Cristiano Ronaldo is facing the prospect of multi-million pound claims from sponsors if the rape allegation against him is proven, according to a leading sports lawyer.

Simon Leaf, who specialises in commercial contracts for Mishcon de Reya, also believes that others sports stars and celebrities will be looking carefully at the legal precedent in relation to Kathryn Mayorga’s attempt to void a reported $375,000 non-disclosure agreement that she alleges to have been coerced into signing.

Mayorga has accused Ronaldo of raping her in a Las Vegas hotel penthouse suite in June 2009. Ronaldo, who is expected to start for Juventus in Saturday’s match against Udinese, has vehemently denied the accusation, saying “rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in”. He added that “my clear conscious will thereby allow me to await with tranquillity the results of any and all investigations”.

There was some surprise on Friday among industry experts at the decision by two of Ronaldo’s highest profile sponsors, Nike and EA Sports, to issue public statements. Nike said that they were “deeply concerned” by “disturbing” allegations that they would monitor closely. EA Sport also described the situation as “concerning”. Two other main sponsors, Herbalife and American Tourister, have not commented.

Forbes have estimated that Ronaldo’s social media presence, which includes 142.9 million Instagram followers, generates some $176 million in value for his sponsors. He also has an extensive line of branded ‘CR7’ products, including Pestano hotels and his own museum; the Museu CR7, and is also rated by Forbes in the the top 10 celebrity earners in the world. He is one of only three athletes to have a lifetime contract with Nike, which has been valued at $1 billion, and Leaf is certain that all his major sponsors will be now checking the detail of their contracts.

“This is likely to include not only their rights to terminate or suspend the relationship if the allegations prove to be accurate, but also whether they may be able to recover past fees paid to him,” said Leaf. “I’d be surprised if in a chunky contract agreement, that we regularly advice on, there wasn’t some kind of representation that there were no issues that Ronaldo was aware of that may cause an issue for the brand he works with. This is one of the most heavily negotiated issues when it comes to a deal of this nature.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo
“At this stage, it is just an allegation. I’ve seen some contracts where, if there is even the hint of an allegation, brands will suspend the relationship and possibly terminate.

A lot of it comes down to the power of the parties. You would think someone like Ronaldo would be in quite a strong bargaining position where he negotiates his contracts.”

There are few past precedents for an athlete being forced to pay back commercial income, although Lance Armstrong did this year reach a $5 million settlement with the US federal government, who had sponsored his US Postal Service cycling team. Nike waited until October 2012 – almost two months after doping revelations about Armstrong were substantiated by the United States Anti-Doping Agency – before terminating their contract with the American.

The decision, then, to comment on allegations which Ronaldo so vehemently refutes was not widely expected. “I am slightly surprised by Nike,” said Nigel Currie, a sports marketing consultant. “When different allegations were being made about other athletes they held on for much longer. It is significant for them to have issued a statement. They are clearly concerned. I think it shows the impact of social media. They can judge the way things are going much more from a public point of view.”

Leaf says that other prominent people will be watching closely to see how the issue of Mayorga’s non-disclosure agreement is decided. “Others have sought to rely on these non-disclosure agreements in the past,” he said. “Generally, the advisors might say, ‘don’t worry, they’ve signed an NDA’ but, given this is being challenged, there is a growing call to curtail the use of the NDA and not use them in situations where there are allegations of sexual misconduct or other attempts to cover up whistle blowing. You’ve got a written contract but also principles that you can’t prevent reporting of an alleged crime.”

Juventus manager Max Allegri is confident that a player who his club signed this summer for 100 million euros is ready for Saturday’s match. “I’ve known Cristiano for three months now and for over 15 years of his career he has shown to be a great professional both on and off the pitch – he is ready to return to action,” said Allegri.

Source: Jeremy Wilson