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14th March 2018

Competition in the world of skating

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The International Skating Union (ISU) alone is recognised by the International Olympic Committee to administer the sports of figure skating and speed skating on ice.  The ISU and its member national ice skating associations organise speed skating competitions (including the Winter Olympic Games and world championships) from which they generate revenue.

Under the
ISU’s eligibility rules speed skaters participating in competitions not
approved by the ISU faced severe penalties up to a lifetime ban from all major
international speed skating events. The European Commission decided in December
2017 that this breaches European Union competition rules.

The sporting
rules of sports federations are subject to EU competition law when the body
setting the rules, or those affected by them, are engaged in an economic
activity. Sporting rules are compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective and if the restrictions
that they create are inherent and
proportionate to reaching this objective.

Commission’s investigation found:

  • Penalties could be imposed by the ISU at its own discretion, even if the independent competitions posed no risk to legitimate sports objectives, such as the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, or the health and safety of athletes.
  • The ISU eligibility rules restricted competition and enabled the ISU to pursue its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and organisers of competing events. In particular, the Commission considered that the rules restricted the commercial freedom of athletes to participate in independent skating events. Athletes were prevented from offering their services to organisers of competing skating events and may have been deprived of additional sources of income during their relatively short speed skating careers.
  • The ISU eligibility rules prevented independent organisers from putting together their own speed skating competitions because they were unable to attract top athletes. This limited the development of alternative and innovative speed skating competitions, and deprived ice-skating fans from following other events.
The ISU was required to stop its illegal
conduct within 90 days and to refrain from any measure that has the
same or an equivalent object or effect. In order to comply, the ISU can abolish
or modify its eligibility rules so that they are based only on legitimate
objectives (not including the ISU's own economic interests) and that they are
inherent and proportionate to achieve those objectives.

In particular, the ISU is not to impose or
threaten to impose unjustified penalties on athletes who participate in
competitions that pose no risk to legitimate sports objectives. Any rules for
the authorisation of third party events have to be based on objective,
transparent and non-discriminatory criteria and not be intended simply to
exclude competing independent event organisers.

The Commission did not consider it necessary or
appropriate to impose a fine in this case, but if the ISU fails to comply with
the decision, the Commission stated that the ISU would be liable for
non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily worldwide turnover.

For more information please contact Stephen Cole on 01604 233233 or click here to email Stephen.