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US Soccer Has Its Own Legal Troubles

23 Sep, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
NGB Has to Answer s to Senate’s Questions about Unpaid Training Compensation and Solidarity

While FIFA continues to experience fallout from allegations of bribery and corruption, the country's NGB, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF, or U.S. Soccer), is experiencing political troubles of its own. The federation was recently called on the carpet at the U.S. Senate for failing to follow FIFA rules governing solidarity payments made to youth and amateur clubs whose players are transferred to professional teams.

U.S. Soccer is certainly better known for its association with professional soccer, but the federation also oversees and promotes the development of a number of national youth organizations. (An important job for the federation, since soccer is one of the most popular sports among young people in the U.S.) The United States Youth Soccer Association currently has over three million players between the ages of five and 19, and the American Youth Soccer Organization oversees about 300,000 players between the ages of four and 19. The federation also oversees U.S. Club Soccer, which governs both adult and youth teams.

Last week, multiple American youth soccer clubs filed official complaints with FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC). The groups are seeking unpaid training compensation and solidarity, according to documents obtained by SI.com.

“As more Americans sign contracts with bigger clubs and garner bigger transfer fees when they move, the percentage that could kick back to their former youth teams to support and incentivize development is constantly growing,” wrote SI.com’s Liviu Bird.

FIFA’s RSTP (Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players) system was created to compensate amateur teams for their investment in player development. According to the regulations, five percent of the total transfer fee should be set aside for solidarity payments, and clubs receive five percent of the solidarity money for each season between a player's 12th and 15th birthdays. This raises to 10 percent for each season between the player's 16th and 23rd birthdays.

In particular, the Crossfire Premier Soccer Club or Redmond, Washington is alleging interference from U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer (MLS) in receiving solidarity on the transfer of American player DeAndre Yedlin to English football club Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs. MLS reportedly took 100 percent of the transfer fee, including the portion meant for Yedlin’s youth clubs, and the federation said it could not intervene due to U.S. law, according to documents sent to FIFA. Other U.S. clubs have also filed similar complaints, including La Jolla Nomads SC, Chicago Magic, Westside Timbers and Fullerton Rangers.

“In response to the club’s initial inquiry, FIFA legal counsel encouraged Crossfire to take its case to the DRC,” wrote Bird. “This week, the Redmond, Washington-based club claimed it is due $60,000 from Spurs, based on a $4 million transfer fee from MLS and Yedlin’s four years playing at Crossfire from the season of his 14th birthday through the end of the season of his 17th birthday.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (D – WA) has overseen the submission of questions that U.S. Soccer was required to answer. Cantwell entered a number of questions into the record about the federation’s lack of adherence to Articles 20 and 21 of the FIFA RSTP, reported Bird. For its part, U.S. Soccer has responded to the query by citing a case heard in the European Court of Justice in 1995, in which it was ruled that former clubs could not collect transfer fees on out-of-contract players, as well as the case of Fraser v. MLS decided in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts in which a similar ruling was made.

“Consistent with the ruling in Bosman and given the antitrust laws of this country, U.S. Soccer agreed in Fraser that it would not enforce transfer fee or similar restrictions that FIFA might impose on the movement of players who were ‘out of contract,’” U.S. Soccer’s response reads. “Some aspects of the current FIFA RSTP may be considered applicable to out-of-contract players and, therefore, the Fraser order would apply in those circumstances.”

The federation also alleged that FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players “could be found to violate the antitrust laws of the United States given their potential impact on the mobility of players.” The issue is expected to be settled during a meeting between U.S. Soccer and youth clubs set for October 16 in Chicago.

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