On 5 October 2018, the Competition College (Mededingingscollege/Collège de la concurrence) of the Belgian Competition Authority ("BCA") rejected a request to suspend the participation rules for horse-jumping events organised by Global Champions Tour ("GCT").
The decision by the BCA is the latest development in a legal saga surrounding the Belgian equestrian sector.
Following a complaint by Global Champions League ("GCL") to the BCA, alleging that the exclusivity clause included in the General Regulations of the Fédération Equestre Internationale ("FEI"), the governing body for horse-jumping, was anticompetitive, the BCA imposed interim measures temporarily suspending the exclusivity clause on 27 July 2015 (See this Newsletter, Volume 2015, No. 7 available at www.vbb.com). This decision was upheld by the Brussels Court of Appeal on 28 April 2016 (See this Newsletter, Volume 2016, No. 5 available at www.vbb.com).
In January 2017, GCL, GCT and FEI announced they had reached a settlement, documented in a memorandum of understanding ("MoU"), pursuant to which the FEI approved the GCL events, the parties agreed on participation rules for GCL and GCT events and GCL withdrew its complaint to the BCA.
On 13 November 2017, a Dutch horse rider based in Belgium and a horse riding stable established in Belgium lodged a new complaint with the BCA criticising the new GCT participation rules, as laid down in the MoU, for being anticompetitive.
Consequently, the BCA imposed interim measures on GCL, GCT and the FEI on 20 December 2017 (See this Newsletter, Volume 2017, No. 12 available at www.vbb.com ) and penalty payments on 13 April 2018 (See this Newsletter, Volume 2018, No. 4 available at www.vbb.com). However, on 27 June 2018, the Brussels Court of Appeal annulled the decision of the BCA of 20 December 2017, due to inappropriate reasoning and then held on 7 August 2018, that the members of the Competition College who had adopted the annulled decision could not reassess the case (See this Newsletter, Volume 2018, No. 8 available at www.vbb.com).
Following the annulment of the BCA's decision by the Brussels Court of Appeal, the case was sent back to the BCA, now acting, as required by the Court, through different members of the Competition College. The BCA reassessed the request for interim measures and adopted a new decision on 5 October 2018, which differs from its initial findings. In particular, the BCA carried out a fresh prima facie analysis of the evidence to ascertain whether interim measures were warranted. Whilst not excluding the possibility that the GCT participation rules – as included in the MoU – were anticompetitive, the BCA rejected the request for interim measures on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence at this stage of the proceedings to justify interim measures.
A decision by the BCA to reject a request for interim measures is without prejudice to the merits of the case.
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