WHAT does the ludicrous spectacle of BT Sport’s coverage of Rangers’ crunch Europa League clash against Sparta Prague at Ibrox last night say about the optics for the game in this country?

While the action played out in front of 50,000 supporters was beamed across the world, BT Sport’s coverage started and ended in a desolate studio six miles away at the home of their arch-rivals Celtic.

Why? Because BT Sport happen to employ former Parkhead striker Chris Sutton, their somewhat irreverent, “Sevco”-jousting pundit whose live-to-air sparrings with the likes of Ibrox legend Ally McCoist have become something of a spectacle in themselves. Indeed, the sports media giants have apparently cottoned on to its appeal by regularly posting video on social media of the pair jovially discussing Scottish football’s major talking points with host Darrell Currie acting as a kind of WWE referee – spurring the pair on while keeping a lid on things.

Returning to security issues at Ibrox, the match was played to the backdrop of Sparta fans arriving in Glasgow accusing Rangers supporters of “disgusting threats” following a controversial encounter in the Czech capital in September, when Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara was booed by a reduced crowd of schoolchildren every time he touched the ball. Why? Apparently because the Finland internationalist had the temerity to report racist abuse he suffered at the hands of Czech defender Ondrej Kudela in March during last season’s edition of Europe’s second club competition – accusations that UEFA accepted, with the Slavia Prague (Sparta’s arch-rivals) stopper given a 10-match ban for “racist behaviour”. Slavia Prague, meanwhile, publicly defended “football gentleman” Kudela, continuing to deny that any racist incident had occurred.

Rangers fans were rightly outraged at the treatment of Kamara, yet Czech football seemed to close ranks in Prague this season, with the age of the Sparta crowd jeering the midfielder offering a sad indictment of the scourge of racism in European football at large. Then Rangers manager Steven Gerrard responded to Kamara’s treatment by insisting that “the powers that be don’t do enough”, with Sparta ultimately cleared of wrongdoing for the actions of their fans. Sparta, in turn, issued a statement that read: “Stop attacking our children”, and the clouds of that rift had not cleared when the Czech side arrived in Glasgow this week.

Only a month before Rangers’ trip to Prague this season, however, two men were arrested and charged with a hate crime after a video emerged on social media from a Rangers supporters’ bus that appeared to show racist singing aimed at Celtic’s Japan internationalist striker Kyogo Furuhashi. Celtic released a statement condemning the chants, and the Ibrox club’s reaction was swift: following a short investigation into the incident, the individuals concerned were given lifetime bans from attending matches and the supporters’ club was told it would not be permitted to organise travel for supporters. Compare and contrast to the reaction of Slavia Prague and Sparta Prague. Job done? Well, not quite.

Whenever the issue of racism is confronted, a series of false equivalences starts to take shape. Inevitably, Rangers’ unmoving position in solidarity with Kamara was compared and contrasted with the actions of individuals on a supporters’ bus. Yes, this was an official Rangers supporters’ bus. Yes, the offensive singing was able to take place en route to a match. While it does not follow that everyone on that bus was happy with the content of the chants and gestures of the minority, this was a loud minority and a culture of accepting the behaviour was evident by the lack of anyone standing up to it. This speaks to a culture that accepts racism within the club. There is no doubt about that. But the club’s reaction to this incident, to ban the individuals and cease the operation of the bus, demonstrated a strong position that matched their support for Kamara in the wake of the original incident at Ibrox back in April. This is the only way to change that culture. And I think we have made great strides in this department in Scottish football. Racism still exists, make no mistake. But a culture of silently accepting it has started to shift. Our biggest clubs have a major role still to play in this regard, but recently their reactions to isolated incidents have been commendable.

Take Celtic captain Scott Brown’s actions following the original incident at Ibrox involving Kamara and Kudela back in March. The former Celtic captain, who, like Sutton, is renowned for his sartorial approach to Celtic’s rivals and their fanbase, was this week nominated for FIFA’s Fair Play Award 2021 for his backing of Kamara in the wake of the abuse he received from Kudela. During the two sides’ warm-up before the Old Firm derby days after the Slavia match, Brown was seen entering the Rangers half and embracing his rival in solidarity. Brown has since played down the gesture as just “human decency”, but it was a poignant moment and milestone in the battle to shift the culture of acceptance towards racism – in Scottish football at least.

While Sparta fans seem to be showing solidarity with their rivals in the wake of a racism storm, Celtic and Rangers have stood together against any form of racism in their ranks.

It showed that even in the heat of the most red-hot rivalry in world football, respect for opponents can take on the role of spectacle in itself. Indeed, Brown and Kamara’s was the most memorable moment in a 1-1 stalemate that was essentially a dead rubber – with Rangers already having sealed the title. This is the responsibility our biggest clubs have, not only in terms of putting on a show but putting on the right show. Which brings us back to how we present our game to the world.

Those orchestrating the prohibition of media figures with connections to rivals Celtic need to see the bigger picture in all of this. Security has nothing to do with it, let’s face it. It’s about keeping out those who don’t have anything nice to say about you. Yet, Sparta fans whose ranks booed Kamara for 90 minutes in September were there last night in their hundreds. But that’s part of the spectacle. Sometimes a rival entering enemy lines serves to highlight that spectacle in its best light.

What does preventing that from happening say about sport in this country? Imagine if Rangers had moved to block Brown, a constant wind-up-merchant to their side, from entering their territory before kick-off back in March?

For all the positives, the demonstrations of solidarity, we still have some growing up to do.