Sakho v WADA – article meanings relevant to serious harm, even if not sued on

Posted: April 15, 2020

(1) Mamadou Sakho (2) MS Top Limited v World Anti-Doping Agency [2020] EWHC 251

In this case, professional footballer Mamadou Sakho brought negligence and defamation proceedings against the World Anti-Doping Agency over emails that WADA had sent to journalists at The Telegraph and The Guardian.  Those newspapers then published articles that Mr Sakho relied on as republications of the emails, but did not sue on as causes of action. 

In a preliminary trial on meaning, the High Court found that the article meanings were relevant to the serious harm test under section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013.  The court went on to find that the meaning of each article was substantively different from the meaning of the email on which it was based.

Comment

The main point to note is that the meanings of the articles were found to be relevant to the serious harm test, and that determining their meanings as a preliminary issue was manifestly in accordance with the overriding objective.  Yet that point may have limited application in practice, since, until this case and as was acknowledged by the court, determining the meaning of a republication that had not been sued on as a separate cause of action was not an issue that appears to have arisen previously. 

Steyn J went on to find that the meaning of each article was substantively different from the meaning of the email on which it was based: the court-determined meanings for both emails start with the assertion that Mr Sakho “was guilty of taking a prohibited, performance-enhancing substance”, while the meanings for both articles start with the assertion that Mr Sakho “has been absolved of taking a prohibited, performance-enhancing substance”.

Mr Sakho and MS Top Limited’s case against WADA will now proceed.  They are seeking damages, estimated at over £13 million, namely on the basis that the anti-doping proceedings precipitated his move away from Liverpool FC.  WADA denies all liability and also disputes quantum.

Eleanor Steyn, Partner, Simkins LLP

To read the full article, click here.  Written for Entertainment Law Review.