Skating Union Rules|on Thin Ice With EU

     (CN) – The European Commission bumped up its antitrust investigation of the International Skating Union Tuesday, with a preliminary finding that its ban of speed skaters who participate in outside events amounts to unfair competition.
     Under the union’s current eligibility rules, any speed skater who participates in an international event that hasn’t been approved by the union is permanently barred from skating in sanctioned events like the Olympic Games or the World Championship.
     Dutch speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt lodged a complaint with the commission, which opened an investigation in October 2015. The skaters said the threat of a lifetime ban kept them from pursuing their profession and that the union also put disproportionate and unjustified obstacles in the way of companies not linked to union that want to organize meets.
     On Tuesday, the commission handed down its preliminary view that the rules are unfair to skaters and those who wish to organize their own meets outside of the union’s purview. Specifically, regulators found that the threat of a lifetime ban stifles competition and prevents others from attracting top athletes to their meets.
     “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. We have 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,” competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
     The commission said that while typical disputes in sport are best handled by national authorities and courts, the union’s stature internationally warranted involvement by EU regulators.
     Tuesday’s finding, which the commission calls a “statement of objections,” allows the union to examine the case against it and to respond to the accusations either in writing or by requesting a hearing.

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