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Lawsuit seeks to compel soccer leaders to change safety rules with aim of reducing concussions

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SAN FRANCISCO - Soccer joined the growing legal debate over head injuries Wednesday after FIFA and some of the sport's governing bodies in the United States were made the target of a lawsuit seeking new safety rules.

A group of soccer parents and players filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco. Lawyers representing the parents and players are asking a judge to grant the lawsuit class-action status on behalf of thousands of current and former soccer players who competed for teams governed by FIFA and several U.S.-based soccer organizations.

The NFL, NHL and NCAA have all faced similar lawsuits.

In a proposed legal settlement in another case, the NCAA last month said it will toughen return-to-play rules for players who receive head blows. It also agreed to create a $70 million fund to pay for thousands of current and former athletes to undergo testing to determine whether they suffered brain trauma.

Seattle-based lawyer Steve Berman helped negotiate the NCAA settlement and also represents the soccer parents and players who filed the lawsuit Wednesday. The soccer lawsuit doesn't demand monetary damages, but it is demanding that the soccer governing bodies alter safety rules including limiting headers for players 17 years old and younger.

"We believe it is imperative we force these organizations to put a stop to hazardous practices that put players at unnecessary risk," Berman said.

The lawsuit also wants FIFA to allow for temporary medical substitutions of players that don't count toward the maximum three replacements allowed in most FIFA-sponsored matches.

FIFA medical committee chairman Michel D'Hooghe said Wednesday he had no knowledge of the case.

"However, FIFA has faced other lawsuits before and has won them," D'Hooghe told The Associated Press in Monaco ahead of the Champions League draw.

FIFA's medical committee is next scheduled to meet Sept. 22 in Zurich.

The lawsuit alleges that nearly 50,000 high school soccer players suffered concussions in 2010.

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Monaco contributed to this report.

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