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SINGAPORE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - A Singapore court ruled against the Asian Tour in a restraint of trade case on Tuesday and ordered it to repay fines imposed on four golfers.
Australians Terry Pilkadaris and Matthew Griffin, Dutchman Guido van der Valk and Malaysian Anis Helmi Hassan brought the case against the Asian Tour after being suspended for refusal to pay $5,000 fines imposed for playing events on the rival OneAsia circuit.
The players argued that the penalty was unfair and they should be allowed to play elsewhere if the Asian Tour did not stage a tournament the same week.
Pilkadaris said in a statement he was delighted with the verdict and felt vindicated in his stance.
"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," he said.
"I was a very loyal Asian Tour member. Even when I was on the European Tour, I used to come back to Asia to play their events, so to be accused of disloyalty was not very nice.
"I earned the right to play on the Asian Tour - and OneAsia - and so I am glad that this has been resolved."
In the High Court ruling on Tuesday, the judge wrote that the Asian Tour's regulations regarding the release of players to take part in events on other tours was "unenforceable and null and void for being an unreasonable restraint of trade".
The ruling ordered the Tour to repay the fines levied on players and pay their costs.
The Asian Tour, which has accused OneAsia of stealing events, had said it was simply following its rules and regulations in suspending the quartet for failing to pay.
Other Tour members had agreed to pay the fines and gone on to play rival events, it had said.
A statement from the Asian Tour on Tuesday said: "Our lawyers are reviewing the court judgement and we will make further comments at an appropriate time."
Sang Y Chun, chairman and commissioner of OneAsia, said it had been "illogical" for the Asian Tour to stop its players from competing in other competitions, particularly when there was no conflict of dates.
"We have always had a much more open policy - if you are qualified to play, you should be allowed to play," he said in a statement.
"OneAsia wants to see the best golfers in Asia competing for the richest purses and we hope this ruling opens the way for more players to take part in our events without fear of punitive fines or banning."
While the Asian Tour has been keen to help its players on to the bigger European and PGA Tours, it has been concerned about the growth of the rival OneAsia circuit and introduced fines to deter members from playing on it.
OneAsia launched its first season in 2009, promising $1 million events with full fields of Asian players. It now has 10 full-field stroke play events this year after starting with five in its first year.
Van der Valk incurred a $5,000 fine for playing in OneAsia events in 2010 but the world No. 600 told Reuters earlier this month that he could no longer afford to take the risk of paying them as he has no guarantees of making money from competing.
Griffin played in the Chengdu Open, Maekyung Open, SK Telekom Open and Indonesian Open on the OneAsia Tour between April and July 2010, with Pilkadaris playing in three of the events, Van der Valk two and Anis just in Indonesia.
Pilkadaris, Griffin and Anis have dropped their membership of the Asian Tour. (Editing by Mark Meadows)