AI deepfake videos are spreading: so what happens to football rumours now?



By Tony Attwood

“If I die, I am going to ask God where the referees are before choosing between heaven and hell.” – Arsene Wenger

For getting on for 30 years transfer rumours have been the heartbeat of English football journalism.  For 23 years (since PGMOB was formed) British referees have been by and large off limits as suitable subjects for similar media discussion.

By and large yes; but that does not mean, always and totally.  For example, in 2021 the website Swapping Shirts picked up on an Untold theme of yore by saying “there simply aren’t enough qualified referees in the UK.”

As a result a club can have games overseen by the same referee half a dozen or more times in a season, although the ideal would obviously be to have each referee oversee a game of each team in the league just once at home and once away.

But there is now another issue banging at the door.   Substack has reported on the problem of AI-generated deepfake videos which are being used to not only manufacture fake news, but are also creating fake video versions of newsreaders themselves.

So what we have now are famous people such as famous referees popping up to give opinions about how much they hate Arsenal and how much they love Liverpool (or whatever combination you choose).   Of course that is not true but so good are the fakes you’d never know.

Now imagine Arsenal have just beaten West Ham 4-0.  We’re all happy but a bunch of Newcastle fans use existing technology to create a deep fake image of the referee who is apparently having a confidential interview with a questioning journalist about the game.   He says,

“I can tell you because I know you won’t publish it, and even if you did, no one would believe it, but I really don’t like West Ham.   There’s something decidedly shady about the way they do the business, like the way that they got the Lonondon Stadium for  next to nothing from the government…

“Of course I don’t make it obvious, but basically if there is a 50/50 challenge going in I am going to give it against West Ham.  As a result they’ll lose that game and I know the journalists will write that “the wheels are coming off at West Ham” because of the number of narrow defeats they have had.

“But in fact a lot of those defeats come about because none of us like them.  Their whole style and approach stinks.  Just listen to Rice talking about WHU and about the media.

Now there could be outrage at such a statement, but there on the screen is a senior referee admitting he fixes games, not for money, but because he doesn’t like West Ham United and a senior player saying no players like West Ham.

Such a piece is so outrageous none of the mainstream are going to carry it but some of the fringe papers and the blogs will, so these ideas get exposure.  

So the question arises, would publishers run such pieces knowing they are false?

Based on the lack of relationship between what newspapers print and what actually is happening in football the answer surely is a resounding yes.   Those newspapers and the blogs that flutter around them regularly publish transfer stories of which 97% are incorrect.  Why stop there?   So they go on doing it day by day by day.  Hour by hour.

Now they do this because it is the cheapest way to write newspaper and website football tales – just pick a player and say he is going to x.  Fans believe it and get angry or excited.

That’s the current situation.  But now imagine that the fans see a fulsome representation of someone from the football club actually saying this, then surely that would be even more believable.

And then imagine you had a CGI version of one of the top referees saying, seemingly in a confidential discussion, “Well of course I wouldn’t say this in public, as I don’t want to lose my job, but you want to know why Tottenham get fouled 14 times a game while a club like Arsenal only get fouled 10.5 times a game?

“It’s simple.  The referees love Tottenham, because Tottenham are known to pay out backhanders.   So every time a Tottenham player sees an opposition player coming at him, the Tottenham man goes down, which is why Tottenham players get fouled over 50% more than some other clubs.

“The refs just give them a foul every time an opposition man approaches.”

Now that is one explanation of a real live fact.  Tottenham do get fouled almost 50% more than Manchester United.  The made up bit is the fact that the referees assist it.

Would you beleive it?  I suspect you might if it was run in one of the regular popular newspapers.   


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *