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AFC appoints Liston and Villiger to rights protection body

The Asian Football Confederation has moved to defend itself against piracy and ambush marketing with the creation of a working group that will include Tom Liston, former managing director of marketing at the Team Marketing agency, and Marco Villiger, former deputy secretary general at Fifa.

The ‘Independent Working Group on the Protection of Commercial Rights’ will also involve Dan Harrington, a partner at Level Law, the London-based commercial law firm heavily involved in sport.

The new body will advise the AFC’s commercial and legal departments on the protection and preservation of the value of its rights.

Upon its approval of the appointment of Harrington, Lister, and Villiger as members of the working group, the AFC executive committee underlined the importance of protecting its properties such as the men’s and women’s AFC Asian Cup tournaments, the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup.

AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the AFC president, said: “The AFC recognises the challenges that all our partners are facing in these uncertain times and that makes it especially important that the AFC protects the value and exclusivity of all our rights – both now and in the coming years.

“The Confederation remains most grateful for the loyalty and understanding of all its partners and we know that this move, involving people of such outstanding experience and quality, will show everyone how seriously we are taking our responsibilities in this area.”

The Middle East and North Africa region has been the heartland for pay-television broadcaster beIN Media Group’s battle against the beoutQ piracy operation.

The AFC courted controversy last year by carving out its broadcast rights in Saudi Arabia. This came after beIN said it was taking legal action against the AFC after Saudi Arabia was removed from its exclusive rights deal spanning the Mena region.

The AFC last month initiated a territory-by-territory broadcast rights sales process in 10 countries across the Middle East.

Liston has already worked with the AFC, having advised the Kuala Lumpur-based confederation on the sponsorship sales aspect of its global rights tender issued at the start of 2018. He will also be well known to AFC commercial director Andrew Rogers, who himself spent five and half years at Team Marketing.

Villiger, who was also chief legal and integrity officer at Fifa, left the Zurich-based body after the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The lawyer, who was one of the few remaining top-level executives at Fifa to have worked under controversial president Sepp Blatter, worked closely with legal firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan to conduct an internal investigation as Fifa faced widespread corruption allegations.

He went on to create his own consultancy (MV Sports Consulting), providing legal advice in sports, commercial and corporate law.