NEW YORK: Although the final of the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa is still three years distant, sponsorship contenders Visa and MasterCard are bitterly contesting the preliminaries - although the venue is not a soccer stadium but a Manhattan courtroom.

MasterCard, for sixteen years the undisputed holder of the payment-system sponsorship rights to the tournament, lost out in 2006 to a bid from rival Visa.

The former promptly made a rude gesture, yelling that the referee had lost his glasses, and demanding a replay via a US District Court. The rematch was subsequently refereed by US District Judge Loretta Preska who awarded a penalty (and the eight-year sponsorship rights) back to MasterCard.

At this judgement, Visa and soccer's governing body FIFA fell dramatically to their knees, appealing to the crowd, and demanding yet another replay under the eye of a more senior referee.

Their appeal was rewarded with a trio of refs - in the shape of a three-judge panel comprising the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan - which ruled on Friday that Judge Preska must revisit her decision.

She is required to clarify whether a 2006 agreement between MasterCard and FIFA was binding; and whether it superseded a 2002 contract under the terms of which MasterCard insists it had the right of first refusal on any new agreement.

Zurich-headquartered FIFA is not eager that the issue be decided by a US District court and wants a Swiss arbitration panel to decide the matter.

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff