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Could footballers sue for transfer gossip speculation?

Silly season in football is in full swing with pre-season yet to hit top gear, transfer sagas in their mindless speculation stage and the Olympics rightly taking up all of the newspaper inches.

Thus, times are tough for people writing about football as more and more left-field subjects are chosen to write about.

Team GB in the Games will be the subject of discussion tomorrow (probably) so here is a rather random post about a hypothetical; could footballers conceivably sue newspaper for transfer gossip speculation?

The definition of defamation under UK law revolves around lowering the standing of the person in question in an article in the eyes of right-minded people. Another key element in the law regards exposing the person in question to contempt or ridicule by members of society.

At university studying journalism, we were taught to consider the DIP test when tackling issues of potential defamation; does an article Defame, does it Identify a person and has it been Published?

Clearly, in the latter two cases, a piece of transfer rumour gossip achieves the latter two points of the DIP test.

However, could a piece of transfer rumour actually defame someone?

If a footballer is wrongly linked with a move to the arch rival of his current club, for example, this would cause said player to be perhaps hated by his own fans as the inference is that he sought to, or was open to, a move to the rival club, even though the report was incorrect.

Now, if the player could then prove that there was no contact between himself or his agent with the other club or any representative who works with the other club and prove that he was exposed to contempt by members of society or lowered in the eyes of right-minded people, would this not be a case of defamation?

Proving that he would be exposed to contempt could be proved quite easily through songs sung on the terraces or through Internet messageboards and Twitter, but there are stumbling blocks.

Firstly, proving there was no contact between any of the parties would be a devil of a job to prove beyond reasonable doubt what with the ease of deleting emails and so on.

Secondly, it can be argued that right-minded members of society know that they need to take football gossip rumours with a pinch of salt and that much speculation in the papers isn’t 100% accurate and make their judgements accordingly.

And thirdly, the way in which agents, players, clubs, managers and club chairman manipulate the transfer rumour media nexus when they want to means that the respective individuals involved would most likely be loath to upset an apple cart they are rather happy to keep seeing trundle along.

Many people know that players (through their agents) plant news stories about themselves to engineer a move away from a club they wish to leave or link themselves to a club they wish to join which further dampens the likelihood of jury being sympathetic to a defendant attempting to prove a lack of contact between himself and a club. ‘No smoke without fire’ is no legal precedent but its certainly can possess a place in the mind of any human being.

In conclusion then, perhaps the ingredients for a case of defamation are in place in transfer speculation stories but the system in which football operates prohibits such a spectacle taking place.

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