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FINA Anticompetitive Control over Top-Tier Swimmers Class Action

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Swimming Event from 2015 FINA World Championships

This antitrust class action takes on the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), or the International Federation of Swimming. The complaint alleges that FINA controls swimmers’ access to participation in the Olympics and uses that control to keep swimmers’ pay low and to prevent any similar organization from entering the market. 

The class for this action is all natural persons who are eligible to compete in swimming world championship and Olympic Game competitions.

FINA claims on its website that it “controls the development” of competitive swimming and diving. The complaint alleges that this is all too true, and that FINA’s anticompetitive behavior is the reason. 

The complaint says, “FINA has total control, or nearly total control, of the market for the promotion and organization of top-tier international swimming competitions. It also has total control, or nearly total control, of the market for the purchase of top-tier swimmer services, rendering it, in effect, the sole buyer of market supply.” 

FINA is an international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee. It governs Olympic swimming, diving, high diving, water polo, artistic swimming, masters and open-water swimming. The complaint says that “athletes in those disciplines can compete in the Olympic Games only if they meet or beat qualifying criteria that FINA sets…. And, in the case of swimmers, FINA will recognize only those qualifying times that are met at FINA-approved qualifying events.”

FINA, the complaint says, forbids “unauthorized relations.” No FINA member can “have any kind of relationship with a non-affiliated or suspended body.” Swimmers cannot compete in events that FINA has not approved. Members or swimmers who violate FINA rules can be suspended from FINA events for up to two years, a long time for a prime-condition athlete. 

Now a new organization, the International Swimming League (ISL), is trying to enter the sport. The complaint calls it “an organizer, innovator, and promoter of top-tier international swimming competitions and … a buyer of the swimmer services necessary to put on such events. ISL wants to put on a fifteen-match, team-based series of meets with more than 300 swimmers in 2019 and establish a permanent league to hold more such competitions. 

However, the complaint says that FINA is trying to block ISL. It aims to do this using anticompetitive tactics like prohibiting swimmers from taking part, under threat of suspension from FINA events. Its leverage is its role as gatekeeper for participation in the Olympics, the complaint says.

The complaint makes its claims under the Sherman Act and tortious interference with contractual relations.

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