KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The European Commission has insisted that its damning ruling against restrictive practices by the International Skating Union concerns only one specific case in one specific sport.

But the implications of its decision that skaters have a right to compete in events not authorised by the ISU threaten to blow a Titanic-size gash in the dictatorial command which sports federations have always taken for granted.

ISU officials reacted with disappointment and promised a careful review of the judgment before deciding whether obey or oppose. But that merely recalled the ostrich-like stance of football bosses – including then UEFA president Lennart Johansson – in the wake of historic Bosman verdict whose consequences have revolutioned the game’s administration.

Mark Tuitert: a winner in Vancouver, now a winner in Brussels

The European Commission has ruled that the ISU regulations in this instance are in breach of EU antitrust law and must changed.

Competitions commissioner Margrethe Vestager acknowledged that “international sports federations play an important role in athletes’ careers – they protect their health and safety and the integrity of competitions.”

However, she added: “The severe penalties the ISU imposes on skaters also serves to protect its own commercial interests and prevent others from setting up their own events.

Rule change

“The ISU now has to comply with our decision, modify its rules, and open up new opportunities for athletes and competing organisers, to the benefit of all ice skating fans.”

The commission’s investigation found speed skaters participating in competitions not approved by the ISU face severe penalties up to a lifetime ban from all major international speed skating events.

Not only that but the ISU could impose these penalties at its own discretion – “even if the independent competitions pose no risk to legitimate sports objectives, such as the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, or the health and safety of athletes.”


“By imposing such restrictions, the ISU eligibility rules restrict competition and enable the ISU to pursue its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and organisers of competing events.

“In particular, the Commission considers that the ISU eligibility rules restrict the commercial freedom of athletes who are prevented from participating in independent skating events.

“As a result of the ISU eligibility rules, athletes are not allowed to offer their services to organisers of competing skating events and may be deprived of additional sources of income during their relatively short speed skating careers.

“The ISU eligibility rules prevent independent organisers from putting together their own speed skating competitions because they are unable to attract top athletes. This has limited the development of alternative and innovative speed skating competitions, and deprived ice-skating fans from following other events.”

Inadequate modifications

The commission noted that eligibility rules had been modified in 2016 but that “the system of penalties remains disproportionately punitive and prevents the emergence of independent international speed skating competitions.”

A complaint by against the ISU by Dutch speed skaters Nels Kersholt and Mark Tuitert, who won the 1500m at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, has prompted the pursuit of the case.

All sports federations should take note – because independent event organisers, agents and players’ representatives certainly will.

The power of federations to “capture” athletes within their own events is crucial to the revenue which can be generated from sponsorship and broadcasting rights.