Everton snookered over legal costs claim

The world snooker governing body is attempting to close down the sport’s leading magazine, according to its editor, veteran sportswiter and commentator Clive Everton.

Snooker Scene is the monthly magazine which has covered the sport since 1971, but has had a prickly relationship with the WPBSA, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, for much of the past decade as Everton has campaigned against what he has seen to be mismanagement of the sport.

With the WPBSA holding a near-monopoly position in the staging of snooker events, and with it the licensing and media accreditation systems, Everton has more than once found himself “banned” from press rooms after perceived slights published in the magazine. But as you would expect from an experienced professional journalist, this has never prevented him from filing his copy on time for his various outlets, including the Guardian and Sunday Times.

But the latest twist in the snooker saga could see Snooker Scene closed forever in a dispute over legal costs.

According to a report in the latest issue of UK Press Gazette, Everton (pictured), who is a member of the WPBSA, was subject to disciplinary action from the body that he says stems directly from the contentious articles.

The case was referred to the Sports Dispute Resolution Panel, where the association’s argument that “tournament rules” applied in the case was accepted. Under tournament rules, players are prevented from criticising the association or its members. But the panel also ruled that the WPBSA had not been specific enough in detailing what Everton was accused of.

In the UKPG report, Everton said:

“Their solicitors, TLT, stated that ‘the truth or falsity’ of what I had written, ‘is not in issue in these proceedings’. The alleged offence was simply that of publication.

“I am 30 years past my best as a player and I retained my membership for sentimental reasons to play in the one billiards event a year WPBSA organises. There are no allegations against me as a player. It’s solely about my journalism, which accounts for 99 per cent of my income.”

Everton resigned his membership rather than face legal expenses, but he said the WPBSA is now set to sue him for its own legal costs, which run to £47,631. Everton previously accepted £115,000 in costs and damages when he sued the WPBSA for libel in 1998.

Everton’s plight echoes some of the concerns recently aired by Gianni Merlo, the President of AIPS, the international sports journalists’ association, who clearly distrusts the FA Premiership’s press licensing arrangements.

“Any system like this is a problem because it suggests officials may try to keep out of the stadia journalistics whose criticism they do not like.” Merlo said.

Sports journalists are increasingly vulnerable to exclusion from events based on the whims of sports bodies. Even the SJA Secretary has been denied press facilities from the World Championships of one Olympic sport after he exposed large scale financial corruption by the international federation president; separately, he spent most of a football season covering Millwall from the terraces of the old Den after the club took exception to his newspaper’s reports of the club’s ticket sales system.

More recently, the SJA’s then Chairman, Peter Wilson, actively led a campaign together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when member Mihir Bose, of the Daily Telegraph, was prevented from entering Zimbabwe to cover the English cricket tour there.

There is little doubt that this issue will be one of genuine concern to SJA members. We welcome your comments on Clive Everton’s situation – post your views by clicking the comment button below.