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Why The ISU’s Eligibility Rules Breached Competition Law And What It Means For Sports Governing Bodies

Why The ISU’s Eligibility Rules Breached Competition Law And What It Means For Sports Governing Bodies
Thursday, 01 April 2021 By Viktoria Tsvetanova

In 2017, a European Commission (EC) Decision found that the International Skating Union's Eligibility Rules (which, in brief, prevented skaters from participating in ISU international events if they had also participated in unauthorised skating events) breached EU competition law. The Decision required the International Skating Union (ISU) to adopt remedies to end the infringement within 90 days. If it failed to do so then a daily penalty of 5% of its average daily turnover applied until compliance. Unusually, an outright fine was not imposed on the ISU. 

The ISU appealed the Decision to the EU General Court, challenging its validity and the penalty imposed.  On 16 December 2020, the General Court released its judgement, essentially agreeing with the EC’s Decision that the Eligibility Rules amounted to a restriction of competition by object.  It did however disagree with a discreet part of the Decision relating to the EC's remedy requiring the alteration of the ISU's exclusive arbitration rules (which were not part of the infringement; see more below). 

The ISU is now bringing an appeal to the highest court of the European Union, the European Court of Justice.

This case is important as it is the first EC decision concerning specific rules set by sports governing bodies. This is part of the reason that a fine was not imposed. The case was also the first time the General Court has been called upon to rule on an EC Decision finding that a sports body's rules do not comply with EU competition law.  

This article examines the case, looking at:

  • Background
  • The European Commission's conclusions
  • The General Court's judgment
    • Arbitration rules
    • European Commission jurisdiction
    • What happens next?
  • Takeaway points for sports governing bodies

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Written by

Viktoria Tsvetanova

Viktoria Tsvetanova

Viktoria is an Associate in the Competition team at Dentons. Viktoria advises on all aspects of competition law, including cartel investigations, competition litigation, market investigations, abuse of dominance, merger control and state aid.

Prior to joining Dentons, Viktoria obtained a Master’s degree in European Law from the College of Europe, majoring in competition law, and worked in the EU Competition and Antirust departments at two international law firms in Brussels.

Before starting her career in law, Viktoria was an international badminton player, representing Scotland at numerous badminton tournaments and event around the world. Viktoria is originally from Bulgaria, and has lived in Switzerland, Cyprus, Belgium and Scotland. Viktoria has on-the-ground experience in the Scottish, Bulgarian, Belgian and Malaysian legal systems, and works in English, French, Bulgarian and Russian.
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