© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People visit the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., August 31, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm/File Photo
By Mike Scarcella
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked President Joe Biden’s administration for its views on whether the justices should take up the U.S. Soccer Federation’s bid to bar a lawsuit accusing it of conspiring with FIFA to prohibit foreign teams from playing official matches in the United States.
The justices are considering whether to hear U.S. Soccer’s appeal of a lower court’s decision to allow the lawsuit by New York-based Relevent Sports to proceed. The lawsuit, filed in 2019 in Manhattan federal court against U.S. Soccer and FIFA, claimed the ban violated American antitrust law and sought to stop the two organizations from implementing it.
U.S. Soccer is a member of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
The United States hosts “friendly” games involving foreign professional teams, but the games do not count in league standings. A victory for Relevent in the case could open up the United States to hosting key matches featuring some of the marquee professional clubs and players from around the globe.
U.S. courts have long grappled with how antitrust law applies to a member of an organization or association based on their membership and adoption of shared rules.
U.S. soccer has argued that it had no role as a FIFA member in forming the international organization’s 2018 policy banning foreign clubs from holding competitive matches outside the teams’ home countries.
A federal judge in 2021 dismissed Relevent’s suit, but the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March reinstated it. The 2nd Circuit ruled that U.S. Soccer could be held liable if FIFA’s rule is found to violate antitrust law because it had agreed to FIFA’s rules as a member of the international body.
In a filing to the Supreme Court, U.S. Soccer called the 2nd Circuit’s ruling “radical” and said the decision “imperils thousands of entities that belong to membership associations providing pro-competitive benefits across a wide range of industries.”
Attorneys for Relevent argued that the 2018 policy “explicitly restrains competition.”