The Times of London denied that it was hoaxed by a French satire article, but the evidence against the paper looks pretty solid.
The Times’ Oliver Kay reported in an “exclusive” March 13 story, “Sheikhs shake world game with plan for Dream Football League”, that:
“The world’s leading football clubs are to be offered enormous financial inducements to participate in a 24-team tournament every two years in Qatar and neighbouring Gulf states, The Times has learnt.
“Backed by the Qatari royal family, the self-styled “Dream Football League” (DFL) will release plans next month for a new club tournament that it hopes to establish as a rival to the Champions League and the Club World Cup.”
The Independent added that the article (behind a pay wall) said that the new league would hold it “first tournament” in “the summer of 2015” in “Qatar and neighbouring Gulf States.”
But, the Times’ story is similar to a March 10 satire story by the French site Les Cahiers de Football, which “reported” that there would be a “Dream Football League” featuring “the 24 biggest clubs in the world” including Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Real Madrid. The article also said:
“The competition will begin in 2015 and will run for five months in ten stadiums in Qatar (among twelve World Cup 2022) and six sites located in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.”
Cahiers du Football‘s writer, Jerome Latta, dismissed the possibility that his story is real and said he dreamed it up. In an interview with Rue 89, according to Yahoo Sport, he said that the satire article came “entirely out of my imagination.”
“I don’t have a source. I don’t know whether the project is plausible, because fans and governments might block it from happening. But in any case you can imagine it.”
The Times of London’s story even used the same image for the Dream Football League as Cahiers du Football. So either The Times of London took that picture from Cahiers du Football‘s satire story, or there is a Dream Football League and Cahiers du Football’s story wasn’t totally made up.
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Times Denies Being Hoaxed
But, as Yahoo Sport reported, the Times’ Kay denied being duped, tweeting it “was 100% not the source of my story.” Press Gazette added that in a “live webchat with readers of Times Online,” Kay further addressed the accusations he was hoaxed. A News International spokesperson declined to comment to iMediaEthics about the hoax claims “at this stage” and pointed to Kay’s online chat.
“I have copious amounts of handwritten notes, as well as e-mails and texts, that would confirm” he didn’t use Cahiers du Football as a source, he said in the chat, adding that he’s “absolutely not the type of journalist to run a story of this magnitude…on the basis of a single source.”
Kay also said he fact checked again with his “original source” and “several other important figures” but he has “nothing on the record.” In response to a reader question about why he didn’t quote his sources, Kay said
“Because nobody would speak on the record. Very few of the quiet movers and shakers in world football do. It’s a frustration. I want something on the record from these people. I’ve been promised it next week, when the timing is right. I’m working on trying to get it tomorrow, if only to quieten the naysayers…”
He noted that his story for the Times and Cahiers du Football used the same image for the Dream Football League, which he said he got from “e-mails that have been sent to me by the prime source of my story.”
Likewise, Times football editor Tony Evans said to Reuters that “the story is true and we stand by it,” citing Kay’s interviews with “powerful people in football.”
“Oliver Kay is an exceptionally good journalist who is unlikely to have fallen for a hoax story on a spoof website,” he said.
Eurosport France’s Benoit Bittek argued otherwise. Bittek told Yahoo Euro Sport “It seems like The Times totally misinterpreted it and then tried to claim those fake news were theirs. Terrible. The details we read from English websites match the ones in Cahiers du Football.”
Likewise, the Qatar Football Association denied having any “involvement in any such initiative” as reported by the Times of London, adding that it has “heard nothing to suggest such a concept is genuine,” according to Yahoo Sport.
Yahoo Sport noted that it had reported on the story as fact earlier. On that article, Yahoo added an update about the denials of the story and the accusations it was a hoax. Later, Yahoo Sport updated to note that “a man claiming to be one of Kay’s sources has come forward to defend the story.” But, the Score, which reported on Rob Beal’s tweet claiming the information for Kay’s story “‘partly’ came from me,” researched Beal and suggested that he wasn’t legit.
iMediaEthics has written to Cahiers du Football seeking comment and asking where it got the Dream Football League logo image. We’ll update with any response.