HIBERNIAN and Hearts both hit out at the Scottish Professional Football League last night after Rangers’ closing Scottish Championship clash at Tynecastle was moved back 24 hours.
Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster warned that sporting integrity was at stake after their play-off rivals were given an extension to the regular season following the switch of the game to Sunday 3 May – 24 hours after Hibs are due to close their regular season against Falkirk.
Her counterpart at Tynecastle, Ann Budge, backed up their city rivals’ concerns while also protesting over disruption to supporters’ plans.
The difference could potentially give Rangers the chance to weigh up exactly what they need to ensure a second-place finish, and avoid a play-off game against the fourth-placed team.
Hibs will now seek Falkirk’s permission to move their final game, which would then have implications on Queen of the South, who are also aiming to make the top four. They finish their season against relegation-threatened Livingston, meaning the SPFL could be forced to move the entire fixture card.
Dempster said: “In previous seasons, the league has ensured that all of the final-round fixtures are played at the same time.
“I have been in contact with the SPFL following its announcement that one final-round fixture would kick off after all the other results are known.
“I have reminded them in very clear terms that – as the organiser of the competition – the responsibility for protecting its unimpeachable sporting integrity lies with them.”
Budge revealed that Hearts were only told of the change – for live television broadcast – yesterday morning. She claimed the police were also against the move.
She added: “On learning of the change, I immediately attempted to contact the SPFL and objected in strong terms to the proposed late change to this fixture on the grounds of it having a total disregard for the interests of supporters of both clubs and an apparent disregard for sporting integrity.
“I also spoke directly to Police Scotland, who share our frustration and informed me that they had written with some strong reasons for objecting to the changed fixture, including duplication of work for them, re-allocation of resources, etc. but once again, to no avail.
“Being given 17 days’ notice of this change is extremely disruptive and potentially very expensive for the fans, the sponsors and indeed the club. Overseas supporters have been in touch to advise that they will lose substantial amounts on travel; others have advised of lost earnings, holiday problems, etc. None of this is good for any of us and, on behalf of the club, I can only apologise.
“When it also became apparent to us that our fixture was the only game to be moved, we were equally alarmed as rightly or wrongly, this casts a shadow over the sporting integrity of the Championship.
“While it may not be enshrined in the newly merged rule book of the SPFL, it is protocol the football world over for fixtures such as the last day of the Championship to be played simultaneously. To move only one (or even two or four) out of five fixtures would seem to be leaving our game wide open to unsavoury accusations.
“I will be sending in a formal complaint to the SPFL in relation to this appallingly late decision. It is no wonder that clubs are finding it harder and harder to gain support from their fans when their interests can be so blatantly disregarded, especially at such short notice.”
A spokesperson for the SPFL said: “In response to recent criticisms of the Championship fixture scheduling for the weekend 2/3 May, we’d like to clarify some specific points. On this weekend, the Hearts v Rangers match is scheduled for Sunday 3 May to be broadcast on television and it is not clear to us why this has caused so much surprise. This is a key game in the Championship season and will inevitably attract huge interest from fans around the world.
“It is unreasonable to expect all Championship fixtures to move to the Sunday when a number of them will be unaffected by the Hearts v Rangers tie. However, as a result of this fixture, all Championship clubs have been invited to submit a request if they wish to move games to the Sunday. To date, the only feedback we have received is from one Championship club which has asked for its match to remain scheduled for the Saturday. For the avoidance of doubt, we have had no request from Hibernian FC to move its fixture to the Sunday at the time of writing (8:45pm, Wednesday 15 April).
“We also note speculation that Police Scotland expressed concern to the SPFL about the scheduling of the Hearts v Rangers match. However, Police Scotland confirmed to us there were no security issues with the scheduling of all Championship fixtures that weekend. Whilst we regret any inconvenience to supporters caused by rescheduled fixtures, the circumstances surrounding the matches on the weekend of 2/3 May are in no way unusual.”
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