STEWART Regan, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, has ruled out a relaxation of the laws that preclude footballers from betting on matches.
Regan argued that small-return lays, such as those that led to Rangers’ Ian Black receiving a ten-match ban last week, represent the “thin end of the wedge” in the wider context of corrupt gambling, and should be aggressively stamped out.
The Yorkshireman is determined not to allow the scourge of match-fixing to take form in Scotland’s national game, and believes that any relaxation in the laws, an idea suggested by the Professional Footballers Association of Scotland, might “open the door” to darker practices.
The SFA’s integrity unit has already recorded “activity” relating to the possible defrauding of online bookmakers that worries Regan, and he is adamant that a policy of zero tolerance must continue to be applied to footballers, even if it results in a backlog of disciplinary cases stretching down the steps at Hampden and beyond.
“There are a number of inconsistencies across the game, from countries where you can bet on your own team and your own division to countries where you can bet on another division and any other competition outwith your own country, for example, and then there are countries like Scotland where you’re not allowed to bet at all,” said Regan.
“You could have a whole debate on the pluses and minuses of allowing us to come off the stance that we’ve taken – my view is very simple. The minute you come off a zero-tolerance approach you’re opening the door, no matter how slightly, you’re opening the door to potential issues for yourself in the future. If betting, and if match fixing in particular, are the scourge of the game and could be the scourge of the game going forward, why would you want to change it? Why would you want to allow any opportunity for players, coaches, managers, referees, anybody to be influenced?
“We had a conference in St Andrews a few weeks ago, and one of the speakers was a guy I knew very well, Ian Smith from the Professional Cricketers Association. Cricket, where I spent a number of years, has gone through some major issues in match fixing and Ian made it very clear that the Scottish FA had set a very positive example by having a zero-tolerance approach to betting, and he believed that any attempt to come off that would be a negative step. That, for me, is testament that we are actually in the right place.”
After Black’s conviction, he expressed shock at the depth and detail of the evidence laid against him at his disciplinary hearing. Clearly, the SFA had been granted access to bookmakers’ records that would not be available for public consumption due to confidentiality laws.
Citing an improved working relationship with the Association of British Bookmakers, the Gambling Commission and Police Scotland, Regan warned other players who may have indulged in betting activity similar to that perpetrated by Black to carefully consider the implications of a conviction. He was happy to leave the severity or otherwise of Black’s sanction – seven matches of his ten-match ban were suspended – open for individual interpretation.
“This was the first case we have had clear evidence from different sources that proved Ian Black had bet on football and, indeed, had bet against his club,” said Regan.
“That’s why the case was presented to the judicial panel and that’s why the sanction was put in place. You can argue whether you think it was too lenient, or whether it didn’t go far enough or set the right tone but it’s an independent process. The panel considered the facts, the nature of the bets, the information available in the public domain and they came up with the sanction. We are simply implementing the process.
“There are always going to be improvements that could be put in place in the future and that’s where the integrity officer’s role will come through. That’s one area we are working on. The other is education. We are working with clubs and PFA Scotland and clearly there’s an opportunity for further education. But if you look at our rules in the articles there’s nowhere to hide. It’s very clear – you should not bet on football, full stop.”
Regan said he had been alarmed to hear from David Brand, his security and integrity officer, reports of “individuals from Asia commentating on matches into laptops and giving feedback – on everything from the Lowland League to Under-17 women’s matches”.
He added: “Any attempt to defraud bookmakers by allowing bets to be placed before a book has been closed on a particular event has to be looked at.”