Diego Armando Maradona, the scourge of English soccer fans and the Italian taxman, has just achieved perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of his storied career: winning a case in a Chinese court.
Maradona first accused Chinese internet firms Sina and The9 of using his likeness – a cartoon image of the Argentinian in his national team jersey – in the online game “Hot Bloodied Soccer” without his permission back in 2011. He then appeared in a Beijing court in person last summer to demand 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) in compensation.
This week, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court awarded Maradona 3 million yuan ($490,000) – less than a sixth of the amount he had claimed, but a solid win nonetheless. Maradona’s number had been based on the value of an endorsement deal with a German company but the judge instead weighed up the amount of time his image had been used illegally, as well as the popularity of the game.
Sina was let off the hook, with the court ruling that it only had a contract with The9, and had respected the terms of that contract. The9 attempted to argue that it had in good faith signed another contract with a supposed football agent, who turned out to be a fraudster. The court sadly stopped short of saying their argument was a total crock of shit, and instead told The9 it should have been more thorough and ordered it to pay up.
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
The9’s CEO and founder is a businessman by the name of Zhu Jun, who just happens to be the chairman of Shanghai Shenhua, and the man responsible for signing international stars Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba to massive contracts last season…before not paying them. Given that, what are the chances that Maradona will see a penny of his winnings? Slim to none, I would argue, and Slim just left town.
It turns out that Zhu Jun met with Maradona in 2010 over his image rights for the game in question, but no agreement was reached. Months later, out pops the Diego cartoon and when Maradona cried foul, The9 concocted its fraudulent agent story.
Even though the big man desperately needs the money – he still owes tens of millions of euros to Italian authorities and has had Rolex watches and a diamond earring seized on previous trips there – Zhu Jun doesn’t exactly have a great record when it comes to paying up (or of making sane decisions).
The Shenhua players protested publicly more than once last season over unpaid wages and Drogba left for Turkey earlier this year amid half-hearted protestations by Zhu that he was still under contract in Shanghai, when it was clear for all to see that the contract had been broken.
Still, it’s good to see the courts meting out justice, though it will interesting to see if a similar decision is reached in the Michael Jordan vs Qiaodan case.