A Croydon-based businessman who set up a sports management company called Global Sponsorship Group last year, signing up an Olympic gold medallist and a string of London 2012 hopefuls with promises of millions of pounds in sponsorship, has been committed for trial at Crown Court later this year charged with seven counts of fraud.
GSG was formed 12 months ago by its chief executive Mark Cas, with a flashy website boasting “an anticipated portfolio of over £35 million in sponsorship packages available from major FTSE 100 companies”.
GSG’s “innovative approach” to sponsoring and managing Britain’s top sporting talent in the build-up to the London Olympics saw the company receive widespread, uncritical coverage in the national press after Cas signed up Olympic gold medallist Mark Lewis-Francis.
Another two dozen of the country’s top international athletes, such as Croydon-based Andy Turner, a European medallist at 110 metres hurdles, plus Andrew Steele, Abi Oyepitan and Alex Nelson, quickly signed up.
Several are understood to have paid GSG a £500 “subscription” fee in expectation that the company would find them lucrative sponsorship packages.
But the new clients and GSG’s employees at the company’s rented Croydon offices began to suspect that Mark Cas was not all he claimed to be when staff were laid off without pay or notice just before Christmas 2009.
GSG’s chief executive was arrested by the Metropolitan police’s fraud unit in January, after a report by an investigative journalist.
“My contract was a complete piece of rubbish,” one of the athletes said.
“Fortunately, I did not pay any money, but I was suspicious from the start.
“Cas was really pushy, and no one in athletics comes to you offering to pay you £50,000 and saying ‘What Audi do you want?’”
WHEN GLOBAL SPONSORSHIP GROUP was formed in July 2009, it quickly claimed that it had secured £35 million in corporate sponsorships which it planned to use to pay salaries to top sports men and women in return for their commercial image rights.
GSG’s high-profile, shop window signing was Mark Lewis-Francis, the former world junior champion at 100 metres who had won Olympic gold with Britain’s sprint relay squad at the 2004 Athens Games.
After a couple of injury-ruined seasons, Lewis-Francis had been dropped from UK Athletics’ funding programme and had no income to pay for his training fees or even living costs.
Lewis-Francis told national newspapers earnestly last autumn that GSG’s offers of sponsorships to pay for the entire cost of his medical and physiotherapy needs had salvaged his stalled career, describing it as a “financial lifeline”.
“It’s nice just to know that someone out there has belief in me,” Lewis-Francis said in the Daily Telegraph. At the age of 27, the sprinter said, “I was on the verge of retirement. This has definitely saved my career and given me a second chance to go out there and prove to the world that I’m still a decent sprinter.”
Lewis-Francis, who is now coached by Linford Christie, will get a chance to demonstrate that he is a “decent sprinter” again this weekend, at the televised national championships, which double as the selection trials event for next month’s European championships to be held in Barcelona.
But he will be competing without any financial assistance from Mark Cas’s GSG.
Lewis-Francis is understood not to have been left out-of-pocket by his involvement with GSG. He may have been fortunate, since as many as 20 other athletes, including a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, are thought to have raided their life savings to pay a £500 annual membership fee in the hope that the company would find them lucrative personal sponsors.
A local charitable business is understood to have paid GSG £1,000 for a similar service.
One athlete said that after signing his contract for GSG to sponsor him, “The first payment was three weeks late, then I had two cheques that bounced. Then I got a phone call from one of his staff to tell me that they had all been sacked.”
THE ATHLETE, who asked not to be named in our report, said that GSG’s offices in central Croydon had four or five people in two rooms when he had visited, “which made it all look legitimate”.
Global Sponsorship Group attempted to sign-up several more top-line sportsmen and women, including Croydon’s Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medal-winner, Tasha Danvers.
But she alerted her friends online via Twitter, and a Facebook group was also set up to warn people not to part with any money to GSG.
By January, the company’s website had gone offline – bills for webhosting and design had gone unpaid.
When contacted before his arrest, Mark Cas vigorously maintained that his company had managed to raise £35 million in commercial sponsorship in the worst economic crisis in history.
Cas said that his company’s website had gone offline “because we needed some work to be done at the back-end”.
When he was asked why he needed to charge a £500 annual membership fee before finding sponsors for athletes, or to name the international companies which were providing the sponsorship millions for his scheme, Cas declined to answer.