A WAR of words erupted last night between the Professional Footballers Association Scotland and the Scottish Football Association over the betting scandal that has engulfed the national game.
Rangers player Ian Black was banned for ten matches, seven of them suspended, after betting against his own team on three occasions and betting on a total of 160 matches in all, despite a blanket ban on betting on football by any registered player.
The implications of the case for Scottish football are overwhelming, not least because Black’s supporters, including Rangers manager Ally McCoist, have claimed that there are dozens if not hundreds of professionals betting on matches every week.
If the SFA now decide on a tough approach to all bettors involved in football it could mean players in lowly amateur teams being charged under rule 33.
The rule states: “No club, official, Team Official or other member of Team Staff, player, match official or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA shall bet in any way on a football match (except authorized and registered football pools).”
The latest version of the SFA’s Articles of Assocation states in Article 26: “A club, official, Team Official or other member of Team Staff, player, referee or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA shall not bet in any way on a football match.
“Any such club or person found guilty of betting of any description on football, authorised and registered football pools excepted, shall be deemed guilty of misconduct and shall be liable to fine, suspension, expulsion or any other penalties or conditions which the Judicial Panel may think proper.”
PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart has called for a rethink on the SFA’s zero-tolerance rules.
“If there is any good outcome from this I think it’s raised the spectre of this regulation,” said Wishart. “We as a union have been talking to players for the last two or three years about it, on normal club visits, on the rules on betting.
“At least it’s opened it up and everyone, if they weren’t aware of it, are now aware of it.
“It gives us the opportunity, all the legislators in the game, to have an open, frank and adult conversation about the current regulations.
“I think the question needs to be asked: is it appropriate, can it [rule 33] be policed, should it be reviewed and what should the outcome be?
“Let’s grasp the nettle and see whether we can come up with something that’s appropriate for our game.
“We’ve obviously got to balance that up against the potential of opening up gambling for players becoming a problem because it is an issue for some of our members over the last few years.
“They’ve had problems in their personal life with gambling and many of them have become very public in recent years.
“There is a balance there and what we’re clearly asking them for is an adult conversation, a proper review with all the stakeholders, the clubs, ourselves, the association, the league, the managers – let’s come up with a Scottish solution for this.
“One of the things that’s important to stress, although Ian Black is the player in the dock today, this is not just about football players. This includes managers, coaches, directors, chief executives, owners, referees and includes clubs themselves, if they were to bet on the outcome of their game.”
Wishart might well have added that all players and officials – even amateurs – must be involved. For perhaps the most astonishing outcome of the Black case is the confirmation both by legal experts and the SFA that the rule applies to all footballers and football officials registered with the SFA, be they amateurs or professionals.
“That is what the rule says, and that is what it means,” said one legal source. “Everyone registered with the SFA as having an involvement with Scottish football is banned from betting on any football match anywhere.”
Wishart added: “It’s a bit like the small print in all our insurance policies. How many of us read the small print? But if someone actually told you what was in it then you might have points to make.”
In the wake of Wishart’s call, an SFA spokesman said: “PFA Scotland in various meetings have advocated a zero-tolerance approach to betting regulations, and their recent change of policy and public pronouncements on that change has been disingenuous.”
In a separate row, PFA Scotland chairman John Rankin yesterday challenged the very composition of those judicial panels, usually two football-related figures and a QC, calling for a player or ex-player to sit on them.
In response to Rankin, the spokesman added: “We have asked PFA Scotland on numerous occasions to nominate former professional players to the judicial panel, but as yet we have not received any names.”
The SFA has William Hill as its Scottish Cup sponsor and Ladbrokes providing betting facilities in many Scottish stadia, so the implications of a “get tough” approach are obvious. This is one story that is bound to run and run.