Fifa dumps legal chief after MasterCard ruling

Fifa has fired its top lawyer in charge of marketing contracts, after a New York district judge ruled it had acted wrongly in sponsorship negotiations with MasterCard.

Fifa dismissed marketing head of legal Tom Houseman, along with commercial directors Robert Lampman, Stefan Schuster and Jérôme Valcke.

Houseman led Fifa’s rights protection programme during the 2006 World Cup in Germany and was behind the controversial decision to make Dutch fans take off their branded lederhosen in Holland’s game against the Ivory Coast.

Judge Preska ruled that the four had breached an agreement with MasterCard by secretly conducting parallel sponsorship talks with credit card rival Visa before the World Cup.

Fifa eventually signed a sponsorship contract with Visa for $195m (£98.98m), rejecting MasterCard’s $180m (£91.37m) bid, despite MasterCard’s right of first refusal. As a result the court declared Fifa’s agreement with Visa void. Fifa will have to revert to the terms of MasterCard’s contract.

In her judgment, Judge Preska said: “Fifa’s conduct in performing its obligation and in negotiating for the next sponsorship cycle was anything but fair play and violated the heightened obligation of good faith imposed by the applicable Swiss law.”

A Fifa statement read: “Even though the judgment has proved to be very biased in favour of MasterCard, the fact cannot be overlooked that Fifa’s negotiations breached its business principles.”

The organisation’s central management chose US firms Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle and Fox Horan & Camerini, as well as Swiss firm Nobel & Hug, to represent Houseman and his colleagues.

MasterCard used New York litigation boutique Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe.

Houseman declined to comment on the case.