Judge rules for US Soccer in antitrust suit

Updated: August 17, 2012, 9:02 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A federal judge ruled for the U.S. Soccer Federation in an antitrust and racketeering lawsuit filed by a defunct promoter but also reaffirmed his decision that Congress' amateur sports act gave the governing body authority over only Olympic events and not the entire professional sport in the country.

The USSF was pleased with the opinion by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Chicago in the six-year-old case, saying his interpretation of the amateur sports act would not impact its authority over the professional sport because it was derived from FIFA, soccer's world governing body.

Leinenweber issued a summary judgment Friday in a suit filed by ChampionsWorld LLC against the USSF and Major League Soccer, a case that claimed the two conspired to put the promoter out of business. But he refused to change his 2010 decision that the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1998 "gives USSF no more of an antitrust exemption or authority over professional soccer than necessary for it to oversee Olympic and related events."

"USSF's request for reconsideration is denied," Leinenweber wrote. "USSF seems to argue that the 1975-77 President's Commission on Olympic Sports' final report, which notes that USSF was unique among the national governing bodies in that it had professional members, compels reconsideration. Even assuming that Congress noted that fact in passing the Act, this is insufficient to change this Court's conclusion as to the law as Congress actually adopted it. That law was directed at the authority of the national governing bodies relating to amateur and Olympic sports. A note in the commission's report that USSF exercised authority over its professional members does not mean that the Act bestowed any such authority."

The USSF says it has sole authority over professional soccer in the United States because it is recognized by FIFA.

"We are pleased that the court ruled in U.S. Soccer's favor," said Russ Sauer, the federation's lead lawyer in the case. "Neither the earlier ruling nor the Ted Stevens Act impacts U.S. Soccer's authority over professional soccer. U.S. Soccer has authority over domestic professional leagues because they have agreed to be members of U.S. Soccer. U.S. Soccer also has authority over foreign national and club teams playing in the United States by virtue of their membership in FIFA. Lastly, U.S. Soccer has control over its World Cup teams as required by FIFA."

ChampionsWorld, the company run by former MetroStars executive Charlie Stillitano, promoted games in the U.S. but filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and went out of business the following year. It claimed the USSF and MLS, who combined to establish Soccer United Marketing, wanted the market for themselves.

The USSF charges a fee of 5.25 percent of the gross gate for games in the U.S. involving one international club and 9 percent for matches involving two international clubs. For games involving national teams, it charges 11.25 percent of the first $200,000 and 15 percent of the remainder. The fee is cut in half if the match is part of a doubleheader involving MLS teams.

In litigation that sprawled across the Atlantic, FIFA's player status committee ruled the USSF has the right to sanction matches in the U.S. and to charge sanctioning fees. a decision upheld by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. In a 2010 ruling,

Leinenweber ruled ChampionsWorld did receive consideration for its fee: game officials arranged by the USSF and the sanction. He accepted the CAS decision that foreign clubs and national teams would not have participated in unsanctioned games.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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