English Football League clubs have responded to this season’s Leeds United ‘spygate’ controversy by tightening the rules to ban clubs from trying to observe their next opponent’s training sessions 72 hours before a game.
Leeds were fined £200,000 and warned about their future conduct in February, a month after a member of manager Marcelo Bielsa’s staff was caught filming a Derby County training session.
At the time, Leeds were found to have breached EFL regulation 3.4, which states clubs must act with the “upmost good faith” towards each other, but as spying was not explicitly mentioned they avoided a points penalty.
Some in the game believed they had got away lightly, so the matter was raised again at the EFL’s annual general meeting in Portugal this week and the regulation has been tweaked.
It now reads: “Without prejudice to the requirements of regulation 3.4 (that each Club shall behave towards each other Club with the upmost good faith), no club shall directly or indirectly observe (or attempt to observe) another club’s training session in the period of 72 hours prior to any match scheduled to be played between those respective clubs.”
Bielsa’s response to being caught was arguably more shocking than the initial misdemeanour, as he immediately admitted to doing it all season and even invited the media in to see just how much scouting and analysis he does before each game.
This provoked a wide debate on the difference between the letter of the law and its spirit, with some praising Bielsa for his honesty and thoroughness, while others were outraged by what they considered to be cheating.
Leeds were pushing for the title in February but ultimately slipped back to third place and then lost to Derby in the semi-finals of the play-offs. Derby, however, then lost to Aston Villa in the play-off final.
There were two other major announcements from the 72 clubs’ get-together in Vilamoura, as the EFL’s voluntary commitment to interview at least one black, Asian or minority ethnic candidate for managerial openings has now entered the rule book, and acting chair Debbie Jevans has been appointed executive chair.
Jevans, London 2012’s director of sport and chief executive of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, has been the EFL’s interim chair since September, when Ian Lenagan stood down.
She has since made it known that she does not wish to hold the role for long but with the EFL now also looking for a new chief executive to replace the departed Shaun Harvey, the 59-year-old former tennis pro has agreed to take on even more responsibility until the two posts can be filled on a full-time basis.
In a statement, the EFL said: “This recruitment process for the CEO is under way and strong interest has been received in the position from both inside and outside football, with the timeline currently on track to have the successful candidate in post early in season 2019/20.”
On the initiative to improve diversity in league dug-outs, it said the 18-month trial period “has now been formalised with the introduction of a new regulation ensuring that the principle of providing more opportunities to BAME candidates is mandatory when clubs consider multiple applicants for a role”.
There are currently only four BAME managers in England’s top four divisions, a marked contrast with the situation on the pitch, where almost a third of the players are from an ethnic minority.