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EU: Sports federation rules that try to prevent athletes from competing in unsanctioned events breach European anti-trust laws and must be changed

Friday, December 8, 2017

BRUSSELS – The big overnight news from Europe is that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has struck a "breakthrough" Brexit deal with the EU. For most racing sailors likely the bigger news is what is being called a "landmark" legal ruling by the European Commission ordering the International Skating Union ("ISU") to change competition rules that impose severe penalties on athletes participating in events unauthorized by that world governing body. The ruling against the ISU had been widely expected, and will force World Sailing to change its similarly monopolistic and anti-competitive rules. Full story from the Associated Press below....

 

BRUSSELS, December 8, 2017 (AP) – An International Skating Union (ISU) rule imposing severe penalties on athletes participating in speed skating competitions unauthorised by the world governing body has been ruled as a breach of European Union anti-trust laws and must be changed.

 

The ruling is considered the most significant legal case in European sport since the 1995 ruling in favour of Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman which secured free movement of players within the EU.

 

Other sporting bodies are now likely to come under similar pressure to change their competition rules in which sporting leaders claim could “destroy the Olympic values underpinning sport”.

 

The European Commission, however, claim that ISU rules which had permitted sanctions, including lifetime bans, for those participating in unlicensed events were unfairly persecuting athletes and preventing the innovation and growth of the sport.

 

"International sports federations play an important role in athletes' careers - they protect their health and safety and the integrity of competitions," said European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for ruling on competition policy, when announcing the verdict today.

 

"However, the severe penalties the ISU imposes on skaters also serve to protect its own commercial interests and prevent others from setting up their own events. 

 

 

"The ISU now has to comply with our decision, modify its rules, and open up new opportunities for athletes and competing organisers, to the benefit of all ice skating fans."

 

The Commission was ruling after an appeal was made against the ISU by Dutch speed skaters Mark Tuitert, who won the 1500m at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and Nels Kersholt.

 

Tuitert and Kersholt challenged the ISU’s right to sanction competitors for taking part in unauthorised commercial events.

 

The ISU now have 90 days to "stop its illegal conduct" and change its rules.

 

World Sailing CEO Andy Hunt (GBR, left) and his Director of Legal Affairs and Governance Jon Napier (GBR) at last month's World Sailing annual conference in Puerto Vallarta, MEX. World Sailing has similar rules to those of the ISU (that prevent sailors from participating in events not sanctioned by World Sailing) that were struck down in today's ruling by the European Commission. For example, now WS will not be able to prevent sailors from participating in Olympic Class events that are not sanctioned by WS, and the newly announced eSailing World Championship will not be able to prevent sailors from "gaming" in events not sanctioned by WS. Photo courtesy of World Sailing via Andy Hunt's twitter feed.

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