Football: US challenge to transfer system

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The Independent Online
Ten Major League Soccer players have asked a US federal judge to issue an order declaring the transfer rules of Fifa, the governing body of international football, illegal in the United States. The 10 players, led by Iain Fraser and Paul Caligiuri, filed a suit against MLS on Feb. 14, accusing the second-year American league of violating American antitrust laws and illegally holding down salaries. They accused Fifa of participating in a conspiracy to violate US antitrust laws.

On December 15, 1995, the European Court of Justice declared in the Jean- Marc Bosman case that the transfer rules were illegal in the 15-nation European Union. More than 15 months later, Fifa announced on March 26 that it had amended its rules to comply with the decision and that players could transfer between teams within the European Union without transfer fees at the end of their contracts. The players on Monday asked US District Judge Mark L. Wolf on Monday to issue a summary judgment preventing Fifa's transfer rules from being applied in the United States.

A ruling on the request is not expected for several months at the earliest. "The Fraser litigation was brought on behalf of all Major League Soccer players to strike down those agreements which have eliminated competition for professional soccer players in the United States," said John Kerr Snr, a spokesman for the players. "The players feel quite confident that the United States court will follow the lead of Bosman and swiftly rule that the Fifa transfer fee system is unlawful." A trial on the antitrust claims is not expected until 1998 at the earliest.

"It is to be regretted that this is to be bought before a court which is against the principles of Fifa," said Keith Cooper, spokesman for Fifa. "It is regrettable that this is at a time when soccer on the upswing in the United States and the US team is doing well in qualification for the World Cup. It would be a shame if some of that impetus was lost by a lengthy legal case which can have a debilitating effect as we've seen in Europe."

Portuguese officials said Tuesday they had found no evidence to back up a controversial television report that national players cavorted with prostitutes at a hotel before an international game. The Portuguese federation said the allegations were "unfounded" and had "tarnished the honour of the national team." "We will start legal proceedings against the television channel for the damage it has caused to the image of Portuguese soccer at home and abroad," federation president Gilberto Madail told a news conference. The SIC television channel alleged last Friday that five prostitutes had joined the national squad at a hotel near Lisbon three days before of a European Championship qualifying game against Ireland in November 1995.