A US judge has granted a temporary restraining order that allows a talented 15-year-old player who already trains with professionals to sign with a National Women’s Soccer League team.
The order issued on Monday by Judge Karin J Immergut comes in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Olivia Moultrie that is challenging the league’s rule prohibiting players under 18. The lawsuit alleges that the rule violates antitrust law and hinders Moultrie’s career development and chances of reaching the US national team.
Immergut’s order will be in place for 14 days. It is unclear whether any NWSL team will sign Moultrie, who currently trains with the Portland Thorns but does not play in games.
Immergut wrote that Moultrie “has shown that the 10 teams that make up the NWSL have agreed to impose the NWSL’s age restriction which excludes female competitors from the only available professional soccer opportunity in the United States because they are under 18, regardless of talent, maturity, strength, and ability.
“Defendants have not presented any compelling procompetitive reasons to justify this anticompetitive policy, nor have they shown that eliminating the Age Rule will cause any nonspeculative injury to the NWSL. Defendants have offered no legitimate procompetitive justification for treating young women who want an opportunity to play professional soccer differently than young men.”
Teams in the US’s top male soccer league, MLS, are allowed to have professional players under the age of 18 on their rosters.
The judge also wrote that Moultrie showed that each day the age rule is in place “represents a missed opportunity for her potential professional soccer career.”
In the lawsuit filed earlier this month, Moultrie’s attorneys asked for a preliminary injunction that would her allow to play in the league.
Moultrie, who signed a sponsorship deal with Nike when she was 13, can’t join a team overseas under Fifa rules, meaning the NWSL is the only pro league available to her.
The league on Monday reiterated its previously stated position that terms and conditions of employment should be addressed during ongoing negotiations for a a collective bargaining agreement.
“As we said when this action was filed, the NWSL is in the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with the NWSL Players Association over all terms of employment, including the age rule,” the league said in a statement. “We continue to believe that is the appropriate place for a decision on this topic and are evaluating our options with respect to the district court’s order.”