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Swimmers’ Governing Body Wins 2018 US Antitrust Case

 |  January 9, 2023

In a defeat for athletes challenging officials running their sport, a Californian court has ruled in favor of swimming’s governing body in antitrust cases filed in 2018.

World Aquatics said Monday it won rulings from a judge in the US District Court in San Francisco.

Cases were filed by Katinka Hosszú, Tom Shields and Michael Andrew – all Olympic or world championships gold medalists – and a separate but linked challenge by the independent International Swimming League. It promised increased prize money for competing in a more dynamic and broadcast-friendly format.

The Ukraine-backed ISL started racing in 2019 after a failed launch the previous year in Italy amid threats by the world swim body to ban member federations who cooperated. The governing body was known then under previous leadership by its French acronym FINA.

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The judge’s 30-page ruling dated last Friday sided with the governing body in cases that had shaped as a possible landmark for athlete activism.

“We are pleased that it brings an end to a period of uncertainty,” World Aquatics president Husain al-Musallam said in a statement. “This is an important decision and also a good decision, not just for World Aquatics, but for the Olympic movement and beyond.”

The judge, Jacqueline Scott Corley, said the athletes had not shown an American court should have jurisdiction for Switzerland-based FINA pressuring the Italian swim federation to cancel a competition scheduled in Turin.

“The Court acknowledges the record is replete with evidence of FINA’s concern about competition from ISL. But, so what?” Corley also wrote. “The antitrust laws do not require one competitor to help another compete with it; instead, they prohibit only unreasonable restraints of trade.”

ISL ran for three seasons from 2019-21 backed by Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin. The league paused in 2022.

The judge’s ruling stated: “It is undisputed that top-tier swimmers are not bound by contract to swim only in FINA-sanctioned competitions.”

“This was, and always has been, an avoidable controversy,” said Brent Nowicki, the executive director of World Aquatics since 2021.

A similar case of athletes challenging their Lausanne-based governing body to secure more freedom for competing in lucrative events is ongoing at European courts in Luxembourg.