Tag Archives: spl

Some Thoughts on Charles Green’s Christmas Message

Referring to the link between an individual’s social status and his outward appearance, Charles Dickens wrote in his classic novel Oliver Twist, that dignity is ‘sometimes more a question of coat and waistcoat than some people would imagine’.

Throw in some brown brogues and he was definitely on the money.

Joking aside, Dickens makes an important point worth expanding: in the same sense that class distinctions have no factual basis in reality, other than by decree, what we commonly mean by ‘integrity’ is sometimes more a question of image and perception than it is of actual moral substance.

Until recently, dignity and integrity thus misconstrued were the two supporting pillars of Scottish football’s great dependency myth. The third pillar was the unquestioning belief in the disastrous consequences that would ensue on removal of the great historical custodians of the latter.

There is now a fourth, but it is still under construction. Early indications are that it is shaping up to be quite a formidable replacement for the ones that finally crumbled earlier this year. Charles Green’s Christmas Message is more like a call to arms than peaceful greetings.

Yet Green’s advantage over David Murray and Craig Whyte is that the perception of injustice is a much more powerful motivator of masses than a long standing expectation of entitlement. If he plays it correctly, he knows how much money he stands to make from his latest enterprise. It’s all about profit maximisation.

Charles Green invites us to believe that he has refreshed and rejuvenated Scottish football, filling the stockings of the other clubs in the Third Division.

But his invitation is nothing more than a cynical attempt at restoring damaged pride by rejuvenating the belief in dignity and integrity, amplified this time by the perception of injustice endured at the hands of other football Chairmen and two of the game’s three governing bodies.

Charles Green is probably onto a winner in monetary terms. He seems to have managed the mood. But the mood that has been managed is one that was actively encouraged by him, for the sake of making as much profit as he possibly could.

Whilst the benefit of his strategy is that it will yield decent financial returns in the short to medium term, the long term disadvantage is that Charles Green will walk away when it suits his wallet, leaving that mood completely unmanaged, like an angry dog waiting on the postman.

Charles Green admitted that he hadn’t yet received a card from Dundee United, the SFA or the SPL.

He is probably in for a long wait. And the dog will be barking when these particular cards finally arrive.

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‘Three Leagues of Eight’

‘Three leagues of eight’ – what on earth is happening to Scottish football?

Apparently the problem with Scottish football is that there are too many meaningless games, with next to no incentive for the majority of teams to try hard beyond February every year. In other words, the semblance of competition is over too quickly. And all because of the existing league structure.

Solution? Create two leagues out of twenty two teams, split them up into three leagues of eight teams after twenty two games – with battles raging from February onwards for promotion or otherwise – and there you have it, competitiveness restored! Brilliant, why didn’t someone think of that earlier…before our game started sliding down the drain?

Because it is an utterly stupid idea, that’s why.

Why would you think that the solution to the decline in Scottish football would lie in chopping up small leagues into micro leagues? Where exactly did that wonky logic come from?

I am sceptical. I don’t think it is the structure per se that makes the league uncompetitive. I think it has got more to do with the self-defeating belief, shared by too many of our teams, their managers, their chairmen and supporters, that there really is nothing to play for beyond Christmas.

And arguably, their resignation may be justified. Surely you don’t have to look too hard to see that the ball is already well on its way to being burst at the start of every year? Granted, but that isn’t going to change as a result of league reconstruction.

Our players aren’t going to become better players, our referees aren’t going to stop making honest mistakes, and the sneaky gentlemen who lurk in the shadowy corridors of power aren’t going to suddenly grow a pair of balls and rid the game of those – themselves included – who specialise in bendy rules.

It is not the existing league structure that is holding Scottish football back. The problem with Scottish football stems from the protectionist policies of its power brokers. Their insatiable greed and permanent cluelessness have been contributing to the slow death of our game for years.

But so too has the damaging belief that many of our players appear to subscribe to. It is the belief that they are not good enough to challenge for honours at the end of the season. And it is the belief that their Scottish identity is no longer equivalent to exportable skill, strength and grit – that magnificent persona belongs to a past generation of Scottish footballers.

Sort all of that out and you might be a step closer to sorting out the mess that Scottish football has become.

‘Three leagues of eight’? Do us a favour!

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“…And Songs To Sing”

A few comments on Twitter this afternoon, during the Celtic game, got me thinking…

My fairly limited knowledge of Irish politics and history is sufficient to inform me that songs about the IRA tend to be songs about an Irish Republican military organisation, regardless of what religion some of its supporters happen to celebrate.

Whether you agree with the objectives of this organisation or not, songs about the IRA are songs which, when sung by those who actually understand their background, purpose and meaning, have no sectarian intent. They are political songs, first and foremost.

Yet sections of Scottish society, including authorities and officials who should know better, are sometimes guilty of jumping to the conclusion that such songs are religiously motivated in the sense that would render them ‘sectarian’ in the new Scottish legal context.

And perhaps that is partly caused by particular sections of Scottish society who feel that they have some kind of affinity with an Irish political movement, when in fact they know very little about it, and would struggle to explain the purpose and motivations behind it.

That said, my opinion is that songs of this nature should be kept away from Scottish football, regardless of the fact that celebrating Celtic Football Club is perceived by many – myself included – as a celebration of the club’s Scottish and Irish roots.

I believe that it is a good thing to celebrate Celtic Football Club’s historical connections to Ireland; singing Irish folk songs is one way of telling the story of how and why the club came into being, just as singing Scottish folk songs would be…

But it is another thing to pull the cause of political and military organisations into that story and make it appear to the critically observing world that the IRA’s objectives are part of what Celtic Football Club stands for today, when it doesn’t actually stand for anything of the sort.

I love to listen to Celtic football songs. And I am more than happy to hear non-political historical folk songs, although I understand that it is sometimes difficult to keep these subjects distinct. I recognise Irish folk songs as an absolutely integral and irremovable part of this football club’s proud history. I recognise them as a celebration of one of the two cultures that came together for a social and charitable purpose. For me, that is what the formation of Celtic was about.

But I feel that certain songs, which are absolutely legitimate songs in their own right, should be sung elsewhere – because, regardless of whether you personally share the cause, it is neither Celtic Football Club’s historical reason for coming into being, nor is it a cause that Celtic Football Club supports, or stands for.

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Celtic’s Global Limitations

In a recent article, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain explored the interesting point that there is an opportunity for Celtic to tap even further into its massive global market by finding a way of ‘monetising’ the affinity that millions of Irish Americans have with the club’s unique historical narrative:

http://www.philmacgiollabhain.ie/land-of-opportunity/#more-3009

Among other suggestions made in this article, one is that in order to be a successful modern day football club Celtic needs to make more of its global appeal by fully exploiting its story in markets such as North America, with which I completely agree.

However, I would be reluctant to go quite so far as to agree with the ultimate marketing route suggested in this article, whether there are genuine historical grounds for it or not, that Celtic ‘owning the Famine’ would be the ‘key to the door of Irish America’.

That aside, another interesting point that is definitely worth exploring is whether having such a massive supporter base to tap into can be the answer that a club like Celtic needs in order to help it compete consistently at the highest level.

My view is that this would still not be enough. I believe that the Celtic story will only take the football club so far in today’s game, even if it was fully exploited in such a manner that it took the club to a different financial level.

Celtic Football Club is undoubtedly a global brand:

http://www.brandfinance.com/images/upload/brandfinance_football_brands_2012.pdf

It is a well know story that Celtic was founded with the charitable purpose of raising money to support the poor families living in the East End of Glasgow.

The name ‘Celtic’ was intended to reflect the coming together of Irish and Scottish communities, from which the club still draws considerable support today; both at home, and also across the various continents that became the settling place of the Scottish and Irish Diasporas.

Combined with successfully exploiting opportunities in newer geographical markets in recent years, such as Japan and South Korea, this is the bedrock of Celtic’s ability to operate as a global brand, despite the limitations of its current league context and its associated media revenues.

Therefore both in purpose and in name, it is a football club with an intrinsic social dimension and a very powerful global appeal. But relying on this story can only take Celtic so far.

Regrettably, whilst having a unique and inspirational story to share is vital to the club’s ability to tap into the potential of its globally dispersed supporters and admirers, the ability to compete with the world’s strongest (wealthiest) clubs seems likely to be choked off by the limited appeal of the rest of Scottish football in general.

And there is no way of getting around this problem without wholesale financial collapse of football leagues elsewhere at one extreme, creating opportunities for Scottish football to reposition itself accordingly; or parity of investment in our game with that of other major European leagues, at the other extreme.

Of course, neither is likely to happen; whilst other football leagues continue to get stronger, the rapidly diminishing appeal of Scottish football makes it impossible to attract the financial investment required to compete.

In the meantime, Celtic will just need to keep striving to punch above its commercially restricted weight, by relying on the continued interest of its globally dispersed supporter base, and on its domestic dominance offering a slender chance of a route into the more financially lucrative European competitions.

And of course, this continued interest will never be guaranteed. Many local and expatriate supporters have been drifting away because of the sectarian poison and racial hatred that is generated when certain unsavoury elements of Scottish society choose to read more into the Celtic story than it actually contains, particularly when it is juxtaposed with negative intent with that of their former rivals, Rangers FC. And others have just found different sports in their new countries to follow.

So in the long term this may be as far as Celtic can go. Settling for an impressive global ranking, given the poverty of its domestic circumstances, may be the best that Celtic can hope for – and it would be no mean achievement to sustain this in the years to come – unless there was ambition among other similarly stunted clubs to radically alter the context of their game.

The Celtic story will always carry a great deal of weight for the club, generation after generation. There is no question of that. But there are many other clubs with their own great stories, each competing for a slice of the action.

In my opinion, it is not the story that will act as the catalyst for transformation, although it will definitely play a very significant part; it is simply the commercial appeal of the league in which Celtic plays, and unless that changes, nothing else will.

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Some Thoughts on Charles Green’s Revealing Comments

Creating a siege mentality in a group of players has been a tried and trusted means of galvanising otherwise faltering football teams for generations.

The simple tactic of instilling the belief that your team has been treated unfairly, and that everyone else is out to get you, appears to be sufficient to elicit the type of response that has the potential to propel mediocre teams to greatness.

Normally the belief is completely disproportionate to reality, in the sense that the hostility that is stirred up as a result tends to have been generated from within a collective of manipulated minds, rather than from the external situation itself.

On a sporting level, there is a sense in which employing this tactic is fair game. It produces a team advantage where previously there was disadvantage. It produces team strength through unity of purpose, where previously there was weakness through lack of common cause.

But to extend this tactic beyond the affairs of the football team, into the realm of his team’s supporters, and into the realm of the supporters of others clubs in a distasteful and disparaging manner, as Charles Green has done with his ‘jealousy’ and ‘bigotry’ comments, is to take a step too far in a very dangerous direction.

It is to tap into a bundle of raw emotions still seeking a suitable outlet. It is to tap into a mix of beliefs, desires and intentions still seeking resolution from the cognitive dissonance that was produced when one of Scottish football’s institutional certainties was ripped from its natural habitat.

Charles Green knows the weight of the word ‘bigotry’ in this context. He knows the history only too well.

What is disappointing is that he has chosen one of the most volatile subject matters in Scottish football and attempted to tarnish the reputation of other clubs and their supporters, as a means of generating and drawing in financial support for his new company.

Charles Green’s comments give him the air of someone who appears desperate for the rest of Scottish football to pay the financial price for opting for integrity, just because integrity makes it difficult for him to initiate his own exit plan in a quick and profitable manner.

And incidentally, I don’t think ‘jealousy’ is the right word to use either; but it does give us an insight into how he might be feeling right now as he weighs up the limited commercial options for his new company and the unattractive fixture lists in the seasons ahead.

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Tapping Into Scottish Football’s Money Generating Emotions

The learned gentlemen of the mainstream media are particularly adept at tapping into and perpetuating money generating emotions, particularly where sporting rivalries are concerned.

Scottish football pundits and journalists have been at it for well over a century now, fully aware of the impact their carefully chosen, highly provocative, words are going to have on an audience hungry for sporting insight and commercial intelligence.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the ‘Scottish Sport’ successfully tapped into the complex mix of potentially volatile emotions and attitudes that characterised certain communities of people in industrial working class areas in the West of Scotland.

To describe Celtic as the team of Irishmen in Glasgow that had to be matched by a Scottish champion in the late 1890’s, was to create the context for the bitter rivalry and sectarian hatred that was to follow.

Given the circumstances of the target audience, the choice of words was effectively an invitation to channel racial and religious prejudice into an otherwise friendly game of football.

And it just wouldn’t do for these clubs to continue enjoying the friendly relationship they had enjoyed in the beginning; interest would wane and there would eventually be too much money at stake. And thus it began.

As Professor Tom Devine described it:

“Celtic and Rangers had become the standard bearers of their two communities and their confrontations on the football field a noisy outlet for the bitter sectarian tensions of the west of Scotland.”

We are no further forward today.

During the past two seasons, certain journalists have appeared desperate to paint a vile picture of Neil Lennon, for example, in a vindictive attempt to hound him out of the Scottish game; in doing so, they needlessly cranked up the hostilities and forced a situation in which new, poorly written, legislation was felt necessary to handle it.

More recently, other journalists have been falling over themselves to perpetuate the myth that expelling Rangers from the first or second tier of Scottish football would have disastrous financial consequences for the entire game in Scotland.

Witness Graham Spiers’ article in the Herald this morning, which reads like a manifesto in support of Rangers’ immediate inclusion in the second tier of Scottish football, whatever shape or form that happens to take after Regan and Doncaster are finished with it:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/football/separation-anxiety.18153454

The very suggestion that Celtic would sorely miss Rangers because of the money generating hostility and hatred that tarnishes this fixture, yet impacts favourably on the bottom line, looks like an irresponsible attempt to engineer a sense of regret in the hearts of Celtic fans, and a sense of commercial dread in the minds of the Celtic board.

He may claim that it is just his private hunch, but to hit the target with his carefully chosen words would be to soften the attitude towards the shorter term expulsion of Rangers from Scottish football’s top flight, if only he could coax Peter Lawwell to come out and say as much.

But putting that to one side, the very real concern is this: if the only appeal of Scottish football is a recurring spectacle built on media fuelled hatred, then restructuring the league set-up and merging the game’s governing bodies into a single unit isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference to the quality of our game.

It would be an expensive exercise, whose only real purpose would be to provide a cover story for the very short term expulsion of Rangers from the top flight in order to keep the broadcasters interested in the bitter rivalry at the heart of Scottish football.

This would be the final downfall of Scottish football. Graham Spiers is absolutely correct: it is all about money; but whilst certain Scottish football journalists would never want to admit it, it is all about self-preservation on their part, too.

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Integrity…? Morality in Sport is Just a Happy Coincidence.

Hardly a day goes by without another reminder of the multitude of corrupt practices underpinning many of our highly esteemed institutions and organisations. Pillars of honesty, trustworthiness and respectability they are not; guardians of fairness, integrity and respect, they have never been.

Increasingly it seems to be the case that you cannot have a fully functioning political, economic or social framework without the existence of deep rooted structural corruption. Reference the utter contempt that politicians, bankers, market traders, corporate executives and various other noble professionals have for the rest of us.

But reference also the various sporting institutions that purport to uphold the very same values. In Scottish football, for instance, we have a diabolical (no, comical) state of affairs; we have an unfolding story of systematic cheating, gross financial mismanagement, institutional bullying and contemptible conduct.

It is a despicable state of affairs, as is the false moral outrage of the individuals responsible for pretending to bring it back into check. They know they have too much to lose themselves if they make the correction process too severe, yet they have to be seen to be responding appropriately. They are upholders of truth and integrity, after all.

To assume that it would be perfectly acceptable to propose that the new Rangers football club – I don’t even know what they are supposed to be called these days – should be given access into the Scottish First Division, to bring about short term redemption without financially crippling the game, is to confirm what every honest football supporter already knew.

The bell tolled for Scottish football many years ago when David Murray introduced a new type of accounting practice and contentious contract management system, and it positively rang out when his slippery accomplice Craig Whyte continued that practice with intent.

Integrity was lost amidst the dubious financial shuffling that enabled the old club to cheat its way to success. But now it is definitely in danger of disappearing completely out of sight, and irretrievably so, with this latest development, just when many people thought that it had been restored…

I wouldn’t be surprised if the SPL Chairmen, who were happy to publicly declare their objection to the club being admitted to their league earlier this week, were somehow in on the act. Regardless how you dress it up, money seems to be the critical factor; morality in sport is just a happy coincidence, when it happens. I was sceptical at the time and I am sceptical now.

But perhaps the most distasteful thing about it is the part the rest of us are expected play in all of this. As the money men engineer the best possible solution for the new club (and every other club in Scottish football, we are led to believe), the honest supporter is asked to pay up and shut up, and maybe then everything will be ok again.

But that’s exactly the point. It won’t be ok again, because the big deal that was made about restoring integrity was, in fact, just a big sham.

It was just a big play for season ticket renewals whilst a deal was being done in the background to open alternative doors, which would lead very quickly back to the set-up the chairmen claimed they wanted to block.

Integrity…who even knows what that means anymore?

Certainly not the decision makers in Scottish football, that’s for sure.

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Swiftly on the Heels of Moral Decline (An Appeal to SPL Chairmen)

On the one hand we all recognise that there would be something morally distasteful in allowing the newly formed SEVCO 5088 to walk straight into the SPL. Even with some sanctions attached.

On the other hand we have all listened to the concerns of SPL Club Chairmen who would be worried about their own club’s financial situation if SEVCO 5088 were not allowed entry to SPL, but made to start in a lower division.

Apparently, Scottish football would be financially crippled. So the implication would be that it would be better to be morally bankrupt than financially so. At least you know you would have a chance of surviving, even if your integrity didn’t.

Yet putting the moral versus economic argument to one side for a minute, it is not unthinkable that at least half of the current bunch of SPL teams could be relegation candidates in any given season. There are few who could consider themselves absolutely safe.

So if I were one of the SPL Chairmen struggling to balance morality with money, I would take a moment and think about this risk.

If you were tempted to vote SEVCO 5088 straight into the SPL, there is a chance that your club might not even be there the following season to benefit from your temporary loss of moral fibre, whereas SEVCO 5088 probably will.

I would also think about this: in the event that your club were relegated next season – and there is absolutely no guarantee that it wouldn’t be – would you not stand to benefit from your games against lower league SEVCO 5088 as they worked their way back up?

And in the meantime, why be so selfish about it? Why deny football clubs in the lower divisions an opportunity to benefit from the revenue generation potential of SEVCO 5088? Surely it would be good for the whole of Scottish football if lower clubs got a slice of the action for a change?

Survival instincts will always push harder than any Kantian categorical imperative; they tend to operate outside the space of moral governance and in very short, spectacular bursts.

So if you are one of the SPL Chairmen struggling with the weight of this decision, you need to work out how you would explain to your supporters why you are the club going down next season, when you promised long term prosperity in exchange for your club turning its back on good moral practice.

At which point it is too late when you realise that, despite the outcome you thought you were preventing, financial decline quite often follows swiftly on the heels of moral decline.

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The Unsustainable Game

Football commentator Stuart Hall is often credited with having coined the phrase, ‘the beautiful game’.

He is said to have used it first in reference to the Northern Ireland footballer Peter Doherty, when he was playing for Manchester City.

When Manchester City won the Premier League on Sunday, they did so having spent around £1.5bn in four years and having recorded a loss of just under £200m in the past year, most of which was bankrolled by the personal wealth of the club’s Abu Dhabi based owners.

Sheikh Mansour is now four years into his ten year plan to transform Manchester City into a club that is capable of dominating European football for many years to come.

When UEFA’s new financial fair play rules come into effect, which certain football clubs are likely to challenge in court, clubs will be required to break even on their balance sheets, with a couple of years grace during which they will be able to record a maximum loss 45m Euros per financial year.

Clubs like Manchester City may be able to reduce their annual operating losses significantly through enjoying substantial increases in European prize money and television income, or they may find a way of introducing more of Sheikh Mansour’s money into the club as a form of income.

But what happens when these clubs fail to reach the final stages of the Champions League, or when their wealthy owners withdraw their financial support, which they will, at some stage? And in the meantime, what happens to the rest of the clubs?

Whilst some supporters are luxuriating in the temporary glory delivered by their club’s debt fuelled successes, others are lamenting their club’s rapid decline from former title challengers to relegation strugglers. They simply cannot afford to keep the pace any longer.

Ordinary football clubs, those without billionaire owners, but who are fortunate enough to have large supporter bases spread throughout the world, are in a slightly better position than the majority of others who struggle because of these limitations.

Getting their globalisation strategy correct is important. Ensuring that it compliments their youth development strategy is absolutely critical. But there is still no guarantee of success and there is still an unbridgeable chasm between their financial standing and that of the wealthy elite.

Billionaire owners, unevenly distributed television income, ridiculous transfer fees, astronomical salaries, enormous debts and uncompetitive leagues are crippling football. Only the elite will be able to compete. The rest will just be there to make up the necessary numbers.

Football clubs firmly embedded in their local communities, with long and enviable histories, were once the heart and soul of the game. The ones which just happen to be ripe for billionaire exploitation are transforming themselves into debt fuelled global juggernauts. Heartless machines that have lost touch with their histories in order to fire a stranger’s ambitions.

If the global financial crash of 2008 is anything to go by, this is just another massive bubble waiting to burst. But it won’t just be a financial crash.

It will be a sociocultural crash falling swiftly on the heels of a psychological crash, the type that results from realising that you have nowhere to fall when you have spent the preceding years subconsciously distancing yourself from your historical identity (and for no other reason than to satisfy someone else’s temporary drive for publicity and self-promotion).

It is a very subtle form of exploitation that UEFA’s financial fair play rules may be powerless to prevent.

The correction process will be brutal.

It will see many clubs disappear from their local communities.

It will see others hanging on, but with a depressing realisation of how good things used to be – before their glamorous transformation, the very thought of which they just could not resist.

The beautiful game is rapidly facing up to the fact that it is actually the unsustainable game.

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Who or What Defines Sporting Integrity?

Albert Camus wrote that what he knew most surely about morality, he owed to sport.

Camus was an author, philosopher and amateur footballer (he played in goals for the University of Algiers).

He held the view that political groups, religious bodies and other similar authorities, tend to create moral systems and frameworks that impose artificial and overly complex values on our lives, typically to suit their own ends and purposes.

Whereas he believed that a more simplistic sense of morality could be forged through resilient participation in basic human activities and practices. A sense of collective purpose, work ethic, bravery, discipline and fair play, characterise playing in a football team, for example, just as much as they give a sense of meaning to our own individual lives.

Building our idea of morality from the ground up as opposed to receiving it from external ‘authorities’ is the best we can hope for, according to this way of thinking. And there is a strong sense in which this view appeals to me.

But there is a problem with it, which the analogy with football highlights perfectly: it would be one thing to cultivate a sense of collective purpose among a group of naturally individualistic thinkers; it would be another thing entirely to use this as a foundation for morality, especially when our individualistic preferences rarely leave us.

There are too many instances of cheating and rule-breaking, bias and discrimination, self-indulgence and psychological egoism in football, as in the vast majority of human activities, that it hardly serves this purpose well. But on the other hand, Camus does seem to have a point regarding the artificiality and tendency to bias inherent in the alternative approach.

So the question we are left with is this: through which source do we come to understand the values of honesty, equality, fairness and integrity that are assumed to sit at the heart of sport, morality and life? Who or what defines them?

If we define these values through engaging in basic human activities and practices, they become susceptible to individualistic preference; if we have them imposed on us through external authorities, they become susceptible to authoritarian bias and corruption.

When we talk about upholding the value of integrity in sport, how do we know that our understanding of integrity is authentic; how do we know that our sense of integrity is not in some way tainted by our own individual preferences, particularly in football, when individual preferences are partly definitive of the competition itself?

Do we rely on the relevant authorities to define integrity in terms of the notions of fair play, sportsmanship, transparency and tolerance? Do we assume we understand this definition in a non-circular way? And how do we know that we can rely on footballing authorities not to subtly modify the meaning of integrity, as a direct consequence of their commercial responsibility to maximise revenue in the game?

The crux of the problem is that if you try to define the notion of sporting integrity from a vantage point within the system that it is supposed to regulate, it comes under pressure from competing and contradictory demands. If you try to define it from outside that system, there is a danger that the definition will fail to cope with the complexities that emerge from within the system.

It is incredibly difficult to get out of this tangle.

Our interpretation of what sporting integrity consists in is dangerously close to losing its authenticity whichever way you define it.

And its function as a standard is just as useful as one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s elastic rulers that shrinks or expands to fit the size of the object it is measuring.

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