Articles

Exclusivity obligations in sports organization rules violate EU competition law

Exclusivity obligations in sports organization rules violate EU competition law

Exclusivity obligations in sports organization rules violate EU competition law

01.12.2015 BE law

The Competition College decision

On 27 July 2015, the Belgian Competition Authority ("BCA") imposed provisional measures on the Fédération Equestre internationale ("FEI"), the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian (horseback riding) disciplines.

The Global Champions League and Tops Trading Belgium, both active in the organization of equestrian competitions around the world, had complained that the exclusivity clause introduced in 2012 in the FEI’s General Regulations infringed Belgian and EU competition law. The exclusivity clause prohibited athletes and horse-owners from participating in any FEI approved competition if they had participated in any non-FEI-approved competitions in the six months preceding the event.

Because of the exclusivity (and related) clauses, the complainants claimed that they were unable to organize a new team competition (called the Global Champions League). No athlete or horse-owner would want take part in such a competition if they would be excluded from participating in FEI approved competitions, since the FEI competitions are the only events eligible to affect their international rankings and qualification for the Olympic Games.

The BCA considered that the exclusivity clause would, prima facie, be liable to infringe Articles 101 and 102 TFEU (and their Belgian equivalents). The BCA regarded the case at hand as a matter of urgency and used its powers to order partial suspension of the exclusivity clause (before taking a final decision on the merits).

The Brussels Court of Appeal judgment

The FEI appealed the BCA decision before the Brussels Court of Appeal seeking annulment and immediate suspension of the BCA decision. On 22 October 2015, the Court dismissed the FEI’s application for suspension.  

Conclusion

While there was uncertainty whether the new Belgian Competition Law of 2013 would be favorable to parties seeking provisional measures, this second decision to that effect seems to alleviate such suspicions.

The decision also shows that exclusivity clauses in the rules imposed by sports organizations will continue to be scrutinized by (national) competition authorities and courts. Other examples include a 2012 judgment by the Swedish Market Court in relation to the national Automobile Sports Federation, and a recent investigation opened by the Spanish authority concerning the national basketball association's rules. In a similar vein, the European Commission recently opened a formal investigation into alleged anti-competitive restrictions imposed on speed skaters by the International Skating Union.

This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of December 2015. Other articles in this newsletter:

Team

Related news

01.06.2022 NL law
The new VBER is here! Time to update your distribution agreements

Short Reads - The new Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (VBER) entered into force on 1 June 2022. The new VBER is stricter on dual distribution and across-platform retail parity obligations than the old one, but is more lenient towards active sales and online sales restrictions. It also provides more guidance on the rules for exclusive and selective distribution systems.

Read more

01.06.2022 EU law
Park your parking structures: EU Court upholds Canon’s gun jumping fine

Short Reads - Companies involved in M&A transactions had better think twice before temporarily parking a target undertaking with an interim buyer. On 18 May 2022, the General Court upheld the European Commission's EUR 28 million gun jumping fine imposed on Canon for partially implementing its two-step takeover of Toshiba Medical Systems Corporation (TMSC) prior to notification and clearance.

Read more

01.06.2022 NL law
AG Emiliou: careful treading in hybrid cartel procedures

Short Reads - On 12 May 2022, Advocate General (AG) Emiliou delivered his Opinion proposing that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) dismiss HSBC’s appeal. Although the AG criticised the General Court’s analysis of the procedural aspects and its understanding of the ‘by object’ case law, he found that, were the grounds of the General Court’s judgment to be substituted, the operative part of the judgment could be considered well founded based on the adjusted legal grounds. Therefore, the General Court’s errors have not affected the outcome of the proceedings against HSBC.

Read more

05.04.2022 NL law
Game on for gatekeepers: Digital Markets Act finalised

Short Reads - Now that political agreement has been reached on the final text, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) will enter into force soon. The DMA’s ex ante rules and obligations will apply next to the ad hoc EU and national competition rules. Time for big digital companies to take stock of the potential implications of these additional rules on their day-to-day business operations. See our infographic for a concise overview of the DMA.

Read more