Now to the next part – how, despite the rules being broken, did Rangers receive a “not guilty” verdict on fielding ineligible players?
I repeat below my summary, and then on to the issue in question.
Click on the link below for the full decision.
The Commission has found Rangers Football Club PLC, (now RFC 2012 PLC) which is in liquidation and which the Commission referred to as “oldco” as will I, guilty on all four counts, namely three of breaching the rules regarding non-disclosure of information regarding payments to players, and the fourth of failing to co-operate with the SPL by providing information when requested to do so. Oldco was not, for reasons I will come to, guilty of playing ineligible players.
The Commission imposed a fine of £250,000 on oldco.
No finding was made against the football club, which was also a party to the case.
No finding was made against newco, as newco was not a party to the case, but which did appear as the owner of the football club, and, as per the Preliminary Ruling of the Commission, had an interest in any penalty imposed on the football club.
How, one might ask, can the rules about disclosure of documents tied in with player registrations be broken, and yet the players remain eligible?
The answer is simple, although I have already seen some expressions of astonishment at the implications of the reasoning behind it.
The matter is dealt with in paragraphs 84 to 89 of the decision.
First of all, as a result of the way the Notice of Complaint was phrased, the Commission did not consider that Rangers had been properly “charged” with the offence of playing ineligible players in the period before 23rd May 2005. Accordingly it was only the period from that date which was considered.
The relevant rule as regards ineligible players states:-
“Any Club playing an ineligible Player in an Official Match and the Player concerned shall be in breach of the Rules.”
The key to the Commission’s decision on this point, which in fact changes how the rules regarding registration were thought to act previously, comes from the evidence of the SFA Head of Registrations, Alexander Bryson.
He said that once a player had been registered with the SFA, he remained registered unless and until his registration was revoked.
Therefore, according to his evidence, even if there had been a breach of the SFA registration procedures the registration of a player was not treated as being invalid from the outset, and stood unless and until it was revoked.
At paragraph 87 the Commission noted:-
Mr McKenzie explained to us that SPL Rule D1.13 had hitherto been understood to mean that if, at the time of registration, a document was not lodged as required, the consequence was that a condition of registration was broken and the player automatically became ineligible to play in terms of SPL Rule D1.11.
He accepted however that there was scope for a different construction of the rule, to the effect that, as the lodging of the document in question was a condition of registration, the registration of the player would be liable to revocation, with the consequence that the player would thereafter become ineligible to play.
He accepted that no provision of the Rules enabled the Board of the SPL retrospectively to terminate the registration of the player. It became apparent from his submissions that Mr McKenzie was not pressing for a finding that Issue 3(c), together with the concluding words of Issue 3(b), had been proved.
So, as the hearing proceeded, and as Mr Bryson’s evidence made clear, the Commission formed the view that, despite how the football authorities had acted up until now, once a player was registered, they remained validly registered until that registration was revoked. They state that Mr McKenzie did not press for a finding that ineligible players were played, one assumes because he was told in the hearing that even if he did press for it, he was not going to get it!
The commission continued, at paragraph 88-
In our opinion, this was a correct decision by Mr McKenzie. There is every reason why the rules of the SFA and the SPL relating to registration should be construed and applied consistently with each other.
Mr Bryson’s evidence about the position of the SFA in this regard was clear. In our view, the Rules of the SPL, which admit of a construction consistent with those of the SFA, should be given that construction.
All parties concerned – clubs, players and footballing authorities – should be able to proceed on the faith of an official register. This means that a player’s registration should generally be treated as standing unless and until revoked.
There may be extreme cases in which there is such a fundamental defect that the registration of a player must be treated as having been invalid from the outset.
But in the kind of situation that we are dealing with here we are satisfied that the registration of the Specified Players with the SPL was valid from the outset, and accordingly that they were eligible to play in official matches. There was therefore no breach of SPL Rule D1.11.
So, the position now is, that as long as a player has been registered, he remains eligible, subject to issues such as suspensions, until that registration is revoked.
So, for example, if a football club seeks to register a player without international clearance and, in error, the player is registered by the SFA, they are eligible to play, because they are on the register.
Where, as in this case, the reason for the player not being properly registered is “deliberate non-disclosure” by the football club applying, then one wonders, with due respect to the Commission, how the SFA or SPL could determine that!
On the other hand, the Commission’s job was to deal with the rules as they stood, and not as they might think they should be.
It will seem very odd that the very factor which is at the root of the case, namely the “deliberate non-disclosure” is in fact the factor which leads to an acquittal on the “ineligible player” part of the case.
I suspect that the SFA and SPL might be looking to revise the rule books again!
So we have a situation where Oldco is found guilty of breaking rules about the papers to be lodged with the football authorities to allow players to be registered but because the players were registered, they are not ineligible.
So a registration, no matter how flawed, is a registration, until the SFA/SPL revoke it.
As the Commission’s interpretation stands, should a player who has been banned for life be registered by mistake and by hiding that he is so banned, then he will remain a properly registered player until that registration is revoked.
It is similar to the issue last summer where Oldco held the SPL Share, even though they were no longer owners of a football club, and as such had no right to hold it. But as, in fact, they did hold it, they were entitled to use it to vote until the SPL decided to remove it from them.
This will be seen by some as a technicality, and perhaps it is. It might be seen too as being against the spirit of the rules, but the letter of the rules trumps the spirit.
Let’s see how quickly the football authorities try to being the letter back into line with the spirit, shall we?
Posted by Paul McConville