3 Apr 2012

SPL boss: rules applied ‘without fear nor favour’

Chief Correspondent

SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster tells Channel 4 News any evidence of rule-breaking by Rangers is likely to be investigated by an independent body and that he is “astonished” by claims of bias.

Rangers Football Club are in administration and if they fail to win their current appeal to a tax tribunal a further bill of almost £50m from the taxman awaits.

On Friday 30 March Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson reported on the web of transactions and payments made from offshore accounts to Rangers officials, coaches and players.

Read more: The payments that may lead to Rangers' downfall

Since the extent of Rangers’ troubles emerged, Scottish football’s governing bodies have come in for criticism for failing to intervene sooner and failing to manage perceived conflicts of interest.

One of the main complaints, largely from rival fans, is that senior football figures were simultaneously sitting on the boards of both Rangers and the Scottish Premier League (SPL) during the time period now under investigation.

A conflict of interest? Not so says SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster.

He told Channel 4 News it is “important” to have club representation on the SPL board and “manage conflicts of interest” when they arise.

Mr Doncaster said: “In a football situation, in a league generally it’s very unusual not to have club directors on a league board. Ultimately we’re far more like a trade association than we are a private company.”

According to its website the SPL board’s main responsibilities are “corporate governance” and the “application of the SPL rules”.

SPL critics claim the situation at Rangers suggests the SPL failed in its role as a governing body.

Neil Doncaster denies this: “I think there are a number of areas where conflicts arise and they have to be managed and are managed so no I don’t see this as being any different.

He added: “What we have to do at the centre is manage the competition, to apply the rules equally to all clubs without fear nor favour and that’s what we do.”

Click on the image above to see more reports about Rangers

‘Timely’ investigation

The SPL is currently investigating the alleged non-disclosure of payments made by, or on behalf of, Rangers to players.

Given that senior Rangers’ figures were on the SPL board at the time under investigation, some football fans question whether the body can rigorously investigate given its own role in the situation.

Neil Doncaster told Channel 4 News if there is a prima facie case that SPL rules have been breached then that “is likely” to come before an independent panel.

He said: “It’s important that if there is a case that it’s heard before a wholly independent commission and I’m confident that will be the case.”

Mr Doncaster also dismissed suggestions the SPL had been slow to act saying that its investigation was “timely” given the facts that had come into the public domain over recent weeks and months.

A revolving door?

The SPL boss rubbished claims that Rangers have, in the past, been shown preferential treatment by Scottish football authorities.

When asked if he recognised a “revolving door” culture between the Old Firm, the SPL and the SFA he replied: “A revolving door culture? What do you mean?”

After some clarification he continued: “I don’t think there’s any cosy relationship between any member club and either the SFA or the SPL.

“I can’t talk for a period before 2009 when I arrived but the people who have been running the league since 1998 – a number of them are still here now – understand, just as I do, the importance of being absolutely neutral, absolutely unbiased and treating everybody equally.

“I’d be astonished if there was any suggestion of any bias or cosy relationship at all in the past – I certainly don’t see any evidence of that at all.”

Channel 4 News spoke to Neil Doncaster before Alex Thomson’s report on 30 March was aired.

Lee Wallace of Rangers celebrates with team-mates after scoring his team's third goal during the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League match between Rangers and Celtic (Getty)