BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's executive arm ruled Friday that the International Staking Union is in breach of EU anti-trust laws in the way that it imposes "severe penalties" on athletes participating in speedskating competitions that are not organized by the governing body.
The European Commission said the restrictions against athletes competing in an event organized by a body other than the ISU are so severe that they could end up facing a lifetime ban from all major international speedskating events.
"International sports federations play an important role in athletes' careers — they protect their health and safety and the integrity of competitions," said Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner responsible for competition matters. "However, the severe penalties the International Skating Union imposes on skaters also serve to protect its own commercial interests and prevent others from setting up their own events."
Though found to be in breach of EU laws, the ISU was spared a fine if it complied with the ruling. That, Vestager said, could involve the abolition of the eligibility criteria.
However, she warned the governing body that a fine of 5 percent of the ISU's average daily worldwide turnover could be imposed if it fails to comply within 90 days.
"We will be watching closely," she said.
The commission opened proceedings against the ISU, which also governs and organizes figure skating, two years ago following a complaint by Dutch speedskaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt. Tuitert, the 2010 Olympic champion over 1,500 meters, and Kerstholdt wanted to join a novel South Korean competition in Dubai, the Icederby, but say they were threatened with a ban if they did.
In a tweet, Tuitert said the decision was "great and historical news .... with regards to respecting athletes rights."
Vestager insisted that the ruling wasn't an attempt by the EU to encroach on the structure of the ISU or of that of any other sporting governing body.
She said it "makes sense" that speedskaters would want to compete in other events, especially as the careers of professional athletes don't last long.
"They should have a chance to get the most out of those years while they're at the top of their game," Vestager said.
The ISU's members are the national ice skating associations. The ISU and its members organize and generate revenues from speedskating competitions, including from major international competitions such as the Olympics and the world championships.