By Ossian Shine
(Reuters) - Britain's Times newspaper has published a full climbdown following an internal investigation of the 'Qatar Dream League' story it ran last week, an episode the paper on Monday described as a "journalistic nightmare".
In a column headlined 'When we are wrong, we will hold our hands up. It's the right thing to do', the newspaper's Football Editor Tony Evans said it had appeared increasingly clear that the newspaper had been duped, and that their checks had not been stringent enough in the rush to publication.
The Times had initially launched a spirited defence of its March 13 story that Qatar was to launch a "Dream Football League" even though a French website said the scoop was based on its own spoof and that the paper had been the victim of a hoax.
"It all came out of my imagination," Jerome Latta, the editor of Les Cahiers du Football, told Reuters of the tale that the Qataris were proposing a new moneyspinning summer tournament offering stunning financial rewards.
The Qatar Football Association swiftly distanced itself from the story, saying they had no involvement and had heard nothing, but the Times stood firmly behind reporter Oliver Kay, insisting their scoop had nothing to do with the website's version.
Kay, the newspaper's chief football correspondent, was equally adamant, at the time telling Reuters: "I've been amused by the speculation about the source of this story. I can guarantee you 100 percent, 1,000 percent, 175 million percent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise.
"I've no idea about their modus operandi. What I know is that my source is very good, the information is very good and that there is more where that story came from."
Still, though, intense speculation on social media websites continued and on Monday Evans conceded that the Times had made a "massive mistake".
"Because so many significant people in football did not laugh off the idea, it seemed that the story could be genuine," Evans wrote.
"The warning signs — that no one had heard specific details of the DFL or seen its plans — were missed. In principle, the idea was possible. There were plenty to attest to that.
"In reality, the story appears to have been invented and had just enough plausibility to be seductive."
The Times's climbdown was mostly welcomed by those following the story online, many applauding the newspaper for its transparency and for admitting it shortcomings with regard to the story.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)