SINGAPORE - Four professional golfers forced the Asian Tour to pay back fines and legal costs and let them play on the rival OneAsia circuit after winning a lengthy court battle on Tuesday.
The players -- Australia's Terry Pilkadaris and Matthew Griffin, Manila-based Dutchman Guido van der Valk and Malaysia's Anis Hassan -- emerged victorious after a year-long restraint of trade case at the Singapore High Court.
The players launched the legal action after they were fined and barred from Asian Tour events for playing OneAsia tournaments in 2010.
"The judge declared that all of those rules which allowed the Asian Tour to prohibit its players from playing on other tournaments... were restraint of trade and therefore null and void," their lawyer, Christopher Anand Daniel, told AFP.
He added the players may also be able to claim for damages as compensation for potential earnings while they were forced to sit out events.
The case highlighted a major point of contention between the Asian Tour and OneAsia, whose launch in 2009 sparked what has been called the region's "golf war".
Pilkadaris said he was "delighted" with the ruling, adding it was "simply unfair" that the Asian Tour barred players from OneAsia events even when the circuits' schedules were not in direct conflict.
"Obviously I am delighted," said Pilkadaris, according to the Asia Pacific Golf Group website. "We thought we were within our rights on this and I'd like to thank our lawyers for arguing our case so well.
"This situation was simply unfair. Even when the Asian Tour didn't have a tournament, we were being prevented from playing on OneAsia -- and as a professional golfer this clearly is an infringement of trade."
Griffin also celebrated the victory, and said the Asian Tour rules had hindered the development of golf in Asia.
"It has been a long wait, but it feels very good. I really feel that justice has been done in this case," he was quoted as saying.
"Golf in the region could be very strong, but I felt the restrictions were stopping the sport from developing and also stopping me from developing as a player."
The Asian Tour said it would consider the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
"Our lawyers are reviewing the court's judgement and we will make further comments at the appropriate time," the Asian Tour said in a statement to AFP.
But OneAsia chairman and commissioner Sang Y. Chun said the ruling showed it was "illogical" to stop players from taking part in both tours.
"Obviously this is a case between those specific players and the Asian Tour, but our position has always been that it was illogical for the Asian Tour to prevent its members from playing in other professional golf tournaments even when there was clearly no conflicting event," he said.
"We have always had a much more open policy... and we hope this ruling opens the way for more players to take part in our events without fear of punitive fines or banning."
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