Stewart Regan defends ‘Trial by TV’ system

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan says the under-fire disciplinary system was requested by member clubs. Picture: SNS
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan says the under-fire disciplinary system was requested by member clubs. Picture: SNS
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THE Scottish FA is not about to perform a U-turn on its new disciplinary system despite aggressive criticism of the concept of “Trial by TV” and the employment of lawyer Vincent Lunny as an all-powerful compliance officer, Stewart Regan insisted yesterday.

The SFA chief executive was quizzed on a range of topics as he appeared at Hampden to promote a new sponsorship strand for the embryonic Lowland League, with the conversation ranging from stringent local betting laws to winter World Cups in the Middle East and a European Championship to be spread among 13 cities.

But he may well have had a premeditated response to recent negative analyses of the SFA’s disciplinary system that have been strong, bordering on savage. Barry Ferguson, through a newspaper column, and PFA Scotland chairman John Rankin have both let fly at a panel, overseen by Lunny, that does not presently contain any former footballers.

Also at the thorny end of their complaints has been the mechanism implemented by the panel in coming to their conclusions, namely video evidence. Regan smartly defended his organisation against the barbs.

“Nothing has changed in real-ity,” he said. “In football generally across the world dealing with disciplinary issues relies on evidence, and the best form of evidence for a panel to consider is television evidence.

“The same evidence is used by clubs to overturn red cards for wrongful dismissal.

“What the Scottish FA has done is introduce a new process with independent panellists – at the request of our members – to do several things including speeding up the process and to provide a degree of independence and to have it as much more evidence-based using a qualified lawyer as compliance officer.

“There will always be those who challenge the process because they don’t like the decision, but at the end of the day the use of evidence has not changed since the launch of the Premier League in Scotland and in other parts of the world. There’s no requirement, in my opinion, to change the process.”

When the issue of the make-up of the panel was thrust onto the table, the SFA chief executive again fended off the assault with a riposte that left little room for counter-attack.

“We’ve been looking at it for two years. In April, June and July of this year, we wrote to PFA Scotland asking them to nominate ex-players, which is something they have asked for since the panel was launched in 2011,” said Regan. “At this moment in time they have failed to come back with any nominations of people to sit on the panel.

“So it’s quite disappointing to hear comments that the panel could be improved by having former players on it when it’s something we’ve been formally asking for for well in excess of 18 months.”

Finally, Regan was only too glad to endorse the work of Lunny, who as the first incumbent in his position was always likely to become cannon fodder for knee-jerk analysis. He pointed out that although the judicial cases that garner the majority of coverage are based on deeds performed in the Scottish Prem-iership and therefore televised in weekend highlights packages, it would be misleading to state that the SFA’s independent panel could do most of their work by watching Sportscene.

“In fact, around 75 per cent of the cases considered are outside the top tier,” said Regan. “So we don’t always have the same degree of evidence you get from television. Many disciplinary processes are managed (along similar lines) but ours is quicker and more transparent and more independent than many around Europe. Huge strides have been made to put in place something that member clubs wanted.”

While voicing his support for a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022 – “We would quite happily play the World Cup in the North Pole on Christmas Day if we were part of the qualification” – and reiterating that last week’s Uefa meeting in Dubrovnik had encouraged him that Glasgow has a realistic chance of hosting games at Euro 2020, Regan also had cause to smile about a more parochial development. He hailed another landmark day for the “pyramid” that is designed to keep the Scottish game from becoming stale, as financial support of the Lowland League came in from the Scottish Sun.

Chairman Dr Andrew Waddell admitted that with only one season for the league to get off the ground before the door to League Two opens, the pace of change felt “daunting” but that fresh investment would help raise the league to grow a profile.

“We’ve got to raise all our own money, we don’t get anything given to us,” noted the former referee. “There’s a myth the Highland and Lowland Leagues are financed by the SFA but we get not a penny.”