by George S. Rossano
(5 October 2016)
European Commission Issues Statement of Objections to ISU in Antitrust Case, ISU Responds
In October 2015 the European Commission opened an anti-trust investigations into the eligibility rules of the ISU. This investigation was launched as a result of a complaint from two Dutch speed skaters. The heart of the investigation is whether ISU eligibility rules violate antitrust laws by restraining athletes from engaging in their profession by limiting who can organize skating events that include the participation of ISU eligible skaters.
The details of this investigation were announced in the following release from the European commission in October 2015
On 27 September 2016 the European Commission released its initial findings and issued a statement of objections to the ISU. These initial findings find in favor of the athletes, but do not constitute a final decision on this case. The statement of objections follows.
The ISU responded the same day with a statement of its own rejecting the conclusions of the European Commission. The ISU posted on its website the following statement.
This case has significant implications for all sports within the Olympic movement and all related national governing bodies.
ISU rules result in ineligibility of skaters who participate in activities not sanctioned by the ISU or involve the participation of ISU ineligible persons. If the initial findings of the Commission are sustained, it would mean that skaters could compete in any event whether sanctioned by the ISU or not, and still also be able to compete in ISU events. Indeed the entire concept of eligible and ineligible could cease to exist. Since most Olympic sports follow the same practices as the ISU regarding eligibility, a ruling against the ISU could impact all sports in the Olympic movement.
Further, the rules of the ISU require that the eligibility rules of ISU members (national governing bodies) be no more restrictive that the rules of the ISU. Thus, a ruling against the ISU would trickle down to the national skating federations who might also have to give up the distinction between eligible and ineligible skaters.
A ruling against the ISU could also have significant financial implications for the ISU, since the ISU generates income from sanction fees for the events it sanctions and TV rights fees for those events which are held by the ISU. U.S. Figure Skating, however, only generates sanction income from its national championships, and not from the hundreds of competitions its member clubs hold each year.
If ISU skaters were freed in a final ruling to appear in non-ISU-sanctioned competitions with no consequences, the need for promoters to obtain an ISU sanction would be eliminated and the associated revenue streams for the ISU cut off.
Finally, a ruling against the ISU has the pot ential to result in multiple competing world or regional championships unaffiliated with the ISU with rules different from those of the ISU, leading to chaos within sporting competition.
As stated by the ISU "A neoliberal and deregulated approach to sport could destroy the Olympic values underpinning sport." More than that, it could destroy the entire organizational structure underpinning international sport.
Copyright 2016 by George S. Rossano