NEIL Doncaster, the Scottish Premier League chief executive, believes Scottish football's two league organisations can restructure the game together without the Scottish Football Association having to step in as an independent arbiter.
He spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since a proposal for radical reform of the divisions was approved by the 30 Scottish Football League clubs. The SFL wants a merger of the SPL and SFL and, among other proposals, three divisions of 16, 10 and 16 clubs.
There is no prospect of that being accepted by the current 12 SPL clubs, who are working on their own proposals. The impression is that there is so little common ground between the SPL and SFL that they will never reach agreement on a format acceptable to all, which could lead to the SFA being appointed to act as a mediator and impose a compromise structure. But according to Doncaster – speaking at the announcement of a broadcast deal for BBC Alba to show three top-flight games live in Gaelic every season, starting with coverage of the January 2 Highland derby between Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle – neither his own organisation nor the SFL wanted the matter to be referred to the SFA.
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"It is for the leagues to run leagues, the governing body to be a governing body," he said. "There are discussions between both leagues but it is too early to say there will be something we can all agree on, or whether there needs to be compromise."
He insisted that relations between the SPL and SFL were "very good", contrary to the perception of mutual distrust. "I don't recognise the picture being painted in some quarters. We all work together on the same corridor at Hampden and we have an extremely good way of resolving issues even before they arise," said Doncaster. "The ability to walk down the corridor and chat through issues over a cup of tea is enormously helpful."
He declined to comment on the specifics of the SFL proposals, which have yet to be formally presented to the SPL. Many see the SFL's proposal – a merger of the governing bodies and a 16-team top flight – as being more in tune with supporters' wishes than anything suggested by the top-flight clubs. But Doncaster said the SPL were equally committed to progressive change.
"Our clubs have been working very hard and putting in a lot of man hours at great expense to put together a plan that will take the game forward," he said. "But it has got to be the right plan. There is a burning desire for change among supporters, but also within the clubs."
Donaster and Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, have been heavily criticised for suggesting in the summer that Scottish football would plunge into economic crisis without Rangers in the top flight this season, but he defended those warnings yesterday. "The fact is there were many commercial partners who had the ability to walk away," said Doncaster.
"They chose to stick with Scottish football and the SPL, which is why we have gone into this season with a hugely competitive campaign on the field and in relatively robust financial condition as well."