ITV sacks pundit over World Cup beer stunt

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The Independent Football

ITV's World Cup took another turn for the worse yesterday when one of its pundits, Robbie Earle, was fired for selling a batch of match tickets which were allegedly used by a beer company in a marketing exercise.

Earle, an ITV pundit since 2002 and a former player for Wimbledon and Port Vale, said last night: "Call me naive but I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. I hope when people hear the full story they will see me in a different light.

"I have absolutely no connection with any marketing ambush agency and have not profited in any way from these tickets."

ITV said a "substantial number" of tickets for the Denmark versus Holland match on Monday had been passed on, breaching Fifa rules.

The announcement came after officials ejected 36 women who were wearing orange mini-dresses during the game. They were accused of "ambush marketing" for a brand of beer. Members of the group, accused of promoting a brand that is not one of the tournament's official sponsors, were found with tickets understood to have been part of Earle's allocation.

In a statement, ITV said: "Immediate investigations indicated that a block of ITV tickets would appear to have been used for unauthorised purposes during the Holland versus Denmark match. Further inquiries have revealed that a substantial number of tickets allocated to Robbie Earle for family and friends have been passed to a third party in breach of Fifa rules. As a result, Robbie Earle's contract with ITV has been terminated with immediate effect." The broadcaster added that it has subsequently reviewed its ticket allocation for the tournament.

ITV is wary of further damage to its reputation after infuriating thousands of fans who missed England's goal at their opening World Cup fixture on Saturday due to a technical fault by the broadcaster. The blunder was the latest in a series of ITV footballing glitches, including a missed goal at a Merseyside derby last season and the cutting-off, in its prime, of Nike's all-star World Cup commercial.

Earle's sudden departure must have left Adrian Chiles and his other colleagues in almost as much shock as the player inflicted on the Croatian defence at the 1998 World Cup, when his towering header for Jamaica provided his other notable moment at football's greatest tournament.

As an official broadcaster, ITV receives an allocation of tickets for every game and its representatives are entitled to apply for a share. That the popular pundit was able to secure so many for a single fixture is an indication of the lack of interest in some matches.

It is not believed that Earle will be replaced by a new pundit.