The European Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation into International Skating Union (ISU) rules that permanently ban skaters from competitions such as the Winter Olympics and the ISU World and European Championships if they take part in events not approved by the ISU.
The investigation follows a complaint by two Dutch ice speed skaters, Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt. The Commission will in particular investigate whether ISU rules are unduly preventing athletes from exercising their profession by putting disproportionate and unjustified obstacles in the way of companies not linked to the ISU that want to organise alternative ice-skating events. Indeed, ISU rules threaten athletes who participate in such events with a lifetime ban. This may prevent alternative event organisers from entering the market or drive them out of business. If confirmed, such practices could constitute anti-competitive agreements and/or an abuse of a dominant market position in breach of EU antitrust rules.
EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said: “For many, sport is a passion – but it can also be a business. We recognise and respect the role of international sports federations to set the rules of the game and to ensure proper governance of sport, notably in terms of the health and safety of the athletes and the integrity of competitions. However, in the case of the International Skating Union we will investigate if such rules are being abused to enforce a monopoly over the organisation of sporting events or otherwise restrict competition. Athletes can only compete at the highest level for a limited number of years, so there must be good reasons for preventing them to take part in events.”
“The Commission has decided to pursue this investigation because it raises specific allegations of breaches of competition law at the international level rather than wider issues of internal governance or rule-making in a sport federation.”
The opening of proceedings does not prejudge in any way the outcome of the investigation.
Read the full press release here.