By Andrew Warshaw
February 12 – The way FIFA did business in order to secure a top Chinese sponsor for the World Cup has been seriously called into question by the man who claims he brokered the deal but was cut out from receiving commission in return.
Agents may have acquired a bad press across European football but Tony McGill has taken legal action claiming misuse of confidential information.
McGill is seeking to find out why FIFA overlooked him in their multi-million pound agreement with Chinese smartphone company Vivo for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
McGill claims he was the intermediary who brought the two parties together having already brokered a similar deal between Vivo and Premier League clubs via marketing rights company Lagardère.
Yet several months after the initial introduction in August 2016, he alleges FIFA ignored his role when it tied up the deal which was formally announced in May last year and is rumoured to be worth around £400 million.
Insideworldfootball has learned that FIFA was issued with a court order to appear today in Newcastle in the north-east of England, close to McGill’s home town of Sunderland, to explain how it conducted negotiations but instructed a firm of London lawyers, Couchmans, to dispute UK jurisdiction and refused to attend.
Legal correspondence seen by this website includes Couchmans saying they were “not instructed to accept service”. That has infuriated McGill who has accused FIFA of dirty tricks.
Ever since being mired in corruption allegations, FIFA has been desperate to pull in new top-flight sponsors under Gianni Infantino’s presidency but McGill says the way he has been treated is shameful. “It’s supposed to be a new era of transparency and disclosure but they are doing their utmost to put me off and make me go away.”
McGill says he had an email exchange and numerous phone calls over several months with FIFA’s senior sales manager in charge of sponsorship Christopher Axer, a close associate of Infantino.
Having at first been unwilling to reveal Vivo’s identity, merely saying they were a huge Chinese company who had already been involved in sports sponsorship, McGill claims he then decided to tell Axer that it was indeed VIVO, only to discover later that FIFA had done the deal via another unidentified intermediary.
Approached by Insideworldfootball, Axer refused to comment, referring this correspondent to FIFA’s media department who replied by email as follows: “We are not able to comment on matters which concern potentially pending cases.”
FIFA are understood, however, to have categorically denied that their arrangement with VIVO had anything to do with McGill but his lawyers take a different view. “There was never any suggestion at the time of divulgence that your clients had been in contact with VIVO in any regard, let alone in relation to a £400m sponsorship deal,” said one email exchange. “You will be well aware that it is the custom of the trade that where an introduction of this nature is made, the beneficiary of the sponsorship arrangement pays commission to the introducer.”
McGill admits no commission figure had ever been agreed but claims that without the private information he provided to Axer, the Vivo deal could never have been secured.
“They told me the category of sponsorship needed but wouldn’t give me any figures until they were sure the client was a reputable company,” McGill told Insideworldfootball. “I don’t know who they used instead of me but simply I’m asking them to come clean. They told me they were very interested, then did the deal independently. I want disclosure to show how that came about but they won’t even give me that.”
Asked what his next step will be, McGill’s said he is applying to the English courts to serve papers “out of jurisdiction” to prove the case has directly affected him as a UK-based citizen. If that fails, he will instruct solicitors in Switzerland, where FIFA is based, to proceed unless he receives a reasonable out-of-court settlement for brokerage. “When someone cheats on me I don’t like it. I’ve recently won an unconnected 10-year legal battle. I’m not the type of person to just walk away.”
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