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On December 8, 2017, the European Commission announced that the International Skating Union (ISU) rules imposing penalties on skaters participating in competitions that are not authorized by the ISU breach article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The ISU is the sole body recognized by the International Olympic Committee to administer the sports of figure skating and speed skating on ice. Its members are national ice skating associations. The ISU and its members organize speed skating competitions, including major international competitions, which are an important source of revenue.

The Commission’s investigation, which followed a complaint by two skaters (as we informed in this post), found that speed skaters participating in competitions that are not approved by the ISU face “severe penalties” under the ISU eligibility rules. These penalties can include a lifetime ban from all major international speed skating events. The ISU can impose these penalties at its own discretion, even if the independent competitions pose no risk to legitimate sports objectives.

 The Commission concluded that these rules are anticompetitive and breach article 101 TFUE, as they enable the ISU to pursue its own commercial interests to the detriment not only of the athletes whose commercial freedom is restricted from participating in independent skating events, but also the organizers of competing events, who are unable to attract top athletes to their competitions.

The Commission ruling, aimed at opening up new opportunities for athletes and competing organizers “to the benefit of all ice skating fans,” requires the ISU to stop its illegal conduct within 90 days, by abolishing or modifying the rules in conflict, and to refrain from similar actions in the future.

The world of sports competitions has already echoed the ruling, particularly in the context of the FIBA-Euroleague dispute, as explained here. The Euroleague has issued a statement supporting the Commission’s ruling as “it sets a precedent to ensure freedom of choice for athletes.”

The official press release of the European Commission on the ice-skating case can be found here: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-5184_en.htm

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