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 Friday, June 14, 2002 20:06 EST

Martinez claims discrimination in ticket sales

[Associated Press]

WASHINGTON -- A Hispanic-American man filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming discrimination in ticket sales for a World Cup qualifier against Honduras last September at RFK Stadium.

Humberto Martinez of Sterling, Va., claims he suffered "pain, humiliation and embarrassment'' when he was not allowed to buy tickets in the lower half of the stadium for the Sept. 1 game, a 3-2 Honduras victory. His suit seeks $2 million in damages per plaintiff and an injunction against similar ticket policies in the future.

Because of the large Hispanic population in the Washington area, U.S. national team games against Central American teams at RFK often have seemed like road games. For the Honduras game, the USSF attempted to create a more pro-American crowd by limiting sales of the best seats to members of the so-called "U.S. soccer family.''

As it turned out, the sellout crowd of 54,282 was overwhelmingly pro-Honduran, prompting coach Bruce Arena to say at the time: "Only in America, I guess, we're fighting for a home-field advantage.''

The suit, field in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the ticket policy violated the D.C. Human Rights Act and federal law by denying Hispanic fans equal enjoyment of the game on the basis of national origin.

The lawsuit says Martinez, an American citizen who regularly attends D.C. United games, received an invitation in the mail to buy tickets for the Honduras game. The suit says he tried to buy seven V.I.P. tickets at $55 each, but his check was returned.

"No one asked my client who he was going to root for,'' lawyer Tom Simeone said. "If they had asked, they would have found out he was from El Salvador and not Honduras, and he didn't care who won.''

The suit says that even the Honduran ambassador to the United States, Hugo Noe Pino, was not allowed to buy tickets in the lower deck. However, an aide to Pino's wife, using her American name, later sent in the same application and received 50 tickets with no problems, according to the suit.

USSF spokesman Jim Moorhouse, speaking in Daejeon, South Korea, before the Americans' 3-1 loss to Poland put them in the second round of the World Cup, said: "All the ticket procedures for that game were quite fair.''

Moorhouse said any fan wishing to buy tickets for the game could have applied to become a member of the "soccer family'' at the USSF's Web site, which Moorhouse said was a simple procedure.

Simeone said his client was never informed of that option, even when he called the USSF to complain.

"He was never told that,'' Simeone said. "He had direct communication with a U.S. Soccer employee, and they never told him that.''

Simeone said he expects a "substantial number of people'' to join the suit. He said Martinez would be content with whatever compensation a jury would deem fair.

"The primary motive for this is to keep this from happening again,'' Simeone said.

The suit also names Anchutz Entertainment Group, which owns D.C. United and oversaw ticket sales, as a defendant. AEG representatives were not immediately available for comment.




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