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Steps for Football Clubs to Consider When Tackling Defamation

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hlw Keeble Hawson litigation specialist, Andrew Broadbent, is advising sports clubs directors to know exactly what constitutes libel to prevent being issued with defamation claims.

hlw Keeble Hawson logoThe call to action follows reports that West Ham Football Club and their owners are considering legal proceedings against Sporting Lisbon Football Club communications director, Nuno Saraiva, over a proposed transfer of the Portuguese midfielder, William Carvalho.

The dispute arose after Saraiva claimed that Sporting Lisbon have not received any offers from West Ham for Carvalho. He is also said to have made disparaging remarks about David Sullivan, West Ham’s co-chairman.

West Ham have confirmed through social media that an offer was made to Sporting Lisbon and that they will be taking legal action in light of what they consider to be Saraiva’s ‘serious libel’

For a defamation claim to be successful there must have been a defamatory statement, i.e., one that lowers the claimant in the estimation of reasonable people generally.

In this case, the clear implication is that West Ham and their owners lied in claiming they had bid for Carvalho – which could clearly cast doubt over their integrity and trustworthiness. It is likely that a reader of the relevant tweet(s) would come to this conclusion when reading such statements.

Crucially, there must also be serious harm and, in the case of a professional club (or any body trading for profit), a serious financial loss. The need to evidence a serious financial loss and subsequently to link this to the defamation is a difficult step, and the case law is limited given the relative infancy of the “new” defamation laws.

It seems likely that should West Ham choose to take action, Saraiva would rely on an absolute defence to a defamation claim - by saying that the statement made is true.

It is worth noting however, that the burden of proof in respect of a truth defence lies with the defendant who must show that the statement is true. Of course, if West Ham are able to provide evidence that an offer was submitted, this would immediately rebut any truth defence.

When considering making public statements or issuing or defending defamation claims, always take expert advice from a solicitor who is experienced in litigation law and dispute resolution who can guide you on the most appropriate course - then put this into action.

For more information, contact Andrew Broadbent on 0114 252 1416 or andrewbroadbent@hlwkeeblehawson.co.uk

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