After the successful launch of the new Global Champions League (GCL), the Brussels Court of Appeal (Court) upheld the decision of the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) granting interim relief to allow riders and horses to participate in the GCL series without incurring a suspension by the FEI (International Equestrian Federation). This is the third ruling in favour of the new GCL team competition.
The first three legs of the innovative new format have been publicly praised by the world’s top athletes and enthusiastically received by spectators at the GCL events in Miami Beach, Mexico City and Antwerp. Senior officials have already applauded the new concept describing the initiative as a positive new dimension and good for show jumping.
Yesterday, the Court ruled that the FEI must pay particular attention to the conflict of interest between its regulatory powers and its commercial activities. The FEI can influence competition only to the extent that this is strictly justified by and proportionate to the pursuit of fundamental objectives such as horse welfare and the integrity of competition. In its judgement, the Court ruled that a regulatory body “which is also engaged in commercial activities must pay particular attention to the situation of conflict of interest in which it finds itself and make sure to influence competition only to an extent which is strictly justified by the pursuit of fundamental sports values”.
The Court confirmed the preliminary assessment of the BCA that the FEI would breach competition law when using its exclusivity clause to suspend riders and horses participating in the GCL because, according to the Court, the GCL is clearly committed to respecting the fundamental values of horse welfare and the integrity of competition.
In its decision, the Court observed: “It is manifestly not justified for the FEI to apply the exclusivity clause to participation in the GCL.”
The Court’s judgment relies on long-standing case law that obliges sports governing bodies such as the FEI to separate their regulatory powers from their commercial activities, and prohibits them from using their regulatory powers to advance their own commercial interests to the detriment of independent organizers.
Several independent organizers and athletes have introduced complaints similar to that of the GCL against the FEI before the relevant competition authorities to make sure that the sports governing bodies respect these fundamental principles of proportionality and fair competition.
Following the judgment, riders and horses participating in the GCL continue to be protected by the interim measures granted by the BCA. GCL will continue to pursue its underlying complaint against the FEI with the BCA.
In June of 2015, GCL complained to the BCA that the FEI abuses its regulatory powers as the sport’s governing body to protect FEI-promoted commercial events against competition from independent organizers. The FEI does so by way of a recently introduced exclusivity clause, suspending riders, horses and officials from participating in FEI-promoted events if they participate in events not approved by the FEI.
Because the FEI held GCL, riders, horses and officials hostage by refusing to approve the GCL, which would take place at all 15 events of the long-established and hugely successful Global Champions Tour (GCT), GCL requested the BCA to suspend the exclusivity clause.
In July of 2015, the BCA agreed with GCL that a preliminary assessment confirms that the FEI exclusivity clause breaches competition law and granted interim relief to GCL, thus effectively giving the go ahead for GCL to launch in 2016 with riders and horses under the protection of interim measures.
In August of 2015, the FEI introduced an appeal before the Court against the decision of the BCA, asking for the suspension of the interim measures and for their annulment.
In October of 2015, the Court rejected the FEI’s request for the suspension of the interim measures and upheld the BCA decision giving riders and horses the freedom to choose to compete in the GCL. In its judgment the Court said the FEI had failed to demonstrate that the interim measures inflicted serious and irreparable harm on the federation. The Court said the FEI had managed for more than a century without the clause and failed to show why it was indispensable. The Court stated: “Any undermining of the credibility of the FEI as the sport’s governing body is not a consequence of the [BCA] decision, but a risk to which the FEI has exposed itself by engaging in, in addition to its governing function, the marketing of equestrian competitions.”
Yesterday, the Court also rejected the FEI’s request for the annulment of the interim measures. In a 40 page judgment, the Court agrees with the preliminary conclusion of the BCA that the FEI exclusivity clause breaches competition law in respect to the GCL.
Broad support for Global Champions League
This further positive ruling by the Court comes after the new team-based GCL launched in spectacular style to widespread acclaim from riders and a broad range of stakeholders in the world of show jumping.
This weekend the 4th leg of GCL series gets underway in the spectacular destination of Shanghai, China, with 12 teams set to go into battle again. The team competition is hugely anticipated in Shanghai where thousands of fans will be cheering on their favourite riders, horses and teams this Sunday.
The exciting new team competition has received the backing of leading riders, trainers, owners and sponsors and the continued participation of riders and owners of horses sends a clear signal to the FEI that its exclusivity clause is unacceptable from the point of view of competition law and also modern day sport.
The world’s top riders have enthusiastically backed the GCL and the new team competition format since its launch.
World No3 Rider Scott Brash of team Miami Glory said: “I think it is a fantastic concept. You are bringing riders together that would never compete together and that brings more fans. It’s great for everyone involved in the sport.”
Leading US rider Kent Farrington, also one of the Miami Glory stars, said: “I think it is a great competition. That’s really exciting for our sport and exciting for us all to be part of.”
Top Belgian rider Gregory Wathelet of the Paris Jets team commented: “It is good for the sport. I think for a long time it is going to be a good thing for the sport.”
Show jumping legend John Whitaker of team Valkenswaard United said: “It’s a great competition and great to win the first one (Miami Beach). It’s great to be part of it and it’s easy to follow.”
Leading rider Bertram Allen, also of Valkenswaard United, said: “It is really exciting and nice to be part of it from the start.”
Dutch champion Maikel van der Vleuten of Monaco Aces said: “It is something new which is good and different people and different riders get involved and that is very good.”
Monaco Aces team rider Daniel Bluman said: “It is a fantastic League. It is something that is really making the sport more modern, taking it to a new level.”
The GCL season launched in April with 12 teams of international riders and horses and already a thrilling ranking battle is underway in the ground-breaking competition. For the first time ever in show jumping riders from different countries are united on the same team competing for championship points and total season prize money of €7,500,000.
GCT events are renowned for exceptional attention to the welfare of horses with state-of-the-art veterinary equipment and round-the-clock services which are also available at GCL competitions. Leading officials and veterinarians have described the welfare facilities as going beyond the requirements of the FEI. The new team competition is easy for non-equestrian fans to follow and an exciting and colorful format for TV and other forms of broadcast, which will help to grow the audience and safeguard the future of the sport.
Press Release by : Global Champions League