Monday, September 26, 2022

Competition Law and Sports Governance: Disentangling a Complex Relationship

Competition Law and Sports Governance: Disentangling a Complex Relationship

Pablo Ibáñez Colomo

London School of Economics - Law School



Cases like International Skating Union and Super League show that the application of EU competition law to rules adopted by sports governing bodies is complex and occasionally controversial. This article discusses the peculiarities of sports as an activity and addresses the implications for Articles 101 and 102 TFEU. It shows, first, that the relationship between individual participants in a tournament is best described as co-opetitive, in the sense that their viability and success depend on sustained cooperation. Second, the emergence of a regulatory structure is inevitable. Third, tensions – of a horizontal and a vertical nature – are bound to emerge within an association. These tensions are explained, inter alia, by the opportunistic behaviour of individual participants (which may seek to benefit from the joint venture while simultaneously undermining it).

The case law accounts for the peculiarities of sports. Measures aimed at addressing opportunistic conduct within a cooperative structure (such as the non-compete obligations imposed by governing bodies) do not have, as their object, the restriction of competition and do not invariably have anticompetitive effects, which are to be established case-by-case. Absent exclusive or special rights, moreover, governing bodies are not subject to a general duty of non-discrimination vis-à-vis competing organisations.

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