Financial Fair Play
Football and finance have often sat uneasily together. But with some of our clubs under intense financial pressure, it is no surprise that questions about ‘financial fair play’ have once again been raised in the context of Scottish football.
Crucial to an understanding of financial fair play, is an appreciation of why it is vital that clubs live within their means. This blog is an attempt to set out what is meant by ‘financial fair play’, and why prompt payment of players, the taxman and other member clubs is so important to football as a whole.
‘Financial fair play’ is a phrase that is often trotted out in football circles. It was one of 11 key values presented by UEFA President Michel Platini to the 2009 UEFA Congress. Its stated aim was to “restore well-being to the European club game”.
But what does ‘financial fair play’ really mean? UEFA’s explanation, in 2010, was that the concept would require clubs to balance their books over the medium term, not spend more than they earn, and operate within their financial means.
This is all seen as important for one key reason: because any club that is spending more on players than they can afford, is automatically gaining a sporting advantage over every other club it competes with. Whether the precise system of measurement used by UEFA is perfect is a moot point. But the logic behind the principle however is, I think, broadly sound. And it is this same principle that explains the position of the SPL.
To turn a blind eye, to allow clubs to continually fail to make prompt payments as they fall due, would be to allow those clubs to gain an unfair sporting advantage over all those other clubs that pay their players, the taxman and other clubs on time. That is one of the reasons why, whenever the SPL receives a request from players to adjudicate on their contracts, it has a duty to do so.
The fundamental basis of any football league is that all member clubs are treated equally. But, increasingly, leagues across the world are going further. In England, for example, the Football League routinely imposes a player embargo on clubs who fail to pay their players in full and on time. And, in League Two, clubs have accepted limits on the amounts that they can spend, relative to their income.
The whole issue of ‘financial fair play’ will no doubt continue to be developed across the whole of football. In the meantime, it is vital that the Scottish Premier League continue to treat all member clubs even-handedly.
It may put the SPL in the uncomfortable position of having to rule against member clubs in certain instances. Whenever we are requested by professional players to adjudicate on their contracts, for example, we should continue to do so. And, where appropriate, to rule in the players’ favour and to make orders for on-time payment by our member clubs.
The integrity of the entire League – and the long-term interests of all 12 member clubs within it – demands that we do just that.
More widely though, it is important that we keep the whole issue of financial fair play firmly in the spotlight. Improving our rule book and making it less likely that our member clubs end up in financial difficulty in the first place should continue to be a priority. And with this in mind, all 12 SPL member clubs will meet this Monday. On the agenda will be our existing rules on financial fair play and whether our current rule book needs improvement in the face of the financial challenges being faced by several member clubs.
If agreement in principle is reached, this could mean our clubs voting on new, tougher, rules on financial fair play at a general meeting, either in April or July this year. It will be a difficult debate. But it is vital that we do not shy away from these issues or bury our heads in the sand.
It may be uncomfortable to address these thorny problems head-on. But the long-term health and prosperity of Scottish football demands that we do just that.
Chief Executive, Scottish Premier League
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