BRUSSELS — The European Commission has warned ice skating’s governing body that it appears to break antitrust rules by threatening speedskaters who want to compete in unauthorized commercial events with bans from the Olympics.
After a yearlong investigation, the European body said Tuesday it asked the International Skating Union to respond to a “statement of objections.”
“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,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
The complaint was filed last year by two Dutch speedskaters who wanted to compete in a $2 million prize money event in Dubai organized outside the ISU’s control.
The ISU threatened the skaters — former Olympic champion Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholdt — with bans from the Winter Games and world championships.
The commission said its “preliminary view is that the rules restrict the athletes’ commercial freedom unduly.”
The skating body, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, said it was “surprised” at the European bureaucrats’ view and said they failed to understand the international sports world.
“Any allegation that the ISU’s rules are somehow anti-competitive appears to be based on a misplaced understanding of the governance structure of sport and the Olympic movement,” the governing body said, citing its need for autonomy. “A neoliberal and deregulated approach to sport could destroy the Olympic values underpinning sport.”
The ISU said it would review the commission’s statement “with care and will respond fully to any allegation of anti-competitive conduct.”
In an apparent response to the complaint, the ISU said it co-organized a recent event in the Netherlands with the independent firm which proposed the Dubai event.
Since the Brussels-led investigation began, the ISU changed leadership. In June, Dutch speedskating official Jan Dijkema was elected president to succeed long-time incumbent Ottavio Cinquanta of Italy, who stood down after 22 years.