There is a comic strip I used to read avidly.
It was called Dilbert, and it is about the insanity of life in a big corporation.
One of the many things that stayed with me for years after I first read it was one of his most notorious maxims; “Real work plus the appearance of work equals actual work.” In the decades since, I have been ever amazed at how many people, in all walks of life, appear to be following that principle to the letter.
In a piece earlier in the week, I wrote about how some people would prefer to huddle under the blanket of comforting lies rather than embrace hard truths. There are people in our sports media – far, far too many of them – who subscribe to Dilbert’s viewpoint that as long as you are churning out something every day that what you do has value.
These people are scared stiff of rocking the boat, which would be bad enough even in this game, but in mainstream journalism – which should exist as a counterweight to power and vested interests – it is absolutely inexcusable.
A lot of our sports media has found its comfort zone and is staying there; turning out transfer rumours, turning out gossip, many of the articles virtually indistinguishable from each other.
There’s no requirement to be courageous.
And of course, when you look at the media landscape there are very few in it who would ever rise to that mark.
The media south of the border is miles ahead of this stuff.
You look at the coverage in The Guardian of the current bids to buy Manchester United, and you see the right questions being asked, the right debates being had … if the day ever comes – and it’s a possibility which intrigues me – when Ibrox’s board sells its shares, you wait and see how much due diligence the press here does.
It did none when Whyte bought Rangers.
It did none when Green bought the assets and formed Sevco.
It did none when Ashley’s people got control and there were guys like the Easdale’s on the board … our media didn’t care as long as the manager was promised “a war chest.”
If some Eastern European oligarch bid for them tomorrow and he was found to have made his money on African conflict diamonds and had occasionally used death squads, would anyone in our media raise the ruckus if he was also promising “millions in investment”?
Of course not. It is hard to imagine what it would take to snap them out of their lethargy and their complacency and their wish for an easy life. It is hard to imagine them ditching their penchant for gossip, for regurgitating discredited guff – the so-called European Super League is making headlines again today as if it were suddenly credible – and actually grabbing the issue by the throat.
Today over on CQN Paul Brennan has just published a piece on the scandal at Barcelona, and in the article he’s echoed warnings that this site has made over and over and over again about the way the media and the SFA continue to pretend not just that our game is squeaky clean but that it’s unthinkable for it to be anything else.
Let me tell you something, it’s certainly not unthinkable. The EBT era should have convinced people of that. Tell it to a neutral in just this way, and they’d be aghast;
We had a club which hid player contracts – necessary for their legitimate registration – from the governing bodies because those contracts proved that they were engaged in tax evasion.
The head of that governing body was a director of the self-same club, and not only that but his signature was on the original document which birthed the tax scam in the first place.
He didn’t resign.
He didn’t step back.
He was still heading that organisation when it was allowed to supply exculpatory evidence to exonerate the club in the inquiry it established, and whose remit it set, into the whole affair … and it was the appeal body for that self-same inquiry.
That’s not an organisation taking seriously its responsibility to the game.
That’s an organisation engaged in what at the very least is an exercise in damage limitation and at worst is engaging in a cover-up into the whole affair, and the role of one of its senior executives.
I’ve said for years that if BDO had decided to sue the SFA on behalf of the creditors, as a regulatory body asleep at the wheel, or perhaps as a co-conspirator … that would have been like shooting fish in a barrel. They could have gutted out Hampden once and for all.
What happened with Ibrox’s use of EBT’s is only a window into a much wider world.
I am convinced, and have been for more than a decade, that even discounting that scandal that I have had an emotional investment in at least one game which was either partially or completely compromised before a ball had even been kicked … and I am not talking about the biases of officials either, but about match-fixing for profit.
I can’t prove that, but the avenues for it are so numerous that it basically comes down to where’s there’s a will there’s a way. And the will exists, of course it does, because always there will be people whose sole focus is making money and they don’t care how they do it, and those people will always be probing away for weaknesses in the system … and we don’t have weaknesses here as much as big gaping holes in the brickwork. We’re easy pickings.
I mean think about it. Players in Scotland get a fraction of what they earn in England. Refs get a pittance because they aren’t professionals. The governing body has no scoring scheme for officials or punishments for those who constantly make bad calls, and we have a media which simply refuses to even acknowledge that any sort of corruption is possible.
Anyone who wanted to try would be pushing on an open door, and I know that there’s nothing new under the sun.
With all that in mind, I have always thought that it would already have happened, may even be ongoing and even if it I’m wrong, be honest; it is surely only a matter of time before it is.
We do not live in the media’s fantasy world where this game and all who are in it are beyond reproach. We live in the real one where it’s harsh and ugly and where we know that bad things are happening all the time, just off the radar.
There is no guaranteed way to bar the gates. Make referees full time, well paid professionals and you’re only lowering temptation some, and there is no way whatsoever that any amount of money will eliminate the risk of coercion.
That remains a constant, and that’s why the governing bodies need to work with the police and other agencies to further reduce that risk.
But you can’t keep this stuff out entirely if people are determined and they think there’s big money to be made.
The problem is that here in Scotland, some low-rent scumbag could probably make his house payments every month with just one bent official in his pocket, and that’s the sort of level it could operate on … it doesn’t have to be vast sums of money, so we’re not necessarily talking about Asian betting syndicates run by the Triads swinging cup finals.
One of the surest protections we have against this starts with admitting that the problem is real, that the possibility of it exists and that criminals are always looking for new ways to make a few quid.
We haven’t even tightened up fit and proper person rules enough to stop them owning clubs … how the Hell does this game propose to keep their influence out of other areas?
To do it properly means having a media which does more than just write dreck all day, every day.
You have mainstream sites “simulating” the results of football matches on FIFA and passing that off as content.
That doesn’t count as journalism and it never will.
That so much of our press corps is involved in this dumbing down is astonishing and concerning.
That so few are willing to rock the boat, to lift up the rocks and see what’s underneath, to dig deep into things … as I’ve written before, we have one journalist who is on the record as saying if the game is bent he doesn’t want to know.
And what this does is it leaves our game with staggering vulnerabilities.
“Real work plus the appearance of work equals actual work.”
Think of how well that applies to our media.
Think of how well it applies to those responsible for safeguarding our game.
This stuff happens. Everywhere.
Everywhere except here?
Look at the scandals at Juventus. At Barcelona. Look at the June 2004 referees scandal in South Africa. The Brazilian match-fixing scandal of 2005. In November 2009, German police arrested a gang suspected of fixing games in nine different countries.
And that’s a sample … it goes on and on and on.
You can see the danger that our game here is in.
But who takes it seriously?
Celtic has already been on the end of one mega-scandal that we know about … how many more are there which we don’t?
How many more have there been, or will be?
Who is looking out for our interests, and those of the sport itself?