Last month, I wrote a very brief article on the SFA’s scandalously lax doping policy. The story had hit the news because of an STV investigation into testing procedures. Yesterday, The Sunday Times ran a monumental story, alleging that a doctor who works with EPL clubs has been doping players from clubs including Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea.
This story has been flatly denied by all three clubs, but then it would be. The UK’s anti-doping agency has launched an immediate investigation. The English FA, forever conscious of the need to protect the EPL “brand” has welcomed it and offered its support.
And I think “Of course they did. They take this stuff seriously.”
Part of that, as I said, is all about covering their own backsides, which is understandable. There are billions on the line, and it makes you wonder if they’d still be on the table if the game in England was found to be rigged, with doping rampant in the top division.
Nothing’s been proved here, of course, but the investigation itself is important and has made international headlines. There’s little question that if the slightest evidence is found that heads will roll, clubs will be fined, players banned and the scandal that flares will be enormous. It will also be temporary. Because English football will declare itself clean and there will be little to argue with.
Scottish football’s leaders would rather not know. They would prefer if this kind of stuff was never investigated, lest we uncover something dreadful.
This isn’t the only example of Scottish football bosses being perfectly happy to let potentially serious problems bubble away under the surface. We know what they allowed to go on at Ibrox; doping of a different sort, the financial sort.
We know that they don’t take gambling seriously amongst players, managers or even officials, because McCoist once raised that issue by waving papers he said contained names and not a soul at the SFA asked to see them.
We know they don’t take match-fixing seriously. Referees in Scotland are “beyond reproach.” Managers can’t even question their decisions without finding themselves in front of a panel. We’ve given the men in black carte blanche to get away with murder; I’m not suggesting that any of them are involved in such stuff, but the door to it is wide open, because we have football authorities who simply refuse to acknowledge that the problem might exist.
Scottish football fans have tolerated a lot over the last couple of years, and some of us have long been worried that we’re not watching a straight game. I suspect that at least one game in which I’ve had an emotional investment has been, at least partially, fixed. I can’t prove that, and I don’t have a specific match in mind, but I am sure of it.
Looking at how the English handle things, I wish our association was more on the ball. There are simple things that could be getting done which aren’t, and I understand, in part, why they aren’t. It’s about costs, but more than that it’s about reputation. People in Scottish football are worried that if our game finds evidence of this stuff that they’ll need to keep digging and that it will do the kind of damage that can’t be undone.
The media has the same idea. Hugh Keevins once used that as a defence for not investigating refs; the fear that we might find something we don’t like.
Like I said, it’s understandable. But it’s also indefensible and unsustainable.
Try taking the same measures with, say, your health. Would you not go to the doctors with a potentially serious affliction because it would be better not to know? Knowledge, after all, precedes cure. The latter is impossible without the former.
Put simply, it’s the stuff you don’t know that kills you.
I once heard a journalist ask “And what if your own team was found to be cheating?”
I won’t name the hack in question; this is their attitude towards stuff like this in a nutshell. We know their own team got away with murder for years; they simply assume the rest of us would take the same attitude if we found out our own side was behaving badly.
The answer, of course, is simple. I’d want the people responsible identified, I’d want the appropriate punishments handed out and I’d want everyone involved removed from football at Celtic, and from Scotland, with immediate effect.
The playing field isn’t level in Scotland, we all know that.
It won’t be until proper governance rules like Financial Fair Play are passed. But we’ve always been comforted by thinking that the games themselves are more or less fair. The doping allegations from England cast fresh doubt on that, and demand of the SFA more than we currently get.
Are we watching a straight game or are we not?
Not just Celtic supporters, but the fans of every club deserve to know.