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Asian Tour could face further legal challenges, say lawyers

By Patrick Johnston

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Asian Tour could face further legal proceedings from disgruntled golfers in the wake of losing a restraint of trade case last week brought by four players, lawyers have told Reuters.

A Singapore high court judge ruled the Asian Tour's policy to fine members $5,000, later increased to $10,000, if they competed on the OneAsia Tour was unfair and also said that they had been guilty of 'sloppy administration'.

Judith Prakash said the Asian Tour must pay back the fines to Australians Terry Pilkadaris and Matthew Griffin, Dutchman Guido van der Valk and Malaysian Anis Helmi Hassan and cover all legal fees, which sources say amount to around S$500,000 ($410,200).

The Asian Tour have remained silent since, but legal experts have said the ruling in favor of the four players, who didn't seek damages, opens up possible avenues for others to make a loss of earnings claim.

"Losses generally can be recoverable but of course it must be subject to rules remoteness and causation," Brown Pereira, a Singapore-based lawyer with more than 20 years experience and his own firm Brown Pereira & Co, told Reuters.

"They have to show a direct link between their loss of income and the prohibitive clauses on the Asian Tour. If they can show a link that they were denied playing in these tournaments because the prohibition of the Asian Tour clauses then they have a case.

"Secondly they have to show, like these four players, that they actually applied for a release and they were denied the release.

"He has to show he tried to apply and he was denied a release, we can't pre-empt the answer from the TPC (Tournament Player's Committee) or the Asian Tour."

Chinese golfer Liang Wenchong was one of those fined by the Asian Tour for playing on OneAsia despite being denied a release. His manager Jacky Peng told Reuters the player was concentrating on finishing the season and would talk to the Asian Tour to find out more information at their next meeting.

MENTAL DISTRESS

Van der Valk told Reuters last month that playing under the added pressure of trying to win money in tournaments to cover the fines had brought added stresses.

The Manila-based golfer only just retained his Asian Tour card last year in the final event with season earnings of $68,000 and is in danger of missing out this year.

Periera said, however, that players would find it hard to win a claim of that sort against the Tour.

"Mental distress is quite difficult to claim and quite difficult to quantify," the lawyer said.

"If they can show actual loss, actual inconvenience, special damages that they suffered because of this prohibitive ruling by Asian Tour then they can claim, but if they can't show any of this then it is just speculative. I think it is rather remote."

Annabel Pennefather, a Singapore-based sports lawyer with 30 years experience and a member of the Olympic Council of Asia, said the ruling was a good move for all.

"I welcome this decision as a sports administrator and a sports law practitioner because I think, at least in the Singapore context now, that it does recognize the restraint of trade applies to sport as well as it has been in other jurisdictions," she told Reuters.

"Sport is a business now and it is a professional career for many athletes and competitors," the former chef de mission for the Singapore team said.

"Perhaps when you come to look at the business aspect of sport sometimes maybe what are the real values and objectives of sport seem to go out the window such as encouraging talent to develop on multiple competitions, encouraging sportsmanship.

"So this is much clearer now for various parties especially for those preparing agreements. We have more commercial leagues and also for players, who will be more aware of the rights and what they can do."

($1 = 1.2191 Singapore dollars)

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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