WiF advice on defamation

31 March 2016

WiF advice on defamation

This document outlines some basic advice and guidelines for women in the football industry who may be dealing with, or want to know more about, the issue of career damaging defamatory comments.

The document is also useful for governing bodies, clubs and fan groups to educate those in the football industry about the legal risks of spreading defamatory statements , and what measures can be taken to tackle this.

Who is the document aimed at?

  • Women in the football industry
  • Fan groups
  • Clubs
  • Governing bodies
  • Other employers and employees working in football

What is a defamatory comment or action?
A defamatory comment or action is one that:

Is published to a third party (not just the person being referred to); and
which lowers the subject in the estimation of right-thinking members of society/the public, and which has caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

There are two types of defamation: libel and slander.
Libel occurs where the defamatory comment or action is made in permanent form.
Slander occurs where the defamatory comment or action is made in a temporary form, which nearly always means it was made orally. If you are spoken to in a defamatory way that isn't recorded, you should get the contact details of anyone who overheard the comment and report the issue to WiF.

Where does libel appear?
On social media: Twitter, Facebook, fan sites, club message boards.
In traditional media: in print or online.
Via private messages: this could be over email, or social media and professional sites such as LinkedIn.
In person: captured on film or a recording device.

What should you do if you're on the receiving end of libellous accusations or rumours?
Keep a record of it: if the messages or rumours appear on social media you should screenshot it. Keep hard copies of newspapers and screen shot any comments under articles published online. Don't engage or reply.
Report it to WiF who can signpost it to the relevant authorities and/or ask for pro bono legal advice.
If contacted by a journalist in relation to the statements ask for their name, contact number, and organisation they work for. [Say "no comment" and make it clear that you do not want to be contacted and if they contact you again you may take legal action and/or report them to IPSO or other regulators.]

Issues for employers to be aware of:
Clubs/organisations could be vicariously liable for what their employees share/circulate online or in person in the course of their employment.
Fan sites should have clear guidelines about what is and isn't appropriate – clubs and organisations linked to those sites should check that they do not include libellous accusations, that it is possible to report statements easily, and that there is a speedy take-down policy.

Anonymous usernames cannot protect fans or others from the law- there are legal ways to identify the anonymous users.
Examples of libel, sport and the law:
Sam Allardyce legal action vs Steve Kean and Blackburn Rovers, 2013
Allardyce is believed to have been awarded around £200,000 in damages after a video of Kean making allegations about his former boss was uploaded to a Blackburn Rovers fansite, receiving over half a million views.
Karl Oyston legal action against Blackpool fan, 2015
Oyston was awarded £20,000 after he took legal action against a Blackpool fan who wrote derogatory and sexual comments about the club owner on a fansite.
Richard Keys and Andy Gray, 2011
Keys and Gray famously lost their jobs at Sky Sports after making derogatory and sexist comments about match official Sian Massey when they thought they were off air.
Vanessa-Mae, 2016
The acclaimed violinist brought a defamation claim against the International Ski Federation, who wrongly claimed she had qualified for the Sochi Winter Olympics at fixed races. The ISF settled out of court for an unspecified "appropriate" figure and issued a public apology.
Donald Sterling, LA Clippers owner, 2015
Banned for life by the NBA after his girlfriend filmed him making racist comments, and fined $2.5million.

Remember you can report all sexist or discriminatory incidents to Women in Football  here

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