In June 2014, two prominent Dutch speed skaters, Mark Tuitert (Olympic Champion 1500 m) and Niels Kerstholt (World Champion short track) started an important European test case that will affect all professional athletes.
They filed a competition law complaint against the International Skating Union (ISU) with the European Commission. Mark and Niels allege that the ISU violates the EU competition rules by preventing skaters from participating in events that are not organized and promoted by the federation. If skaters would participate in independent, out-of-season events they can expect to be banned for life from all ISU competitions. This would put an end to their sporting career.
The issues addressed are apply to all sports – not just speed skating. In most other sports, athletes can be punished if they participate in events not authorized by their international federations (background document). Sanctions range from fines, periods of ineligibility of 1-3 years (e.g. swimming, equestrian sports, volleyball, cricket, hockey, sailing, and netball) up to lifetime bans (e.g. boxing and beach volleyball).
Various national competition authorities in Europe have confirmed that restrictions which enable sports federations to effectively block the organization of competing events, are in breach of the EU competition rules. All these cases, however, were purely national in scope. They dealt with the rules of national federations (e.g. motor sport in Sweden and Italy, equestrian sport in Italy and Ireland, and bodybuilding in Sweden).
The stakes are so much higher with respect to the current European complaint against the ISU. The abuse of the worldwide monopoly power of international sports federations can only be tackled at the European level. Moreover, this is the first time that athletes, the ultimate sufferers from unfair competition on the market for the organization of sporting events, have asked the European Commission to safeguard their #chancetocompete and to enable them to make a better living out of their profession.
The European Commission has a unique opportunity to set an important precedent across Europe that would positively affect the lives of thousands of athletes in a multitude of sports.
EU Athletes urges the Commission to take this case.
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