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March 25, 2015

Time for fan control?

Although football’s administrators like to wax lyrical about the game being all about the fans, it’s pretty clear that what they actually mean is that it’s all about the fans’ hard earned cash at the turn styles. The running of the clubs and the byzantine committees of the SFA and Football League are the exclusive preserve of an unelected few.  But that may be all about to change. A last minute Green Party amendment to insert a Fans Right to Buy into the Community Empowerment Bill was unanimously approved.



Martin Hannan, The National

SCOTLAND may be on a collision course with football’s governing bodies if the Scottish Parliament passes a law requiring fans to be given “first refusal” on buying their clubs.

The National has learned of fears within both the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League of Fifa intervention should the so-called “Fans Law” go on the statute book.

If the law is passed, the fear is that the SFA will be punished for allowing “political interference” The worst-case scenario in that event could see the SFA suspended, meaning Scotland would not be allowed to compete in either the

World Cup or the European Championships, nor would Scottish clubs play in Europe.

Both the SFA and SPFL were astonished when Alison Johnstone MSP of the Scottish Green Party introduced a late addendum to the Community Empowerment Bill calling for the right-to-buy clauses to be extended to football clubs.

The proposal was unanimously supported by the local government committee and will become part of the Bill to be put before the full Parliament at Holyrood.

Fifa has a long history of challenging what it has long called “political interference” in football.

Article 13.1 (i) of the Fifa statutes states explicitly that members are “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties.”

For good measure the rule is repeated at Article 17.1 using very similar terms.

The penalties for a breach of either article can be draconian, and numerous associations have been suspended over the years, usually because Governments directly interfere in the running of national associations, something that is not contemplated in Scotland.

Fifa’s Executive Committee can then “suspend a member that seriously violates its obligations as a member with immediate effect” while “other members may not entertain sporting contact with a suspended member.”

Last night it emerged that the Scottish Government had been made aware of the possibility of a breach of Fifa statutes and issued a statement that mentioned “working with” rather than legislating.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to the principle that supporters should have a role for decision-making, or even ownership when the opportunity arises, of their football clubs.

“We’ll be working with fans’ representatives, football bodies, and MSPs to ensure that appropriate mechanisms and oversight are developed to ensure that the fans’ voice is heard, and that the final proposals are fully in line with the requirements of the domestic and international football authorities.”

The SFA and SPFL’s fury over the Greens’ intervention is not only because of the threat of Fifa’s intervention.

They had both been working with the Government and other organisations to increase supporter involvement in ownership.

The SFA said: “This included a clear statement that ‘a legislative approach was not considered desirable or necessary at this stage’.

Privately the SFA are hoping that once the impact of the possible law is realised, the Government will step in and go back to joint working to improve supporter ownership.

The National asked the Scottish Green Party for a statement on the possibility of suspension should the law be passed.

Instead of commenting they passed us this : “A spokesman for Fans First said: ‘This is nothing more than a crude attempt to spread unfounded fears amongst Scotland’s long-suffering fans.

‘It’s simply absurd to say that these proposals would in any way affect Scotland’s ability to take part in the World Cup.

‘Just look at Germany, where the law requires almost all clubs to be majority fan-owned, a significantly more radical rule than will apply in Scotland. And then look at Germany’s World Cup record.

‘These Green proposals, endorsed by every party in Parliament, won’t guarantee Scotland a place at the World Cup, but just look at how the current model has worked for us. We haven’t qualified this century, and since we played in France 98 the list of Scottish clubs which have gone bust is extraordinary. Hearts, Rangers, Dunfermline, Dundee, Gretna, Motherwell, Airdrieonians, Clydebank, Greenock Morton, and Livingston – twice!

‘The current model of ownership is failing the national game, it’s failing the club game, and it’s failing the fans. Parliament trusts the fans to know when it might be in their clubs’ best interests to take over, and the SFA and SPFL should do the same.’

The National has established that no law was passed by the German government to control the ownership structure of German clubs. Rather it was decided by the clubs themselves that there should be supporters’ representatives on board and there must be a limit of 49 per cent on individual ownership.

SFA sources called the Greens’ response “absolutely laughable” while another insider said it “reads like a fans’ response rather than a politician’s.”

An SFA spokesman declined to comment on the possibility of Fifa intervening.

He referred The National to the joint statement by the SFA and SPFL which stated: “We are astonished, by the impractical and unworkable amendments put forward by the Scottish Green Party – and approved by the Scottish Parliament earlier today – which effectively disregard almost a year of constructive partnership by all organisations represented on the working group.

“We will consider our position along with our working group colleagues.”

It is understood Fifa is aware of the Scottish Parliamentary vote but it made no comment .