The Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) has closed the ongoing investigation into the international governing body of equestrian sports, Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI). The investigation was instigated after the competition prosecutor general at the BCA received complaints in 2015.
In 2015, the Global Champions League (GCL) accused the FEI of imposing “exclusivity clauses” that prevented riders from competing in events not approved by the FEI and filed a complaint with the BCA. The GCL believed that the FEI foreclosed competitors from the market for the organisation and commercial operation of 5* competitions. These complaints included: (i) certain provisions of the FEI General Regulations stipulate that the participation of athletes, horses or officials in events not approved by the FEI could be subject to a penalty of six months renewable; (ii) the lack of transparency of the FEI approval process; and (iii) the severity on the sanctions imposed on athletes, horses and official participating in competitions not approved by the FEI.
Foreclosing competitors from the market for the organisation and commercial operations of 5* competitions were likely. In particular, complaints included a provision of the FEI General Regulations that the organisation of the 5* competitions must be subject to an application for registration in the FEI calendar two years before the date of the first edition of the contest. The complaints were eventually withdrawn however the Investigation and Prosecution Service of the BCA decided to pursue ex officio the investigation.
The BCA conducted preliminary analysis into the following potential infringements of competition: (i) the opacity of the approval rules related to new series; (ii) the penalties for the participation in events not approved by the FEI; and (iii) the ability given by the conflict of date rules to raise objections to potential new entrants on the market.
The FEI decided to offer commitments to terminate the investigation after getting access to the preliminary analysis by the BCA. These commitments involve the procedure of the approval of new series in immediately establishing the transport procedure. Regarding rules for the participation in events not recognised by FEI and the conflict of dates, procedural and substantive changes were adopted by the Board of FEI on 20 November 2018. The Board’s aim is to support these changes at the next General Assembly of FEI.
The BCA decided to close the investigation in light of the commitments received so therefore the BCA did not take a position on whether or not the FEI infringed competition law. The BCA decision confirmed that the FEI is applying good governance as a governing body. The FEI welcomed the decision by the BCA to close the investigation so as “to bring this matter to a mutually satisfactory resolution and to address the BCA’s concerns“.