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.

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.

And here’s one of the 30 examples from the 2011 book. The Guardian’s Ronay wrote this:

America's tournament started with a midday meeting of two men—Alexander Bogomolov Jr and Donald Young—who have defeated Andy Murray in the last six months. Both have hovered around the top 100, although watching Bogomolov get the best of four uneven sets it was tempting to see those results as decisive proof of the depth of Murray's doldrums at the time.
At least Court 17 seemed a poignant location for a display of American grass-court tennis 2011 vintage, lodged in the shadows of Centre and No1 court, its seating so shallow passersby lean in at the edges like neighbours craning across a garden hedge. At one stage Bogomolov lost his grip on his racket and sent it hurtling over the midget-level rear awning and clattering on to the Tarmac walkway outside, narrowly missing a pedestrian.
There were no stars and stripes flags here, not even a celebratory whoop or yowl or “Yoo! Ess! Ay!” as the backwards-capped Bogomolov broke in the second set to shift the momentum of the match. Young, a lovely mover possessed of an elegant backhand slice, is seen as a little fragile and so it proved in the face of the more aggressive Bogomolov.

Here’s Harman in the Wimbledon annual:

Their tournament started with a midday meeting of the two men—Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov Jnr—who had defeated Andy Murray in the first round of the Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March. Both had hovered around the top 100, although watching Bogomolov win in four sets, one was tempted to see the result as decisive proof of the depths of Murray’s doldrums at the time.
At least Court 17 seemed a poignant location for a display of American grass-court tennis 2011 vintage, lodged in the shadows of Centre and No.1, its seating so shallow that passers by lean in at the edges like neighbours craning across a garden hedge. At one stage Bogomolov lost his grip on his racket and sent it hurtling over the midget-level rear awning and clattering onto the Tarmac walkway outside, narrowly missing a pedestrian.
There were no stars and stripes flags here, not even a celebratory whoop or yowl or “Yoo! Ess! Ay!” as the backwards-capped Bogomolov broke in the second set to shift the momentum of the match. Young, a lovely mover possessed of an elegant backhand slice, is seen as a little fragile and so it proved in the face of his more aggressive compatriot.

These examples, while egregious, are not unrepresentative—there are many similar appropriations across the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Wimbledon yearbooks.

Wimbledon officials confronted Harman in early spring 2014 with evidence of his plagiarism. In a phone interview this morning, Harman told me he thought he was being called in for a “routine conversation.” Instead, “they told me that they had been informed that a couple of chunks of the book this year had appeared without attribution, and had appeared elsewhere. I was completely stunned. They said, ‘In the circumstances, we think it’s right that, after 10 years [of writing the annual], you should step down.’ I said, ‘No, I agree wholeheartedly.’ ”

Roger Federer poses with journalist Neil Harman of The Times.
Roger Federer poses with Neil Harman after he received the Roy Bookman Media award during the Rolex ATP Tennis Masters Monte Carlo on April 22, 2006, in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

A few days after that meeting, on the occasion of a Davis Cup quarterfinal between Great Britain and Italy in April, Harman informed other members of the British tennis press corps that he would no longer be writing the annual. “I called all the guys together who were on the trip,” Harman recounted by phone. “There were about six of them, and I said, ‘Look, here’s what happened, I’m absolutely mortified, I had no idea. I write the book very quickly, it has to be turned around between seven and 10 days, and it looks as though I’ve crossed the line a couple of times. I’m very, very sorry. It won’t happen again—because I’m not the author anymore.’ They accepted my apologies, and that was, I presumed, the end of that.”

Despite Harman’s removal from his post as the author of the Wimbledon annual, the club continued to stock the 2013 yearbook in its gift shop and didn’t revoke his credentials. The book was removed from the shelves only after SI’s Wertheim confronted the All England Club with the nearly identical side-by-side passages from the 2013 annual and his story on Marion Bartoli and Sloane Stephens. “The club apologized profusely and claimed that it felt a sharp sense of violation and betrayal,” Wertheim wrote in an explanatory email sent to fellow tennis writers. (As a reminder, Wimbledon officials had known about Harman’s plagiarism for months prior to Wertheim coming forward.)

Wertheim also met with Harman directly. “When I spoke with Neil he was thoroughly contrite and offered no mitigating explanation other than to express that it was an error born of haste and carelessness,” he wrote in that same email. “The lawyer in me had prepared for cross-examination. (Why then were there numerous instances of plagiarism? If this has simply been cutting and pasting and then neglecting attribution, why had passages been changed ever so slightly?) But I accepted his apology.”

Wertheim did not know at the time that Harman’s plagiarism extended beyond the 2013 book.

After being told of the dozens of examples that I found, Harman said he was “mortified.” “As you can imagine, I’m utterly, utterly shocked by the whole thing,” he told me. “It’s left me numb.” He said he “had no idea of the extent to which I have unfairly used other people’s words.”

Harman said some of his actions could be explained by the short timeframe he was given to write the book. “I thought I tried very hard that every time I used work from someone else, I had given them the attribution that that work deserves,” he told me. “And clearly there have been times through rushing, through not being careful enough, I blurred those lines between what’s right and what’s wrong.”

He also referenced the emotional high of watching Murray win the 2013 tournament, becoming the first British champion in 77 years. “Please don’t think I’m making excuses, because I’m not,” he said. “It’s all my fault. But there is a quick turnaround, and last year, after Murray especially, everyone’s emotions were completely all over the place. And then I locked myself into a room, which I do, I shut out the world and try and get my mind back to writing again, and the last thing you feel like doing is writing. But the book is the club book, it’s not my book. I’m the man in charge with the responsibility of writing it, but it’s a club publication, and that’s the thing I'm most mortified about. They’ve trusted me to do something, and I’ve clearly, on occasions, not done it properly.”

When asked about Harman’s plagiarism, an All England Club spokesperson told me via email: “As soon as we were made aware of the allegation concerning plagiarism (in early spring), we reacted swiftly both in conducting our own investigation and when in possession of the facts, taking appropriate action in changing the author of the annual with immediate effect. Although the annual is technically a third-party publication we believed strongly that this was the right course of action given the circumstances.” (Regarding the annual being a “third-party publication”: The 2013 book was published by Vision Sports Publishing, but the copyright is held by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (Championships) Limited.)

Within hours of speaking to me on Wednesday, Harman submitted his letter of resignation to the International Tennis Writers Association. “It has been brought to my attention that I have severely compromised my position as a member, having used unattributed material to form part of my writing of the Wimbledon Yearbook,” he wrote in part. “There can be no excuse for such shoddy work, which I deeply regret. I did it without malice aforethought, but that I did it at all is simply inexcusable.”

On Twitter, Harman wrote, “I am not proud of my many mistakes. This is not a good day and it is at times like this when you discover who your real friends are.”

Update, July 25, 2014, 10:25 a.m.: Neil Harman has been suspended by the Times of London “pending an investigation into allegations of plagiarism in another publication,” according to a Times spokeswoman. Harman has also deleted his Twitter account. Ben Rothenberg collected five more examples of Harman’s plagiarism.

Ben Rothenberg is a contributing writer to the New York Times on tennis and other sports and the co-host of the tennis podcast No Challenges Remaining.

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