USSF, promoter in court clash over international games

A lawyer for promoter Relevent Sports has asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador's Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play at Miami Gardens, Florida, on May 5.

It cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council "emphasised the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association."

During a hearing before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry on Thursday, USSF lawyer Blair G. Connelly argued that the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Connelly said that because Relevent's application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA's match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration.

FIFA's rules specify such a case should be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

"What they're trying to do is outsource the court's authority ... to two bodies in Switzerland that don't follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,'' Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent, said.

Connelly said the USSF's decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA's arbitration procedure.

"They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf," Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

"Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? Were we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?'' Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

"We believe that the only reason that they don't want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,'' Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26.

That effort fell through following opposition from Spanish football's governing body and the country's players' union.

Perry did not announce any decision.