On 20 September 2022, the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) imposed interim measures on the Belgian Colombophile Federation (BCF).

The BCF is the national regulatory association for pigeon racing, whose members are pigeon clubs and colombophiles. Like other sports regulatory bodies, the BCF defines the rules of the sport and organises pigeon racing competitions.

The BCF had defined a standard for the technical requirements for electronic registration systems (ETS) used during pigeon races. The purpose of this standard was to ensure comparability between the ETS systems of different manufacturers. The BCA's decision in particular targets the introduction of the so-called Cloud ETS, which allows to calculate and register fly times via a cloud application.

Following an application for interim measures, brought by a number of German and Austrian companies, the BCA considers it "not to be unreasonable at first sight" that the BCF has abused its dominant position on the relevant market. The BCA therefore imposed a number of interim measures to "ensure that the relevant standard for the season 2023 can be set in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner", in particular, the BCF must:

  • communicate the intended changes to the standard to the manufacturers, which must be given the opportunity to provide their input. The BCF must also communicate the final version of the new standard to the manufacturers, and, if relevant, explain why it did not take into account the manufacturers' comments;
  • organise one or two "testing days" to assess the ETSs' compliance with the new standard;
  • inform all its members that all authorised ETSs supplied by manufacturers for the seasons 2020, 2021 and/or 2022, may continue to be used up to one year after the entry into fore of any new upcoming standard; and
  • publish the BCA's decision on its website.

Except for the fact that this decision shows that competition law applies to every aspect of commercial life, it is a stark reminder for associations to remain vigilant as to their compliance with competition law, whether they engage in standard setting or not. In particular, now that trade associations are becoming more active again following the COVID-19 lockdowns – and are perhaps reflecting more profoundly on their operations – it is crucially important to ensure a robust awareness of the competition law rules and implement strong procedures to ensure compliance.

In line with the BCA's decision, the BCF has already published the interim measures on its website.

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