Appeals court restores promoter's lawsuit against FIFA

NEW YORK (AP) — A promoter’s lawsuit against FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation can proceed toward trial after a lower-court judge had thrown it out, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the lawsuit by Relevant Sports, controlled by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, after the USSF refused to sanction a league match between Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil in Miami.

In its refusal, the USSF had cited a 2018 FIFA policy that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

In a decision written by Judge Raymond J. Lohier Jr., the 2nd Circuit said a three-judge panel disagreed with a lower court judge who said Relevent needed to have evidence to prove that the soccer entities had agreed in advance to adopt the 2018 policy.

"Relevent plausibly alleges that the 2018 Policy reflects a contractual commitment of head-to-head competitors to restrict competition," the appeals court said.

It added that Relevent's lawsuit alleged that the policy itself violates antitrust laws and its implementation provides direct evidence of collusion among the parties.

The 2nd Circuit rejected arguments by FIFA that it isn't subject to a lawsuit in New York. It said the USSF is FIFA's agent and transactions substantial business on behalf of FIFA in New York.

Relevent had first sued in 2019 over the issue in New York Supreme Court after the USSF refused to sanction a the 2018-19 league match between Barcelona and Guayaquil at Miami Gardens.

It later withdrew the state lawsuit and brought the claims to federal court, also in 2019, citing antitrust law.

In 2020, the U.S. Justice Department warned FIFA that a prohibition against staging league matches internationally could violate American antitrust laws.

FIFA, the USSF and Relevent did not immediately comment.

Relevent is represented by Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer retained by members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team in their wage and gender discrimination lawsuit against the USSF.


AP Sports Writer Ron Blum works in New York.


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Larry Neumeister And Ron Blum, The Associated Press