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Soccer - 02 Jan 2014  > <

Facing lawsuit over media rights deal, Conmebol threatens to ban and fine 'rebel' Uruguayan clubs
A 'rebel' group of Uruguayan soccer clubs has acted on a threat they issued last month, filing a lawsuit against Conmebol, the South American soccer confederation, for what the clubs allege was ‘corrupt financial management’.

The seven clubs, led by Uruguayan first division giant Peñarol, said that the catalyst for the lawsuit was the issue of media rights for the top continental club competitions, the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana.

Edgar Welker, Peñarol’s president, said that the clubs have evidence that Conmebol renewed media rights deals with its long-standing agency partner, T&T Marketing, despite the fact that it had received offers for far higher amounts from another agency.

He said that because of Conmebol’s deals with T&T Marketing, the clubs that take part in Conmebol competitions are “not earning what they should.” T&T Marketing is controlled by Fox Sports Latin America, the pan-regional sports broadcaster, which retains exclusive rights to the tournaments for its Fox Sports channels.

The higher offers are said to have been submitted over the past few years by GolTV, the company controlled by Paco Casal, a well-known Uruguayan player agent.  Trading under the name Global Sports, GolTV is reported to have offered $170 million per year for the rights to both tournaments from 2015 to 2018, rising to close to $360 million per year through to 2024.

After the clubs first revealed that they were planning to sue the confederation early last month, Conmebol fought back, saying that it would go to court to defend its “honour” against a public defamation campaign.

Conmebol also said it would move to ban any clubs participating in the lawsuit from playing in its competitions. Furthermore, the confederation has included a new clause in the document to be signed by all clubs playing in its tournaments in 2014, according to which they must now agree to refrain from taking legal action against it.  

Additionally, it has laid out that any club disqualified from its competitions for breaching any of the terms will have to pay fines of $200,000 to each club in its group and a further $500,000 to Conmebol itself.  

There are three Uruguayan clubs participating in the 2014 Copa Libertadores: Nacional; Defensor Sporting; and Peñarol. Only Peñarol is among the seven clubs involved in the lawsuit; the others are El Tanque Sisley, Cerro Largo, Rentistas, Miramar Misiones, Racing and Juventud, along with the Mutual Uruguaya de Futbolistas Profesionales, the Uruguayan players’ association.

If Peñarol are banned from the 2014 tournament, they face having to pay a total of $1.1 million in fines.

The clubs also responded by threatening a general strike, which could affect the warm-up matches and tournaments scheduled for the national team in the lead-up to the 2014 Fifa World Cup, which opens in Brazil on June 12.

The lawsuit was filed in a Montevideo court on December 26, but because of the Uruguayan holiday break, which runs through to the end of January, proceedings will not open until February 1.

The 2014 Copa Libertadores begins on January 29 and runs through to mid-August. The second-tier Copa Sudamericana is played from August to December each year.