Dutch speed skating duo files EU antitrust complaint against the International Skating Union

Published 19 November 2014 By: Ben Van Rompuy

Speed Skaters

This article details the antitrust complaint lodged by two Dutch speed skaters and analysis the monopoly power of international sports federations’ over the organisation of sports events.

Background

In June 2014, two prominent Dutch speed skaters, Mark Tuitert (Olympic Champion 1500m) and Niels Kerstholt (World Champion short track), filed a competition law complaint against the International Skating Union (ISU) with the European Commission. They allege that the ISU is acting in violation of Article 101 TFEU (prohibiting anti-competitive agreements)1 and  Article 102 TFEU (prohibiting the abuse of a dominant position)2 by prohibiting skaters from participating in events competing with those organized and promoted by ISU.

The issues addressed in their complaint are not unique to speed skating. In various other sports, international federations similarly restrict the economic opportunities of athletes to participate in so-called “unsanctioned” events (see below). In the absence of sufficient procedural safeguards, this evidently raises concerns about a conflict of interest between a federations’ power to authorise the organisation of events and the federation’s commercial interests in promoting its own events.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time that athletes – the ultimate sufferers from unfair competition on the market for the organization of sporting events – are challenging restrictions on their participation in unsanctioned events at the EU level. This case gives the European Commission, who is currently conducting a preliminary investigation, the opportunity to set an important precedent across Europe that may positively affect the lives of thousands of professional athletes.

 

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Author

Ben Van Rompuy

Ben Van Rompuy

Prof. Dr. Ben Van Rompuy is a senior researcher and consultant at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut (The Hague), where he heads the ASSER International Sports Law Center. His research focuses primarily on the application of EU (competition) law in the sports and media sectors. He has, however, published widely on a broad range of topics relating to competition/antitrust law, media law, and sports law, and regularly acts as a legal expert for media companies, sports associations, athletes, and public authorities. 

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