A Guest Blog for TSFM by beatipacificiscotia
As a child I read a poem by John Godfrey Saxe, “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, and stumbled upon it again recently. It is a simple tale of how six blind men encounter an Elephant and attempt to describe the animal:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”
You get the idea. The other blind men did little better. The second grabbed the tusk and thought the elephant like a spear. Others thought the elephant like a snake (the trunk), a tree (the leg), a fan (the ear), and finally a rope (the tail). What does this have to do with this blog? Let me explain.
There is a danger of all of us, whether consciously or unconsciously, making the same mistake as these blind gentleman. It is too easy to use the parts of the argument that fit our values and belief system, at the expense of the whole truth. The 13th century Jaina scholar, Mallisena, described a much earlier version of the same tale as a parable to argue that people deny various aspects of truth; deluded by the aspects they do understand, they deny the aspects they don’t understand. He said:
“Due to extreme delusion produced on account of a partial viewpoint, the immature deny one aspect and try to establish another. This is the maxim of the blind (men) and the elephant.”
I am incapable of putting it any better than that, though I would go further. I argue that people are deluded by the aspects that they choose to understand, and deny the aspects that they refuse to understand. Which leads me to my tale …..
I have recently read a news report about a decision taken by the Advertising Standards Authority on advertising activities of The Rangers Football Club Ltd and their claims to history and honours. It includes the following quote referring to advice from the SFA:
“We also consulted with the SFA, which confirmed that its definition of a football ‘club’ varied depending on context, and could sometimes refer to an entity separate from the club’s corporate owner.”
I was most unhappy to read this part of the statement. I am yet to see the definition or statement of when you could “sometimes refer to an entity separate from the club’s corporate owner”. This is a contradiction to the definition of a football club given by FIFA; a definition which is handed down to the Confederations, and from Confederations to Associations.
You may or may not be aware, the application of good governance in football is administered through club licensing. This annual process ensures that minimum standards are maintained, to promote growth and development, and ultimately protects all of football – every club, every player and staff member, the integrity of every competition, suppliers of goods and services, the reputation of sponsors, and most of all the fans. FIFA Club Licensing Regulations state that a license applicant must be a football club, defined as:
“Legal entity fully and solely responsible for the football team participating in national and international club competitions that applies for a licence.”
This is a clear and unambiguous definition, which is being ignored by the SFA. Why is this issue so important? Simply, a football club must be held responsible for its commercial activities. For example, an over-ambitious and over-spending Rangers changed the Scottish football landscape forever. Other clubs tried to compete in an unsustainable “Cold War”-like football arms race. I believe Scottish football was damaged. Many clubs have been taken to the brink of death. This could happen in any country, in any league, anywhere in the world. For that reason, a football club and its corporate body must be one and the same, living or dying, inseparably intertwined. The separation of club and company is a myth, a myth dangerous to good governance. Rangers (1872-2012) should be a cautionary tale told to every club owner.
There are many benefits to club licensing. These including minimum standards for stadia and infrastructure, youth development programs, and much more. I would heartily recommend that you read the FIFA document if you have the time. It gave birth to the word and spirit of Financial Fair Play. Look at some of the financial benefits detailed:
Implementation of the financial criteria will help deliver both short and long-term improvements for clubs, the licensors and the football family in general. For the football family in general, the financial criteria should help to:
• safeguard the continuity and integrity of competitions;
• increase the transparency and credibility of clubs’ financial operations;
• improve confidence in the probity of the football industry;
• create a more attractive market for the game’s commercial partners and investors; and
• provide the basis for fair competition, because competition is not just about the teams on the pitch.
For the licensors, the financial criteria should help to:
• improve their understanding of the financial position and prospects of their member clubs;
• encourage clubs to settle liabilities to creditors on a timely basis;
• enhance transparency in the money flow of clubs;
• enhance their ability to be proactive in assisting clubs with financial issues; and
• provide a starting point for club benchmarking at a national level for those licensors and clubs who want to develop this aspect.
For the clubs, the financial criteria should help to:
• improve the standards and quality of financial management and planning activities;
• enable better management decision-making;
• enhance clubs’ financial and business credibility with stakeholders;
• improve financial stability; and
• enhance revenue-generating ability and cost management.
Important words, and I trust the value and opportunity these regulations offer are now clear. Note bullet points 3 and 4, and that our top league currently does not have a sponsor. The SFA must ensure the integrity of competitions, discourage financial recklessness, and protect football for everyone. This is only possible with a clear, unambiguous statement that confirms club / company are one and the same thing.
To suggest a football club can in some way survive liquidation is to undermine the definition of what is a football club, one of the cornerstones of FIFA Club Licensing Regulations. For the SFA to suggest a football club can in some way survive liquidation, or allow this belief to go unchallenged, is a shameful dereliction of duty. It puts all of football in danger. We cannot allow this. There is too much at stake.
The poem ends thus:
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
The blind men were each partially right, though in their vanity / stubbornness / ignorance they failed to find the truth. There is a lesson for us all in this story. This may appear to be an attempt to renew the old club / new club debate. It is not. To see this as an opportunity to score points against Rangers fans is to completely miss the point – you have failed to find the truth.
This is global issue affecting one of the fundamentals of good governance. Good governance must be the beating heart of our game – ensuring good health and long life. I am looking at the here and now, and ahead into the future.
We must protect and promote ALL of the FIFA Club Licensing Regulations. To deny any part is to refuse to see the whole elephant, like the foolish blind men.