the benefit of others.
It should also be noted that Rangers should not accept any financial proceeds from the game that they are boycotting. To do so would be immoral and the first time in history – yet another first for Rangers – that those orchestrating the protest were rewarded for their participation, rather than suffering a temporary detriment so that others may benefit from their sacrifice.
Now the interesting bit. Rangers’ boycott may have unintended consequences. The intended consequences are quite straightforward: Dundee United’s trade could be harmed. The potential unintended consequences are far more serious:
– This protest does not advance the image of Scottish football;
– The sporting integrity of the competition could be damaged
– Potential investors in the Scottish game may look elsewhere
– Traders in Dundee could lose out
– Rangers’ reputation could suffer further damage;
– Those considering investing in Rangers may decide differently
– Other Scottish clubs could turn against Rangers
– The wider Scottish community could turn against Rangers
– Pitting club against club – and perhaps Charles Green has other clubs on his hit list – may be playing with fire and, given the volatile nature of football rivalry, could lead to social unrest.
– Scottish football fans might take it upon themselves to band together and boycott Rangers and anyone trading with Rangers, including investors and sponsors.
If a number of the above become a reality the financial impact on Rangers might be such that their very survival could be placed at risk. In effect, Rangers’ vengeful boycott could boomerang with disastrous unintended consequences for their own club.
Rangers’ boycott is extraordinary. It does not fit into the traditional model of boycotts. The absence of a moral stance and the venomous nature of the protest is such that Scotland may decide enough is enough. Rangers have made an irretrievable commitment to harm another football club for the most base of motives: revenge. There is the perception that Rangers see others in Scotland as their enemy: this protest does nothing to allay that view. Scotland has had ample opportunity to judge what Rangers and their fans bring to the table. Their incredible array of silverware is also matched by a catalogue of shame down the decades. Rangers fans, for the good of their club, should boycott this boycott. Historically, they would be on solid ground. If Charles Green’s boycott goes ahead then Scotland needs to ask itself the following final question: who needs this shit?
Posted by JohnBhoy