Wimbledon Discovered Its Annual Yearbook Was Full of Plagiarism, Kept Selling It Anyway

The stadium scene.
July 23 2014 4:43 PM

Unforced Errors

The All England Club discovered that its annual Wimbledon yearbook was full of plagiarism. The club kept selling it anyway.

Wimbledon logo at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships.
Where tennis tournaments are held and yearbooks are sold.

Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

The gift shop at Wimbledon, which rests above the subterranean Wimbledon museum, sells towels, polo shirts, and even strawberry-shaped earrings. The shop also sells a yearbook, known as the Official Wimbledon Annual. The 2013 annual, a compendium of photos and writings from that year's tournament, featured a cover shot of Andy Murray kissing the championship trophy. The tournament’s online shop touted the book thusly: “Retold by award-winning writer Neil Harman, the official annual review comprises 160 pages packed full of memories, day-by-day highlights, player interviews, the complete draws and features on the stories that made the fortnight so memorable.”

By the end of this year’s tournament, which was contested from June 23 to July 6, the 2013 annual had been removed from the Wimbledon bookshelves. It has also been removed from Wimbledon’s online shop. The book should have disappeared from circulation long before that. Months earlier, as first reported today in the U.K. magazine Private Eye (the article is not currently available online), Wimbledon employees had learned that the author, Neil Harman, had plagiarized large swaths of the 2013 book. Regardless, the title remained on sale until just before the tournament’s end, when the All England Club was confronted by a writer whose work had been pilfered. Harman, who had written the Wimbledon annual for 10 consecutive years, was not assigned that task for 2014. He did, though, still write a piece on Andy Murray for the tournament program. In addition, Wimbledon allowed him to keep his credentials, and invited him to attend the tournament’s exclusive Champions’ Dinner. The club also failed to notify writers whose work they knew had been plagiarized.

140723_SNUT_WimbledonBook

Harman, a correspondent for the Times of London, is a pre-eminent figure in the tennis press, having written a book with Andy Murray and served as president of the International Tennis Writers Association. This spring, Harman was called into a meeting with Wimbledon officials. The All England Club had been told that large chunks of the book had been taken from other sources without attribution, and subsequently verified that accusation.

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Wimbledon found many examples of clear-cut plagiarism. For instance, on July 2, 2013, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim wrote the following about a quarterfinal match between Marion Bartoli and Sloane Stephens:

In the second set, Bartoli comforted herself like a 12-year veteran, going through her routines between points—quirky as they are—and betraying little emotion. Stephens looked the part of the 20-year-old sophomore, rolling her eyes at misses, taking more risks than the situation demanded, approaching the net as though under duress. After recovering from a 3-5 deficit and rousing the crowd, Stephens had all kinds of opportunities to level the match. Forehand sailed long, backhands curled wide, first serves hit the net. Bartoli won 6-4, 7-5.

Page 87 of the 2013 Wimbledon annual has the following passage, which lacked any attribution.

In the second set, Bartoli comforted herself like a 12-year veteran, going through her routines between points—quirky as they are—and betraying little emotion. Stephens looked the part of the 20-year-old learner-player, taking more risks than the situation demanded, approaching the net with small steps rather than entirely confident in her movement. After recovering from a 3-5 deficit which roused the crowd, Stephens had all kinds of opportunities to level the match. Instead, forehands sailed long, backhands curled wide, first serves hit the net. Bartoli won 6-4, 7-5.

The paragraphs are nearly identical, though with the Americanism sophomore changed to learner-player in Harman’s version. Even Wertheim’s typo of comforted (he had intended to say comported) remained.

There was a whole lot more. My personal review of the 2013 book found 14 large passages taken without attribution. Further, my examination of his writing for the previous two Wimbledon annuals revealed at least eight instances of obvious plagiarism in the 2012 book, and a staggering 30 in the 2011 edition, bringing the total to at least 52 in the last three books. I have yet to examine the 2004-through-2010 books.

Of these 52 examples, 28 of the passages were lifted from the Guardian. Six were from the New York Times, five from either the Times of London or the Sunday Times, four from Sports Illustrated, four from the Telegraph, four from the Independent, and one from the New York Daily News. In two additional cases, Harman borrowed from his own previously published work. I didn’t count these among his 52 instances of plagiarism.

While some of the examples I found were as short as a single borrowed sentence, the majority spanned multiple paragraphs, usually with no attribution whatsoever.

Here’s another example from 2013. The Guardian’s Barney Ronay on Sergiy Stakhovsky’s win over Roger Federer:

Stakhovsky lost the first set on a tie-break but an hour and a half later he was storming his way through the fourth, still charging to the net on gangly, coltish legs that seemed never to tire. At the end he fell on his back on the grass, a final collapse to end the day as Centre Court rose to applaud not just one of the great shocks, but a brilliant, and brilliantly unexpected performance.
Afterwards Stakhovsky could scarcely stop himself beaming. “Beating Roger on this court, where he is a legend, is a special place in my career,” he said. “When you come here Roger Federer is on the cover of the Wimbledon book. You’re playing the guy and you’re playing the legend which is following him, who won it seven times. You're playing two of them. When you're beating one you still have the other who is pressing you. You keep thinking am I really beating him?”
It had all started so well for Federer, who emerged to the usual champion's reception, not just applause and cheers, but swoons and sighs as this familiar old fuzzy-ball genius ambled out in his tailored tunic to face a player who had never before beaten a top-10 opponent.

Harman wrote:

But an hour and a half later he was storming his way through the fourth, still charging to the net on gangly, coltish legs that seemed never to tire. At the end he fell on his back on the grass, a final collapse to end the day as Centre Court rose to applaud not just one of the great shocks, but a brilliant, and brilliantly unexpected, performance. “You follow the 24-hour rule and you don't panic,” Federer said. “These things happen. I still have plans to come back here for many years to come.”
Afterwards Stakhovsky could scarcely stop himself beaming. “Beating Roger on this court, where he is a legend, is a special place in my career,” he said. “When you come here Roger Federer is on the cover of the Wimbledon book. You're playing the guy and you're playing the legend which is following him, who won it seven times. You're playing two of them. When you're beating one you still have the other who is pressing you. You keep thinking, ‘Am I really beating him?’ ”
It had all started so well for the Swiss, who emerged to the usual champion's reception, not just applause and cheers, but swoons as a familiar old fuzzy-ball genius ambled out in his tailored tunic to face a player who had never before beaten a top-10 opponent.

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