'We are in an infinitely better place' - EFL chief Shaun Harvey

EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey (pictured) was managing director of Bradford City when they achieved promotion to the Premier League in 1999

It has not been an easy few months for the English Football League.

Sole guardians of the professional league from 1888 to the Premier League's formation in 1992, the EFL, as it was rebranded in the summer of 2016, is at the centre of the biggest issues affecting the game.

BBC Sport spoke to EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey about:

  • Historical child abuse allegations;
  • A continuing lack of black managers;
  • Fans in open revolt at member clubs;
  • Concerns over what parachute payments are being used for;
  • A legal row over Financial Fair Play;
  • Distrust amongst supporters about Premier League B teams and Scottish pair Celtic and Rangers coming into the English pyramid.

'We are in an infinitely better place'

After a number of former professional footballers came forward with historical child abuse allegations, Operation Hydrant was set up by the police as an over-arching inquiry.

By January, 1,106 cases, implicating 248 clubs, had been referred in what Football Association chairman Greg Clarke called one of the game's biggest crises.

Prior to 1992, the Football League was the major domestic league and a number of its member clubs have been implicated.

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Football child sex abuse scandal one of FA's biggest crises - Greg Clarke

Harvey said: "This has been exceptionally difficult for football. But let's not forget, it has been a lot more difficult for the individuals who were directly affected.

"Other than help the victims, we can't do anything that changes the past. But sexual predators exist in our society. We have to make sure, as an industry, we do everything to repel them at our borders.

"I am satisfied, having seen what goes on today, that we are in an infinitely better place than we were when these historical cases came forward.

"We will never be complacent. We must put in place a culture that allows parents and players to come forward with anything they feel uncomfortable with so we can deal with these matters in the here and now rather than wait for a 20-year review."

'It is apparent the imbalance is there'

There are currently three black managers in charge at the 92 clubs in the top four divisions of the English football pyramid; Brighton's Chris Hughton, Marcus Bignot at Grimsby and Carlisle's Keith Curle.

There have been 29 managerial appointments since Bignot replaced Paul Hurst at Grimsby on a six-month rolling contract on 7 November to become the most recent black manager to be given a job.

In June 2016, the EFL unanimously approved proposals aimed at tackling the under-representation of coaches and managers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

The new measures were a version of American football's Rooney Rule and included the introduction of mandatory recruitment practices for coaching positions in academy football and a voluntary recruitment code in first-team football.

There has been no change in the number of BAME managers since then. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sacked by QPR a day before Bignot's appointment.

Harvey said: "It is apparent the imbalance is there, just on a purely statistical basis.

"We have set on this process of trying to address the inequality. There is probably further to go but we have moved the dial to a position that is way beyond where we have been in the past.

"You can't just take a snap shot. The Rooney Rule wasn't an overnight success. It took time. Football needs to be given the same amount of time to achieve the same outcome."

'It offers no view on skill, ability or judgement'

In recent months, Leyton Orient, Morecambe, Coventry, Charlton and Blackpool have all experienced large amounts of disquiet amongst their supporters about the ownership of their clubs.

At others, including Championship trio Nottingham Forest, Blackburn and Leeds, there is an uneasy relationship between the fans and the owners.

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Plastic pigs protest stops play at Charlton v Coventry

So, is football's fit and proper persons test for club owners and directors doing its job?

Harvey said: "It is purely an objective test. It tests against a set of conditions that ask if you are an appropriate person to own, be a director or be a relevant person at a club. That is as far as it goes. It offers no view on skill or ability. It offers no view on judgement.

"There is always something to be reviewed and we have a responsibility to ensure people are running clubs in their best long term interests.

"But it is very difficult, unless you get into areas of subjectivity, to start engaging on how someone is going to perform.

"We also have to be careful that we don't categorise people as good owners or bad owners because fans' views move, usually because of success on the pitch or ticket prices."

'The Championship will die if we can't keep it competitive'

From 2016-17, parachute payments - the money given to clubs relegated out of the Premier League to prevent them suffering major financial problems given the increased contracts needed to compete in the top flight - are expected to be around £90m per club over a three-year period.

It has been suggested they might be reviewed because some promoted teams are choosing not to invest in their squad, knowing they will receive a huge amount of money even if they go down.

Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass
With the sale of Jake Livermore (left) and Robert Snodgrass (right) in the January window, Hull City have recorded an overall transfer profit of £7.7m since winning promotion.

Harvey said: "Yes, the allegation has been made that clubs have got promoted, pocketed the cash, then come back down in a very healthy financial situation. In reality, the number of clubs who come into that category are very small.

"The real challenge is maintaining a competitive balance.

"If we can't keep football competitive in the Championship, week in, week out, and clubs don't start the season with a realistic ambition of getting promoted, the competition will eventually die.

"We can't allow that to happen. Neither can we get into a position where clubs are putting themselves in financial trouble chasing the dream of getting promoted."

Speedy end desired in three-year FFP legal row

Prior to 2016-17, when it introduced 'profit and sustainability' rules that would be assessed over three seasons, the EFL's Financial Fair Play regulations were based upon a single season.

In 2013-14, clubs that exceeded losses of £8m were subject to a transfer embargo or a fine if they had been promoted.

Champions Leicester and play-off winners QPR were fined. Both clubs decided to fight their cases through the courts. Neither has been resolved, with Leicester saying on 2 March they were confident of success.

Harvey said: "There are ongoing matters with some clubs who didn't meet FFP requirements in the relevant years. Those issues and debates continue. For everybody's benefit, they need to be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

"The objective of keeping clubs secure for the long term whilst allowing them the ambition to chase promotion is one most people can agree with. The real challenge is how do you achieve it when you have some owners who would like to be able to spend as much money as they choose and we have some who seek a sustainable model so they don't have to invest as much to stay in the division.

"We will never find the right balance exactly but the profitability and sustainability model means we should be in a position where clubs' long-term futures are not messed with and everyone is given a chance of getting promoted."

No to B teams and the Old Firm

Celtic celebrate
Celtic celebrate winning their sixth straight Scottish Premiership title

In January, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said English football would benefit from allowing the reserve teams of major clubs to compete in the Championship.

A similar system applies in Spain, where B teams can be promoted as far as the league below their senior team. In 2016-17, no Spanish B team is higher than the third tier.

The concept has been resisted in England.

In July 2016, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said it would never happen.

Harvey agrees, and now also dismisses the notion of Scotland's Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers, being invited into English football, an idea that was floated when the subsequently scrapped 'Whole Game Solution' was launched in May 2016.

Asked if B teams or Celtic and Rangers will ever form part of the English pyramid, he said: "As it stands, no.

"The clubs who are the key to the 92 club professional structure make their views clear each time this conversation is mooted.

"They want sovereign clubs playing inside our competition.

"Whilst ever that is the case, it will never change."

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