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ISL legal battle: World Aquatics swims out of trouble, wins big in US court

George Aluo

The World Aquatics has started the new year on a good note winning big in a USA court.

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco decided in favour of World Aquatics, in cases that had originally been opened in 2018.

Two antitrust lawsuits had been filed: one directly by the International Swimming League (ISL) and another by swimmers Tom Shields (USA), Michael Andrew (USA) and Katinka Hosszu (HUN), with ISL’s support.

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World Aquatics Communication Department in a release quoted its President Captain Husain Al-Musallam as saying that the court judgement brings to an end a period of uncertainty.

In the words of the President…”World Aquatics is grateful to Judge Corley for her thoughtful and just decision. We are pleased that it brings an end to a period of uncertainty. And we are thankful for the clarity that the Court’s decision provides. This is an important decision and also a good decision, not just for World Aquatics, but for the Olympic Movement and beyond.”

It would be noted that the lawsuits had alleged unreasonable restraint of trade on the part of FINA, as World Aquatics was then known.

The Court found that there had been no such action, saying: “The Court acknowledges the record is replete with evidence of FINA’s concern about competition from ISL. But, so what? The antitrust laws do not require one competitor to help another compete with it; instead, they prohibit only unreasonable restraints of trade.”

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In granting World Aquatics’ motion for summary judgement, the Court agreed that ISL could always have put on its own swimming competitions independently, and that World Aquatics together with its member federations do not have monopoly power to control competition: “It is undisputed that top-tier swimmers are not bound by contract to swim only in FINA-sanctioned competitions. Indeed, the undisputed evidence is that ISL can and does sponsor top-tier swimming competitions without any affiliation with member federations.”

The Court also found that World Aquatics had made no attempt to stop such competitions by sanctioning swimmers: “There is no rule (and never was) that allows FINA to penalize a swimmer who participates in a competition that is not affiliated with a member federation, and no evidence that FINA ever did, or even threatened to do so.”

Commenting on the decision, World Aquatics Executive Director Brent Nowicki said: “This was, and always has been, an avoidable controversy. We look forward to putting it behind us, as we look forward to delivering an exciting calendar of opportunities for all aquatics athletes, to whom World Aquatics remains deeply committed.”