Represented by California law firms Farella Braun & Martel; and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; 3 swimmers have filed a proposed class action lawsuit against FINA for violating U.S. antitrust laws. Stars Katinka Hosszu, Michael Andrew, and Tom Shields are the lead plaintiffs in the case. The International Swimming League (ISL) have filed a separate lawsuit, on the same theories.
Hosszu and Andrew are expected to swim at the FINA-hosted Short Course World Championships next week in Hangzhou, China.
The lawsuits involve FINA’s moves to block the 2018 Energy for Swim meet that was supposed to be hosted in Italy later this month. The lawsuit hearkens to one filed against the International Skating Union in 2017, where a judge ruled that their moves to block skaters from competing in non-authorized competitions were in breach of European Union antitrust laws, except that this one is being filed in the United States.
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The lawsuit claims violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which forbids organizations from engaging in anti-competitive behavior. The Sherman Act resulted in the breakup of Standard Oil and AT&T, among other organizations. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also claim tortious interference with contractual relations or prospective economic relations, for collusion to unreasonably restrict competition, and for monopoly. The lawsuits seek injunctive relief and monetary damages for the named plaintiffs and for all class members, which could include dozens of pro swimmers from around the world who signed contract. The class, if accepted, would not be limited to just Americans, even though the suit is filed in the United States.
According to the release, the suit was only undertaken after FINA demanded a $50 million fee to approve ISL events.
“Very few select swimmers make a living swimming, while FINA is making a killing,” said Andrew, who in 2013 became the youngest swimmer to go pro. “FINA’s main consideration is not for swimmers. FINA set our sport back into the dark ages by blocking ISL’s request. They can co-exist.”
Andrew is the defending World Champion in the 100 IM and won a gold medal in the 50 free at the 2018 Pan Pac Championships.
Shields, an Olympic gold medalist, is a lead plaintiff and the named plaintiff in the proposed class-action lawsuit. He says that he has dreamed for years of seeing the sport expand to include a professional league. “We are closer now than ever before to making that dream come true,” he said. “But that dream is being blocked by FINA.”
The lead plaintiff with the biggest resume is Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, who won 3 individual golds and an individual silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. That goes with 20 World Championships, and 82 total major international medals.
“My passion has always been to push swimming in the direction where swimmers are partners of the governing body, not just muppets,” she said. “ISL takes swimmers seriously, not like FINA.”
Hosszu is also the dominant figure in the last decade of the FINA World Cup Series, which recently made changes that limited her earnings potential.
The class-action lawsuit is Shields, et al. v. FINA, Case No. 18-cv-07393. ISL’s lawsuit is International Swimming League, Ltd. v. FINA, Case No. 18-cv07394. Both suits are pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
SwimSwam has reached out to FINA for comment, but they have not responded.