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Teenage phenom Moultrie files lawsuit against NWSL for right to play in league

17:40 BST 05/05/2021
Olivia Moultrie Nike 2019
The teenager's lawyers alleged that the league is in violation of the law by only allowing players 18 and older

Teenage phenom Olivia Moultrie has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the National Women's Soccer League alleging the league is illegally preventing her from playing.

The NWSL currently does not allow players younger than 18 to play in the league, a rule that has shut out the 15-year-old Moultrie. 

Moultrie turned professional at age 13 and signed an endorsement deal with Nike. She has been training with the Portland Thorns for more than two years but has only played in non-official matches.

What was said?

“The league’s Age Rule clearly violates the Sherman [Antitrust] Act,” said Len Simon, one of Moultrie's lawyers in a media release.

“We believe they are legally obligated to provide her with an opportunity to play and it’s wildly inconsistent that she’s allowed to practice with the professionals and scrimmage with the professionals but can’t sign a player contract or participate in an official game.”

Moultrie added: “It’s always been a dream of mine to play professionally in the U.S. I know girls my age are competing around the world and I just want to get on the field and officially compete.”

Max Forer, another of Moultrie's attorneys, said: “The truth is that if Olivia Moultrie was male, she’d already be playing in MLS.

“Further, she’s already eligible to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team but can’t officially play in the league that develops and prepares talent for the National Team, that’s unfair.”

What was the NWSL's response?

In a statement provided to Goal, an NWSL spokesperson said: "The league is engaged in collective bargaining with the NWSL Players Association, which is the appropriate place according to Federal labor law for issues regarding terms and conditions of employment to play out. 

"Age requirements are a common feature of many men’s and women’s professional leagues in the U.S. and abroad. 

"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."

Who is Olivia Moultrie?

Moultrie made headlines in 2019 when she turned professional at age 13, becoming the youngest female soccer player to ever do so.

By age 11, Moultrie already accepted a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina. She opted against that route two years later, signing with Nike as well as sports agency Wasserman Media Group.

On the international stage, Moultrie has represented the United States at various youth levels. 

Is Moultrie good enough to play in the NWSL?

Included in Moultrie's lawsuit is a list of supporters of her case, including Thorns and USWNT stars Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan. 

On Twitter last month, Sauerbrunn said: "Just to be clear, Olivia is a pro in all but matchdays. She should be able to play in the NWSL and we should be nurturing young talent – allowing them to develop by playing against the best. Let her play."

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