Federal Judge Dismisses Antitrust Claim Against FINA

Jan 27, 2023

A federal judge from the Northern District of California dismissed a pair of antitrust lawsuits brought against the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), now called “World Aquatics,” finding that World Aquatics’ governing rules and alleged conduct did not unreasonably restrain trade.

The two lawsuits were filed in 2018, 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. They alleged that World Aquatics leveraged its position as the global governing body for aquatic sports to prevent the creation of a top-tier professional swimming league. ISL had also promised that it would increase prize money by utilizing a more dynamic and broadcast-friendly format.

The defendants were represented by the following Latham & Watkins partner attorneys Chris Yates, Aaron Chiu, and Dan Wall, as well as associates Jack Siddoway, Becky McMahon, Robbie Hemstreet, Christie Greeley, Kevin Wu, and Tim Snyder.

In the court’s opinion, Federal Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley acknowledged that “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.” In fact, the opinion further states, “it is undisputed that top-tier swimmers are not bound by contract to swim only in FINA-sanctioned competitions.”

Moreover, Judge Corley writes, “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.”

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

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