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Soccer - 21 Jul 2021
A US judge has dismissed an antitrust lawsuit filed against soccer’s global governing body Fifa, and the US Soccer Federation, by the Relevent Sports Group events and media business.
Relevent had accused the two governing bodies of an illegal conspiracy to restrict where teams play, and of blocking foreign leagues and clubs from staging competitive games in the US.
However, in a New York courtroom yesterday, judge Valerie Caproni said the promoter failed to provide any factual evidence to back up this claim.
She said: “Plaintiff's amended complaint is devoid of any factual allegations to support the inference that the defendants in this case agreed with anyone, let alone with all 210 other National Associations and countless leagues and teams, to do anything [as a conspiracy]."
Relevent organises the annual International Champions Cup, the pre-season tournament for European teams in the US, while the lawsuit - which has been active since 2019 - relates to US Soccer's non-sanctioning of a proposed regular-season Spanish LaLiga game in the US between Girona and Barcelona in January 2019.
The lawsuit claimed that US Soccer committed tortious interference, and violated the Sherman Anti-Trust act, in refusing to allow overseas matches, such as the LaLiga fixture, to take place.
Relevent referred to Fifa and Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of the country’s top-tier Major League Soccer and the exclusive marketing partner of US Soccer, as non-party co-conspirators in the case, as they were aware of US Soccer’s stance.
However, Caproni dismissed Relevent’s claim that there had been any conspiracy, and also rejected the notion that US Soccer and North America’s Major League Soccer in any way pushed Fifa into imposing the ban.
LaLiga did file a lawsuit of its own against the RFEF, the Spanish soccer federation, for declining to authorise the Girona-Barcelona fixture, but its case against the federation was dismissed by a Madrid commercial court in March last year.
When asked to give the go-ahead for the match, US Soccer had told Relevent to first secure the go-ahead from the RFEF, which refused to give permission.
The Spanish top flight and Relevent made a second attempt to stage a regular season fixture in Miami in December 2019, scheduling a match between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal, but it was again blocked by the RFEF.
Relevent has until 30 July to file a separate claim against US Soccer for interfering with its affairs.
The promoter has previously claimed that US Soccer must sanction a match - no matter who the teams involved are - unless “the federation decides by clear and convincing evidence that staging the match would be detrimental to the sport of soccer".
Relevent said in 2019 that actions such as those of US Soccer “deprived fans of international soccer in the US of the opportunity to attend official season international soccer game events in the US, and is a blatant anti-trust violation".
The company claimed that the refusal to allow regular-season matches from other leagues to take place in the USA was a consequence of the federation having an improperly close relationship with Major League Soccer.
Relevent is a competitor of Soccer United Marketing in promoting matches in the USA.
SUM has a contract for US Soccer commercial rights, for which it pays $30 million per year, but this is due to end, after 20 years, in 2022.