Exclusive: EU set to rule in favor of speed skaters over ISU ban threat - sources

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union antitrust regulators are set to back speed skaters who want to compete in new money-spinning events outside the control of the sport’s governing body, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands starts as he competes in the men's 1,500 metres speed skating race during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 15, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The European Commission ruling, which is expected by the end of November or early December, is likely to order the International Skating Union (ISU) to amend its system of penalties, which include lifetime bans for competing in unauthorized events, the sources told Reuters.

The ISU found itself in the EU competition enforcer’s crosshairs two years ago after Dutch Olympic speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt raised grievances after being put off competing in lucrative Ice Derby events run by a South Korean company by threats of a lifetime ban.

The Commission’s move could impact other sports and become as important a milestone as the landmark 1995 court ruling involving Belgian soccer player Jean-Marc Bosman, which paved the way for the free movement of players in the EU.

The EU competition enforcer and Lausanne-based ISU, which previously said such an approach could destroy the Olympic values underpinning sport, both declined to comment.

In its 2016 charge sheet, the Commission said the ISU’s penalties, which range from five-year to lifetime bans, were anti-competitive because they were disproportionately punitive, restrict the athletes’ commercial freedom and prevent new entrant organizers.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Alexander Smith

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