On 27 September, almost one year after having launched a formal investigation into the International Skating Union (ISU) eligibility rules, the European Commission has decided to send a Statement of Objections to the ISU.
With this Statement of Objections, the Commission informed the ISU that, following its preliminary views and assessments, the ISU eligibility rules seem to be in breach with EU Competition rules. The Commission referred to the ISU rules preventing skaters to take part in events not approved by the ISU, under threat of being permanently banned from competitions such as the Winter Olympics and the World and European Championships.
Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for competition policy, recalled that “International sports governing bodies play a unique role in setting the rules of the game and ensuring standards of conduct. They are responsible for both the health and safety of athletes and for the integrity of competitions” before adding that the Commission has “concerns that the penalties the ISU imposes on skaters through its eligibility rules are not aimed at preserving high standards in sport but rather serve to maintain the ISU's control over speed skating”.
In June 2016, during its annual Congress, the ISU has amended the system of penalties related to its eligibility rules by including more proportionality in sanctions. However, the Commission is still concerned that sanctions remain disproportionately punitive and would prevent non-ISU affiliated players from participating in international speed skating competitions.
The ISU expressed its surprise concerning the decision taken by the Commission and reiterated “that independent organisers are able to organise international tournaments on the ISU international calendar”. Furthermore, the Federation stated that “the European Commission has failed to take adequate account of the importance of the legitimate objectives pursued by the ISU’s eligibility rules”.
A Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules and does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. The ISU has two months to review Statement of Objections and to respond to the allegation of anti-competitive conduct.There is no legal deadline for the Commission to complete antitrust inquiries into anti-competitive conduct.