According to certain news outlets, the European Commission is gearing up to punish the International Skating Union (ISU) over the governing body’s eligibility rules banning skaters for life from international speed skating events, such as the Olympic Games or the World Championship, if they participate in events that are not approved by the ISU.
In September 2016, approximately one year after two Dutch speed skaters lodged a complaint with the European Commission, related to the ISU’s ban of their participation in a lucrative race planned in Dubai and an ensuing investigation, the Commission filed formal antitrust allegations against the ISU. The action – the Commission’s first sporting case in well over a decade – caused a stir in the world of sports, where governing bodies have generally enjoyed a wide margin of latitude in deciding what is in their sports’ best interests. In a statement of objections addressed to the ISU last September, the Commission took the preliminary view that the penalties set out in the ISU eligibility rules restrict the commercial freedom of athletes and prevent new organizers of international speed skating events from entering the market because they are unable to attract top athletes.
Officials from various European agencies are scheduled to discuss the ISU case later this month, with a final decision expected by the end of 2017. Sources expect that the decision will echo the Commission’s preliminary views, finding that the ISU has broken European Union competition rules in restricting the commercial freedom of skaters to compete in rival events not sanctioned by the ISU.
The decision is expected to have a broader impact on the way governing bodies manage sports in the European Union, as the principles established in any final decision could be invoked in other sporting disputes. Needless to say, governing sports bodies, like the International Olympic Committee (an intervenor in the case), are paying close attention to any final Commission decision.
This article was originally printed in the ABA “Trades, Sports and Professional Associations” Blog, on November 22, 2017, and is reprinted here with permission.
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