Credit: Mat Fascione
Leeds United have been given a fine of £200,000 for the so-called 'Spygate' incident that occurred before their game with Derby on January 11th. For the original article go to https://nouse.co.uk/2019/01/11/bielsa-admits-to-spygate-kbadf.
If you have been following my 'illustrious' career on A Beautiful Game on URY (listen if you haven't), you'll know that I have referred to the incident as 'peeping through a fence gate' on several occasions. That's because that's really what it is, a man under the instruction of Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa went to observe Derby's training session by standing outside of their Moor Farm training ground and viewing the session. To dispel some rumors that are still somehow percolating on the internet. He did not have or use bolt cutters, he did not break or enter (because that would be an actual crime) and he did not resist arrest. Despite their being no rule against it currently issued by the EFL (except maybe for the incredibly vague 'spirit of the game' rule), it did not stop The EFL from issuing their large fine.
Now you might think that this sort of action is unethical, and even as a Leeds fan, I would be inclined to agree, I personally don't like it, even if I do respect Bielsa's honesty for the whole incident. However, there are two issues with this ruling. One, Leeds still haven't violated any actual rules that actually ban viewing an opponents training session from outside of their training complex where anyone walking their dog could have seen the same thing. Two, £200,000 is excessive. I know for some, you'll view £200,000 for a club the size of Leeds as a mere drop in the pond, but we have seen much bigger organisations be given much smaller fines for much bigger, actually morally incorrect actions. The obvious one that springs to mind is FIFA charging the Russian Football Federation £20,000 for repeated racist abuse on football players. That one is not morally vague and does clearly go against the rules, yet there was a fine of just £20,000. No matter who you are or who you support, I would like to think we can all agree that observing another football team train is not 10 times worse than repeated racist abuse. Hapoel Tel-Aviv was fined £5,194 pounds for fans shouting "Holocaust for Maccabi" and in 2011, then Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was fined £40,000 for racially abusing Patrice Evra (he was also given an eight match ban and it is also worth mentioning that one year later John Terry was fined £220,000 for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand). These both are, again much worse than looking through a fence at your opponent's training session.
Does this necessarily show that the fine given to Leeds United is unjust, no. It could be that all the other fines are far too low, maybe it's because the EFL knew Leeds wouldn't be able to force that figure down and would be forced to pay regardless, unlike Russia who might be able to dodge a bigger fine. Whatever it is, consistency is key and consistency is not what is being shown. In 2014, Crystal Palace were fined £25,000 for illegitimately obtaining Cardiff City''s team sheet before it had been released. This is no different from viewing an opponents training session, it was called spying back then, it is not in 'the faith of the game' despite not being in the rule book, and it is definitely not ethical. So what is the difference, Leeds. I have mentioned on URY that now outgoing EFL President Shaun Harvey had a hasty departure from Leeds and I still think that he is rather bitter about this (though that is my personal opinion). Also, back in season 2007/08, the EFL gave the decision on a Leeds United points deduction to the other 71 clubs in the Football League. Despite the fact that the deduction was justified, asking other clubs with a vested interest in seeing a points deduction is odd.
Leeds United will always be under attack for being Leeds United. Even when removing my emotional connection to the club, a £200,000 fine is way over the top when compared to other penalties issued by other footballing bodies and the FA. Even if you support the idea of a fine, you should also support the idea of consistency, and that is not what has been shown here. The question left is are the EFL and FA going to step up to the plate and issue similar fines for clubs that do similar or worse things. I would guess the answer is no, and that is exactly the problem illustrated by the 'Spygate' saga.