A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of teen soccer star Olivia Moultrie that requires the National Women’s Soccer League to lift its rule that stipulates players be at least 18 years old.
The TRO, which lasts for 14 days but can be extended, will allow Moultrie to compete in the NWSL if a team chooses to sign the 15-year-old, who currently trains with the Portland Thorns. The order will stand until the court holds a hearing on a longer-term injunction.
Moultrie filed a lawsuit against the National Women’s Soccer League on May 4 claiming the NWSL’s age rule violates the Sherman Antitrust Act.
“Ms. Moultrie does not seek an order from this Court awarding her a contract or a roster slot,” her lawyers wrote in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland. “Rather, she seeks removal of an unlawful barrier to her participation.”
Moultrie is one of the youngest soccer phenoms in recent memory. She accepted a scholarship to North Carolina when she was 11 and turned pro two years later with a “nine-year, six-figure endorsement contract with Nike,” per the Oregonian.
The NWSL argued that its current age restriction does not violate the Sherman Act as it acts as a “single entity.” Moultrie’s lawyers have challenged that notion and argue that an age limit can only be in place for a league with a collective bargaining agreement. No such agreement is currently in place in the NWSL, although the league is currently negotiating with the players' association.
"Age requirements are a common feature of many men’s and women’s professional leagues in the U.S. and abroad," an NWSL spokesperson told The Athletic. "The rules that govern league operations are in place to support players and team operators and ensure the NWSL remains the premier women’s soccer league in the world."
"We will vigorously defend our league against this litigation because it seeks to change a long-standing rule and interferes with the collective bargaining process.”
Players across Europe and the MLS have competed in the professional leagues before turning 18. Moultrie has reportedly requested a spot on NWSL rosters multiple times since 2019, but those offers have been rebuffed by the league.
“Ms. Moultrie would be eligible to play in MLS if she were male, would be able to play in France if she were French,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Moultrie is in the wrong country, and the wrong gender, to take advantage of her soccer precocity. And illegally so.”
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