The FEI Bureau has today agreed unanimously to continue to fight the case between the FEI and the Global Champions League with all legal means, following an update at the FEI Bureau’s in-person meeting at the FEI General Assembly in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan.
The Global Champions League lodged a complaint with the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) in June of this year alleging that the FEI’s unsanctioned events rule was in breach of competition law. The BCA granted interim measures on 28 July requiring the FEI to suspend its unsanctioned events rule against athletes and horses for the GCL events. Under the rule, athletes, horses or officials are ineligible to compete in an FEI or national event if they have participated in an unsanctioned event in the previous six months. An unsanctioned event is an event and/or a competition that is neither published in the official FEI calendar nor authorised by a National Federation.
The FEI appealed the interim measures decision to the Brussels Court of Appeal, requesting suspension of the decision. The suspension was rejected without any review of the merits of the case, however the FEI’s view is that the BCA decision should not be applicable outside Belgium and is therefore seeking a full annulment of the decision.
No dates have been set for the annulment process, which will go before the Brussels Court of Appeal, or for the eventual hearing on the full merits of the case, which will be heard by the Belgian Competition Authority.
The FEI is not the only International Federation undergoing legal proceedings on unsanctioned events. The European Commission recently opened a formal anti-trust investigation into International Skating Union (ISU) rules that impose a lifetime ban from competitions, including the Olympic Games and the ISU World and European Championships, on athletes that take part in events not approved by the ISU.
The European Commission has confirmed to the FEI that it will ensure the coherent application of EU anti-trust rules in the FEI and ISU proceedings. It has also clearly indicated that the results of its investigation would set a precedent for similar issues in other sports and provide guidance for national competition authorities and/or national courts for dealing with future cases.
The FEI is to put in a request to the European Commission to be an interested party in the ISU case, and the FEI President has also written to the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) Council and all ASOIF Members proposing that they should put in a similar request. Additionally, the FEI has asked ASOIF to represent the interests of its members on unsanctioned event rules.
“We simply want justice”, FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “We do not want our athletes to be the victims of this ongoing legal case, so we will abide by the Belgian Competition Authority ruling and not sanction them or their horses for competing in GCL events, but it is very important that they are aware that there has been no ruling on the merits of the case and that these interim measures guarantee nothing on the future of unsanctioned events.
“We welcome the European Commission’s formal investigation into the ISU case and await the outcome of that investigation with interest as it will establish the principle on unsanctioned events that will be implemented across the European Union for all sports. The unsanctioned events rule is applied in other sports and we are confident that the principle will be accepted by the European Commission.
“Many International Federations are confronted with similar issues, but while our athletes have the right to decide what events they will compete in, the FEI also has a non-decision making participant, the horse, and it is our duty to protect its welfare and to ensure the integrity of the events that both our equine and human athletes compete in.
“Horse welfare and sporting integrity are the two key principles of the unsanctioned events rule, and these principles can only be protected and promoted by putting in place rules, including anti-doping and veterinary regulations, and by making acceptance of international events onto the official calendar conditional upon the Organising Committee adopting all of those regulations and making them binding on all participants in those events. Without these rules, we have no way of safeguarding the welfare of horses and athletes participating in such events, or of protecting the integrity of the events.
“We are confident that the European Commission will accept that legislation on unsanctioned events is not against the EU anti-trust rules.”