Archive for the ‘Dream Football League’ Category

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The Lead

Before you read this little homily, please visit Nick Harris’ incredible summary of what we (publicly at least) know of the person who convinced the Times newspaper that Qatar was planning a Dream Football League.

Alright, still here?

Now having read that, I would urge you to resist the pat conclusion that Rob Beal is clearly and simply a warning that on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Deception existed long before the Internet made things slightly more complicated and perhaps untraceable.

What I would strenuously argue is that an investigation of this scope would have happened without the web in its current form.

Why?

Well, by its nature, the story is not one that most newspaper editors would feel comfortable running in the daily paper. “Hey everyone, here’s a source that’s duped some of our colleagues including us on major stories, some of which we can’t tell you about!”

The tiered nature of the Internet however, with a substratum of specialty blogs and the like, provided a platform for this sordid tale that arguably wouldn’t have existed much earlier than a decade ago. Many of the people who worked on this were able to do so freely, from a more distant vantage point.

Moreover, the web allowed for truly international collaboration in tracking Beal’s history. From my home office in Toronto, I was assisted in finding Beal’s Tweet, the one in which he claimed he was a source on the Times story, by friends on Twitter. I was then helped by a few brave Sheffield contacts who directed me to the possibility Beal was not who he said he was. Soon after I was able to follow up with sources in the UK and Qatar, and then I shared what I knew with at least two French football websites including Cahiers du Football who were conducting their own international investigation. Throughout, they and a host of others including myself assisted, where we could, an established investigative sports journalist in the UK who brilliantly ran with the story you read today.

And as much as Beal used the web to present himself as a well-connected source, it may be a series of telling screen shots and other assorted web evidence including ISP tracking that eradicate Beal’s media influence. None of this would arguably have come to light either had Beal not himself Tweeted that he was the source on the DFL story.

Finally, the fact that all the international writers involved minded their journalistic ps and qs, working closely with sources to verify information through the most reliable channels possible, prevents Beal from simply cease-and-desisting this story out of the public realm. It forced those involved (particularly yours truly—thanks Nick!) to take a balanced approach in discerning exactly what happened back on Tuesday March 12th.

I’ve already spoken about the lessons for journalists after this, so I will only add that not all possible avenues for good journalism in an open-source media world are closed. This isn’t quite over yet, but Sporting Intelligence, Cahiers du Football, and Rue89 are owed a major debt of gratitude for getting us this far.
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It’s really hard to underestimate the scope of his influence in European football. Since this whole thing broke, myself and others involved in tracking the story like Sporting Intelligence author Nick Harris have been inundated with alleged tales of promises made and broken, fake employment contracts drawn up, stories passed on, posing as a QSI spokesman even after receiving a cease and desist letter, threatening those who confront him with either litigation, or in some cases, violence.

As I linked earlier, Cahiers Du Football has a host of stories of his alleged malfeasance. I have it on good authority that Beal was shopping around the CdF story to other outlets, including two major news organizations, one in England and one in France. In the coming days, it’s likely evidence of Beal misleading other news organizations is likely to emerge.

And apparently much more. But if you want to get a real sense of what this person is willing to stoop to, the following is a real news report via SportingIntel in which Beal spoke to the cause of a real plane crash as a spokesman for his previous (and likely non-existent) company Global Risk Security:

Flight AF 447 was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in the early hours of this morning when all contact was lost.

Earlier the Air France Manager in Brazil, Joao Assunção, told a press conference the plane was transporting 80 Brazilians, 73 French (a percentage of whom were French-passport carrying Brazilians), 18 Germans, nine Italians and six US citizens.

Five Chinese, four Hungarians, two Spanish, two Moroccans were also on board.

The remaining 13 passengers were from Angola, Algeria, Belgium, the Philippines, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Austria and Turkey.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy admitted there is a “very small” chance of finding any of the passengers alive.

Robert Beal, a spokesman for Global Risk Security who serve Air France, told Sky News the French airline said the accident was the result of a “catastrophic mechancial failure”.

In case you missed it, that’s Beal speaking to a major press organization giving a false reason for a plane crash immediately after the fact.

There will be much more in the coming days, including (I hope) some more information about Beal’s football media influence, with specifics. For all the other info, I’m going to direct you to Nick Harris on some of the details about Beal. He is in a much better position than I to give the story the focus it needs.

I’d like to write about football again for a little while. Stay tuned for the podcast and one or two updates in the days ahead (hopefully).

Newspaper Online Sites Consider Charging Users

The Lead

One of my favourite football journalists is Brian Quarstad, who wrote for a blog called—rather excitingly—Inside Minnesota Soccer until December 2012.

Among US soccer writers and journalists, Quarstad had no major media organization backing him, no professional connections, no “intermediaries.” He was, I once wrote, a guy who just picked up the phone and dialed. MLS, the USSF, whomever. He knew things going on at the highest levels, and his influence online grew from there. He understood more than most that we are football journalists now, and not in the caustic, nihilistic terms laid out by Barney Ronay on the Guardian a few weeks ago. Quarstad was never angry nor particularly opinionated—he just wanted to know what was going on.

Today (or late yesterday) the Times of London issued a retraction of the story Oliver Kay originally published on Wednesday last week on the Dream Football League. The retraction, written by Tony Evans, is available online behind the paywall sadly at the Times website here, although if you have no moral compunction, you can read it in full here. I’m certainly not the reason this happened—the good work of many people—Andrew Gibney, Nick Harris, Christophe Kuchly, Jérôme Latta, Raphaël Cosmidis and many others who cannot be named—all helped set the record straight. I was just pushed in the right direction.

By now though this is already old news. And who cares? It’s just football, right? And that’s certainly true in relative terms. But what would the consequences be had this story stood unchallenged, as published?

Serious questions over Qatar’s 2022 bid process would have been clouded with a panic-driven non-story. A brilliant French soccer magazine would be tainted by suspicion they were part of some absurd plot to undermine the Times of London for some reason. And—most important—a serial fraudster would have been allowed to dupe more journalists and threaten more good people with violence when confronted.

All of this because it’s not the Sun, it’s the Times. The author was not some low-level hack, it was Ollie Kay. Even with the CdF story revealed as it was, the idea of the DFL would have maintained the veneer of truth. That would have had consequences well-beyond football, particularly if one comes to grips with the nature of Rob Beal (see Cahiers du Football’s excellent portrait of the man: I’ll be hopefully adding a little to it later this morning).

Some, predictably, are using this morning’s retraction to bash the profession. And to that end, there are several elements here that must be highlighted.

There was the dismissive arrogance of some of the Times‘ staff when Kay’s story was called into question. There was the failure for Evans to apologize to the CdF in the retraction (Kay though did include a gracious apology on his Facebook page). There was the failure of the Times to address the frankly appalling “follow up story” to the original DFL exclusive which was, on the evidence I’ve gathered so far, based on fantasy. There were now-obvious lapses of editorial and journalistic judgment in rushing the story to print. There was the rather unfortunate behaviour of a very small group of journalists in the aftermath of the retraction. And, perhaps most damaging, there was the fact that Beal was not reported or at least the subject of a friendly warning to others long before March 11th (although with the number of fraudsters in the game, that may have been an impossibly tall order).

But as with all things in life, it’s rather more complicated than that. There’s the duplicitous and dangerous nature of Rob Beal, who managed to find the perfect amount of truthiness gained from cozy-ing up to to just the right journalists, players, scouts, whomever, to stir in to his bullshit. There’s the intractable nature of football journalism in the UK, with pressure for exclusives, a limited number of reliable sources, and way more major dailies for a sport of football’s size, which allows for hucksters and scammers to take better advantage (the Times is almost certainly not the only major reporter to be duped by Beal…more on that in the days ahead). After all, Beal is not the first fraudster to wreak havoc in football—see Kenny Huang, Masal Bugduv. Large, foreign bids for clubs that never materialize and are never heard of again. There is much beyond this story to be cynical about in European sports journalism.

Yet it also needs noting that since Wednesday, many major UK football journalists—almost all of whom were unanimous in their praise of Kay—freely gave me information that helped us to get to this point. They had no obligation in doing so other than the desire to see the truth emerge. At no point was I the subject of abuse. At no point was I dissuaded from looking into what happened with the Times story, no matter what I and others might dig up. And Kay himself, who must now carry this mistake with him for the rest of his career, has in the early stages of this been as gracious as anyone could be in these circumstances.

If Ronay’s right and we’re all football journalists now, it stands to reason there are good uns, and bad uns, and good uns that make mistakes under both poor judgment and manipulation from a deceptive third party. And while I’m not going to call myself a journalist, all those, amateur or not, who worked to stop Beal and get the Times to set the record straight—even imperfectly—are reason to enough to keep the faith in the profession.
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A high up source within the Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) group, owners of PSG and according the Times report the “prime movers” behind the DFL, has just confirmed to me that the organization sent a cease and desist letter to Rob Beal—a source in the Oliver Kay story—in 2011 for falsely purporting to be a spokesmen for the club in an attempt to sell information related to rumours that David Beckham was on his way to Paris.

The source has a copy of the letter which Beal attempted to sell to various journalists in 2011. In it, he details how PSG was pleased to welcome Beckham and his family, and asked that quotes “only be used by media groups in France and the UK” and be attributed only to Beal’s group at the time. The source told me the letter looked flimsy, but that she says it’s possible it ended up reported on by more than one outlet as hard news.

You’ll recall the initial Times story said that QSI-owned PSG were “the prime movers” behind the Dream Football League.

Since beginning this story I have been inundated from off the record reports that Beal has a history of peddling false information to journalists, lately related to French football. Earlier today, the Times football editor Tony Evans told me that they stood by the story “…despite the involvement of Beal.”

“Despite the involvement of Beal”—a man who claims to work for an Paris-based media organization in France despite several eye-witness accounts he is permanently based in Sheffield, and who once attempted to pose as a spokesman for QSI in 2011 and profit from lucrative inside information.

No other sources have come forward to back up the DFL story…

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Earlier today, Tony Evans told me that Oliver Kay was working on this story for the Times “for weeks” in contact with top officials at various football clubs. The Times follow up article to the DFL story said as follows:

Paris Saint-Germain, owned by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), are known to be in favour [of the DFL], but, reassuringly for those who consider the proposal to be a nightmarish vision, it has yet to gain traction among European football’s establishment.

I just got off the phone with a media representative for Nasser Al Khelaifi, the chairman of PSG-QSI. He said, unequivocally, that no one had ever been in any contact with anyone from the club in relation to this story, except for a Sky Sports reporter on Wednesday once the DFL story broke. That includes Oliver Kay. They had not heard of any plan of this nature prior to Wednesday. They have not heard from anyone connected to the Times in relation to a follow up since.

The person in question also spoke to this statement in the Times follow up report:

While the DFL concept might appeal to the capitalist tendencies of the Glazer family, who own United, the club’s hierarchy in Manchester — led by David Gill, who will continue to exert strong influence when he stands down as chief executive in June — are vehemently opposed to such plans.

Gill recently stood down from his position on the board of the ECA, to be replaced by Ivan Gazidis, the Arsenal chief executive, as he pursues a place on the Uefa executive committee in an attempt to gain more influence for himself and England in European football’s corridors of power. Gill’s position is heavily pro-establishment, with a strong desire to protect the status quo and in particular a competition structure that Uefa wish to safeguard.

The establishment position was reflected at last month’s ECA general assembly in Doha, when PSG officials were explicitly warned, about the dangers of an aggressive approach not just to expenditure but on strategic issues.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Bayern and ECA chairman, specifically told the PSG delegation: “What you are doing is not positive for football.”

Rummenigge warned the PSG delegation of the need to realise that self- interest of one or two clubs cannot be allowed to overrun an organisation representing 207 clubs from 53 associations. When an internal survey was held about the future of the Champions League and Europa League, 75 per cent expressed “satisfaction of extreme satisfaction” with the existing format, which figures such as Rummenigge regard as a powerful rebuttal of threats to the club competition structure.

The PSG-QSI spokesman not only denied this, but they said the only PSG representative presentin Doha (and they can confirm this) was the club financial manager (not a person in any position to speak on these matters), who said he never had this conversation with the chairman. He said the above account was a complete fantasy.

Of course this could be an elaborate conspiracy. But then if it is, both Manchester United, PSG, QSI and the Qatar FA are going to look awfully foolish once, as Evans promised me, “the truth comes out” and a league dreamed up on a French website turns out to be real.

There’s more…I’m awaiting confirmation. Stay tuned (I hope)…

> on October 23, 2011 in Doha, Qatar.

Evans is the Football Editor of the Times of London newspaper, and he oversaw and approved the initial story on the Dream Football League, which closely mirrored down to the image a satirical story that appeared at 1:00 AM on Tuesday morning on a French magazine site, Cahiers du Football.

I called him this morning for comment, and he was forthright with me. He maintains his faith in the piece despite the fact it has not been reported since some of the “hoax” stories appeared on most major UK dailies soon after it was published on Wednesday. Evans reiterated that he believed the work Kay did was “of the highest standard.” He said the paper is “fiercely proud” of its reputation as an honest news source, and that he has, in the past, laid off at least one reporter for taking news from a website.

When I asked him about the fact it had emerged that Rob Beal—who claimed to be a source on the story—was a person who, it has since emerged, has an alleged history of misleading both editors, journalists and writers in the football world over a number of different matters, and that he was according to several credible witnesses I spoke to not the “Middle East” connected Paris-based media expert he claimed but a man who lives in Sheffield with his parents, Evans responded there are “countless” shady characters in football who have their own agendas.
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Qatar Looks To 2022 FIFA World Cup

The Lead

Okay, so here in fact is the story so far. Oliver Kay publishes a Times of London “exclusive” on a Qatari proposal to establish something called the “Dream Football League.” Soon after it emerges that French magazine Les Cahiers du Football published a clearly satirical story on a league proposal with the same name on March 10th, with very similar details, and the same promotional photo attached. Both Kay and the Times however stand by the story.

Yesterday a man on Twitter named Rob Beal claims he is one of Kay’s sources on the story (and also stands by it). I did some investigating and it seems Beal has a history of alleged fraud, including establishing a fake security agency in Paris, a place he did not reside in at the time. Beal claims to work for a company named ESM in Paris, but it’s clear Beal is still based in Sheffield, UK.

What We Know

After I published my findings yesterday, a number of UK journalists with leading newspapers reached out anonymously to report Beal had been in contact with them in the past with story information that in many cases could not be independently verified and so was rejected. So we know he has a history of doing this sort of thing. Several others recounted to me allegations that Beal had personally threatened them on occasion. He may have also been involved in several possibly fraudulent schemes to purchase various football clubs. I’m awaiting further information on this front.

We also know that Oliver Kay and many other major football journalists followed Beal on Twitter, including several figures within Ligue 1 and PSG. This, it should be noted, doesn’t necessarily mean anything at all.

We also know that Cahiers du Football is adamant the story came completely from their own imagination. Editor Jerome Latta wrote a blog post today explaining the saga, and he’s of the belief Kay was somehow duped by a duplicitous source.

We also know the Times late last night wrote a follow-up piece which claimed several clubs had “admitted privately yesterday to having been sounded out by intermediaries working on behalf of such a project.” Which, if the piece is a complete fabrication, is obviously odd.

I’m also aware of another source in France adamant that a plan similar to the DFL existed, and that the league would be proposed in June of this year. They would not reveal their source to me but said they’ve provided reliable info in the past. He would not confirm to me whether the plan was in fact called the Dream Football League. They know Rob Beal but not in connection to this particular story.

What we don’t know

Timing is very important in this. I’ve heard that Kay began work on this story on Sunday, but the CdF piece was published late Monday. I don’t know for certain that Beal is an actual source on this, or is just having fun (he’s apparently been shopping around odd info to various reporters). I don’t know if other papers were approached with similar claims and rejected them.

Finally, I don’t know any other sources on this.

Possibilities

I’ll start with the weak possibilities and move to the strong.

1) Les Cahiers du Football is lying and weirdly based their satirical story on some sort of truth, which was later accurately reported by Oliver Kay.

2) Kay’s story is completely based on the CdF story, fed to him by Rob Beal and other sources working in tandem.

3) Kay worked more than once source, and one of them, possibly Beal, fed him the details and photo directly from CdF. The others may have confirmed to Kay that Qatar had concocted a plan similar to the DFL, which may have come to light at the latest European Club Association meeting in Doha in early February. Just an odd form of happenstance.

Any further info would always be appreciated.
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