Ryan Giggs missed Manchester United’s open training session yesterday, a day after being named in parliament as the player at the center of a high-profile privacy case.
Giggs was pictured on the front pages of national newspapers after he was identified by a lawmaker as the player who had gained a High Court injunction preventing allegations of an affair being published.
The 37-year-old Welshman was not the only player missing from training as the English title winners prepared for Saturday’s Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley.
Defender Rafael, midfielder Paul Scholes, goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and striker Dimitar Berbatov also sat out the session watched by about 200 reporters.
Giggs, one of United’s most influential players this season as the club sealed a record 19th English title, is expected to be in the starting lineup for Saturday’s showdown against the Spanish champions.
In a press conference after the training session, United manager Alex Ferguson deflected questions about Giggs.
“All the players are important, every one of them,” Ferguson snapped when one reporter asked how big an influence Giggs was on the team.
On Monday, the politician defied a court order by identifying Giggs. The release of Giggs’ name will be seen as a victory for the media over celebrities and their lawyers after an increasingly farcical game of cat-and-mouse that prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to promise a review of the country’s privacy laws.
For weeks, British media have been fighting the growing use by the rich and famous of “super injunctions” — English court orders which prevent publication of unwelcome stories and prohibit journalists from even reporting that a ban is in place.
A newspaper in Scotland, which has its own legal system, ran a thinly disguised photograph of Giggs on Sunday over an article calling it “unsustainable” to bar reporters from naming the man identified in hundreds of Twitter postings as one of the celebrities using court orders to stifle sex scandals.
“With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it’s obviously impracticable to imprison them all,” Liberal Democrat lawmaker John Hemming said in parliament.
Hemming, who has campaigned for press freedom, used parliamentary privilege — which allows lawmakers to raise controversial legal issues without fear of prosecution — to name the player with impunity.
Asserting the independence of the judiciary, the High Court in London later turned down a request from the Sun newspaper, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, to formally lift the bar on naming the player.
Explaining his decison, senior judge Michael Tugendhat said the law of privacy was also concerned with intrusion and harassment.
Aged 37, Giggs is married with two children and has an image as one of the sport’s gentlemen.
Lawyers representing the player had asked US-based Twitter via a London court for information about the users of the messaging Web site who published details of his private life.
Hemming said this was a step too far.
“If you are going to have an expensive firm of lawyers chasing down ordinary people, with a view to threatening them with a jail sentence because they have gossiped about a footballer, that is fundamentally wrong,” he told BBC TV.
English newspapers have responded to bans taken out by a number of celebrities, including other sports stars and actors, by making references to them in gossip columns in the knowledge that readers, having read up on the Internet, will spot the intention behind the apparently innocent stories.