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FIFA, others defeat lawsuit over soccer concussions

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(Reuters) — A U.S. judge has dismissed a lawsuit by soccer players and parents seeking to force FIFA and other governing bodies to change the sport's rules to limit the risk of concussions and other head injuries, especially for children.

In a decision on Thursday, Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the federal court in Oakland, California, said the plaintiffs could not use the courts to change FIFA's "laws of the game," noting it was their decision to play soccer to begin with.

"Plaintiffs have acknowledged that 'injuries' are a 'part of soccer,'" Judge Hamilton wrote, citing the complaint. "Those who participate in a sporting activity that poses an inherent risk of injury generally assume the risk that they may be injured while doing so."

The judge also said FIFA was not a proper defendant because there was "no connection" between the lawsuit and any activity that the sport's international governing body, which is based in Switzerland, undertook in California.

Claims against FIFA were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be brought again.

Judge Hamilton said some claims against other bodies, including the United States Soccer Federation and U.S. Youth Soccer Federation, can be brought again.

"We will amend the complaint to satisfy the court's order and appeal the FIFA ruling," Steve Berman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an email.

Judge Hamilton's 46-page decision is a setback for efforts to make soccer, considered the world's most popular sport with roughly a quarter billion participants, safer to play.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of seven players, including four under the age of 17. Only one was alleged to have suffered a concussion from playing soccer.

They sought a variety of rule changes, including limiting headers by players under 17, and making it easier to substitute during games for players who show signs of head trauma.

The plaintiffs also sought medical monitoring for people who have played the sport since 2002.

Lawyers for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit is not related to the ongoing corruption scandal at FIFA, whose full name is Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

According to the complaint, 46,200 U.S. high school soccer players suffered concussions in 2010, more than from baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.

At least 30% of soccer concussions come from heading or attempting to head balls, the complaint said.

Other lawsuits over concussions have been filed in recent years against the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

A recent settlement between the NFL and roughly 5,000 retired players could reach $1 billion.

The case is Mehr et al. v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association et al., U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-03879.