The European Union (EU) has launched an investigation into the eligibility rules of the International Skating Union (ISU) after Dutch Olympic skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt complained to the EU’s Executive Commission following the governing body's threat of lifetime bans for athletes who compete in unauthorised events.
Tuitert, who won 1,500 metres gold at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and Kerstholt claimed the ISU rules violated the European antitrust rules.
It follows the ISU vowing to suspend competitors who participate in unsanctioned competitions such as the Ice Derby, a series of lucrative events run by South Korean firm Icederby International, from taking part at Winter Olympic Games and ISU World and European Championships.
The Commission are investigating whether the ISU’s rules are preventing free competition and could fine the governing body 10 per cent of their annual turnover if they are found to be in breach of EU regulations.
By establishing these jurisdictions, the ISU are also stopping other alternative companies from running similar events, which could cause them to be driven out of business, the Commission claims.
“We recognise and respect the role of International Sports Federations to set the rules of the game and to ensure proper governance of sport, notably in terms of the health and safety of the athletes and the integrity of competitions,” EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said.
“However, in the case of the International Skating Union we will investigate if such rules are being abused to enforce a monopoly over the organisation of sporting events or otherwise restrict competition.
“Athletes can only compete at the highest level for a limited number of years, so there must be good reasons for preventing them to take part in events.
"The Commission has decided to pursue this investigation because it raises specific allegations of breaches of competition law at the international level rather than wider issues of internal governance or rule-making in a sport federation.”
The ISU have previously spoken out on the matter, issuing a statement last year which said it “was unable to cooperate in any activity relating to betting/gambling in sports and that the ISU will not sanction the proposed Ice Derby International Competitions”.
The world skating governing body have issued a response to the EU investigation, admitting they are “surprised and disappointed”, while claiming they are considering their legal options.
They claim that unsanctioned events, such as the Ice Derby series, launched in 2006 by Do-joung Hyan, are a risk to their athletes for health reasons and also because they can be bet on by spectators in a similar style to horse racing.
“As the ISU explained in detail to the Commission, these rules are inherent and proportionate to the integrity of Skating,” the ISU statement said.
“This is particularly important when betting is involved, as in the case at hand.
“The rules are also crucial for ensuring that skaters’ health and safety are not compromised by unauthorised skating events, a particular concern in speed skating."