Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rangers: Transfer embargo stands

Another day and another twist in the ongoing Rangers saga.

Or perhaps not a twist, more a rare outbreak of consistency in an unwieldy drama.

The SFA's appellate tribunal has dismissed Rangers' appeal against the year long transfer embargo imposed by the original judicial panel.

In short, Rangers will not be allowed to sign players over the course of the next two transfer windows.

Surprise?

Perhaps. There was a lingering suggestion that the SFA might feel a certain pressure to reduce the punishment in the face of a backlash from inside the club and from Rangers fans.

But the likelihood of that happening seemed to diminish with the release of the original panel's report last Friday.

That was an exhaustive and ultimately damning study of a total breakdown in corporate governance. It took account of the huge role played by Craig Whyte - still, as far as we know, owner of the club and its assets - but also pointed to the failings of others.

It is companies that tend to be held accountable when there is such a complete failure of management.

The summary of today's findings suggests that the original panel were correct to decide that Rangers' failings called for a more stringent punishment than the £100,000 fine, that it was right to discuss but then decide against expulsion from the SFA and that the embargo does not represent the cataclysmic end for the club that some have predicted.

It also reiterated how seriously the SFA looks on non-payment of taxes, a hardline stance that could well be tested again depending on the eventual outcome of the "big tax case."

Rangers were represented by Richard Keen QC. We can expect he gave a strong account of the club's position, concerns and challenges regarding the original ruling.

His arguments met only with a complete rebuttal from a panel chaired by Lord Carloway, a judge who specialises in appellate hearings. A serious man with serious expertise presiding over a serious decision.

And the decision was that a competent judicial panel had decided on severe - but not the severest - punishments for instances of wrongdoing. Corporate liability meant the club would pay the price.

What next?

Rangers almost immediately issued the following statement:
An SFA independent appeals panel has this evening upheld a decision to impose a 12-month transfer embargo on the club.

Duff and Phelps, administrators of Rangers Football Club, issued the following statement tonight.

Paul Clark, joint administrator, said:

"The decision by the appellate tribunal to uphold the sanction, namely the suspension of registration of players for one year, is not competent in the view of the club and its legal advisers.

"Such a sanction was not available to the tribunal and should not have been imposed and it is the intention of the club to challenge the determination.

"The club will consider seeking review of this most disappointing decision and it is a matter of regret that the certainty and finality Rangers sought on this matter has not been achieved.

"Everyone at Rangers is bitterly disappointed and dismayed at this outcome."

Charles Green, who leads a consortium purchasing Rangers, said:

"Our group went into the purchase of the club with this sanction in place but we hoped the decision would at least be commuted.

"We fully support the club as it considers an appeal against this latest decision."

Sandy Jardine, spokesman for the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund, added:

"Rangers supporters will be shocked and bitterly disappointed by this decision and will find it hard to take that the club has been so heavily punished for the actions of individuals."
So it goes on.

Which is hardly surprising. The angst with which the club greeted the original decision suggested that the verdict of the appeal panel would be accepted only if it resulted in a complete climbdown. It's done pretty much the opposite.

The next step would seem to be to take the appeal above the SFA - a process that offers neither a speedy nor a guaranteed resolution.

Paul Clark's reading of the SFA rules is different from mine - and Lord Carloway's - if he considers that an embargo was simply not an option. By stopping short of expulsion, the maximum punishment, the panel saw fit to impose an embargo in addition to a fine. That's something that the SFA's own guidelines, ratified by all clubs last summer, allowed them to do.

Rangers search for a "certainty and finality" that suits Duff and Phelps will likely now go to either the Scottish courts or - more naturally but not definitely - FIFA or the Court for Arbitration for Sport.

Protracted, costly, uncertain. A triple whammy Rangers don't need. You'd guess that this farrago is not playing out well in the corridors of European football power. I'd also suspect that, in this case, UEFA will be frowning more on Rangers than an oddly steadfast SFA.

Certainly moving the argument into the Scottish courts will likely push all the wrong buttons at UEFA. It's for Duff and Phelps to decide how much of a gamble they want to take.

Maybe cooler heads will prevail, a decision will be made that swallowing this bitterest of pills is a quicker way of reaching the certainty needed for the club to finally begin to move forward. But don't bet on it.

Acceptance here might also leave Rangers better placed to face challenges to come, be that an unfavourable decision from the tax tribunal or further scandal from the SPL's second contracts investigation.

Again, however, I'd put no money on it. Bringing calm and order to the club has proved beyond whatever talents the administrators have. The result is a Rangers swinging wildly at every opponent, real or imagined. The danger is they'll be exhausted and yet more vulnerable as ever heavier hitters enter the ring.

From this mess, allowing still for hidden dangers lurking around dimly lit corners, Charles Green - or AN Other - must try to piece together a survival strategy.

It's not a task I envy.

He - or whoever - might end up being thankful that the appellate tribunal have at least given them a steer in the direction of the 40 or so players the club could still have at its disposal come the start of next season.

Summary of the Appellate Tribunal's verdict


The Appellate Tribunal will give its full reasons in writing in early course. However, in summary, it considers that:

1. It was competent for Disciplinary Tribunal to impose the additional sanction of prohibiting registrations of any new players of 18 years or older for a period of 12 months.

2. The Disciplinary Tribunal was correct to determine that the conduct involved - especially the deliberate non-payment of very large sums, estimated in excess of £13m of tax in the form of PAYE, NIC and VAT - was attributable to the club as a member of the Scottish FA.

3. The Disciplinary Tribunal was correct also in holding that the maximum fine available for this breach was £100,000, and on its own was inadequate as a punishment for this misconduct. It was therefore correct to select an additional sanction.

4. The sanctions available included expulsion from participation in the game and termination or suspension of membership of the Scottish FA, which would have had a similar effect. The Appellate Tribunal observes that serious consideration was given by the disciplinary tribunal to imposing one of these sanctions, which would have had obvious consequences for the survival of the club. The Disciplinary Tribunal rejected these as too severe and this Appellate Tribunal agrees with that conclusion.

5. Although the Appellate Tribunal has listened carefully to the representations from Rangers FC about the practical effects of the additional sanction, it has concluded that this sanction was proportionate to the breach, dissuasive to others and effective in the context of serious misconduct, bringing the game into disrepute. In particular, the Appellate Tribunal recognises that the Disciplinary Tribunal decision does not affect Rangers’ ability to extend the contracts of existing professional players, including those whose contracts will expire at the end of this season and including also those currently on loan to other clubs. The Appellate Tribunal observes that Rangers FC have over 40 professional players in this category.

Therefore, the Appellate Tribunal affirms the decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal.

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