What do football, golf, ice skating and padel have in common? Antitrust disputes!

You might have heard about Tiger Woods being offered up to USD 800 million to join the LIV golf tour, about Real Madrid, Juventus Turin and others intending to form the “Super League”, about ice skaters being prevented to join a certain tournament, or about two federations in the sport of padel clashing with each other. The worlds of football, golf, ice skating and padel were and are shaken by the formation of new tournaments and federations. And what did all of these lead to? Right, the reason for this post: Antitrust disputes.

For years, the world of sports seemed to be somewhat untouched by antitrust. While that perception might never have been correct, things have certainly changed in recent years, be it in relation to no-poaching or salary caps and marketing (here). A recurring topic lately is the exclusion of competitors from a tournament following their (intended) participation in another tournament organized by a rival sports organization.

In this context, there essentially are two underlying antitrust issues, illustrated by the examples of football, golf, ice skating and padel:


We have blogged about it previously: Last year, twelve Spanish, English and Italian football clubs announced the launch of a European Super League. The project ultimately collapsed, but participation in the Super League was also prohibited by FIFA (the global football organisation) and UEFA (FIFA’s European counterpart).

Following a lawsuit in Spain, a Spanish court asked the European Court of Justice for guidance on whether the prohibition to participate in a rival tournament such as the Super League (or the obligation to ask for prior approval) constitutes an abuse of dominance and/or a breach of the cartel prohibition.

The case was heard at the ECJ last month and a (non-binding) opinion by the Advocate General is expected in December.


This one has been making headlines in the past months: The traditionally best-known tournament series in golf is organised by the PGA – the “PGA tour”. A new rival tour called “LIV Golf” has been trying, and to some extend succeeded, to sign-up high-profile golfers to play in LIV Golf’s tournaments. Reportedly, Tiger Woods was offered up to USD 800 million to join, and Phil Mickelson received a signing bonus of USD 200 million.

The PGA suspended players who joined LIV Golf, and earlier this month a number of players, including said Phil Mickelson, filed a lawsuit in the US, inter alia claiming that the suspension was in breach of antitrust laws. The DOJ is also investigating.

Ice Skating

The oldest of the four: Following a 2014 complaint by two Dutch ice skaters, the European Commission found that the International Skating Union’s (ISU) prohibition on the skaters to participate in an event not organised by the ISU breached the cartel prohibition.

The decision was upheld on appeal, and, following another appeal by ISU, is now at the European Court of Justice. An oral hearing in the case took place on the same day as in the Super League case. The expected timeline is similar for both cases: A (non-binding) opinion by the Advocate General is expected in December.


Padel is probably the least known sport in this post (yet one I would like to try – any of our readers’ playing?). Still a relatively new sport, padel already has its own antitrust case: Earlier this year, players and the International Padel Federation filed a complaint to the European Commission against the World Padel Tour.

The complaint reportedly alleges that the World Padel Tour abused its dominant position and breached the cartel prohibition by restricting players from participating in tournaments not organised by the World Padel Tour. The case is apparently still being assessed by the European Commission.

The antitrust issues

These four sports not only have the antitrust disputes in common, but also broadly the underlying antitrust issues:

  • When is a sports body dominant? And when is the prohibition to compete in other tournaments an abuse?
  • Under which circumstances are restrictions on players/athletes to participate in other tournaments a breach of the cartel prohibition?

The conceptual responses to these questions should be the same for all cases, but their application might lead to different outcomes in different cases. For example, from what one could glean from the oral hearing, while the European Commission acted against ISU, it seems to lean towards FIFA/UEFA being in line with antitrust laws when they took action against the Super League.

Overall, the assessment would probably be more clear-cut (and unfavourable for the incumbent sports bodies) in the “normal” business world. But courts and regulators have accepted that sports can differ and might need bodies and federations to regulate them. These bodies and federations enjoy a certain freedom to operate, and while that freedom might go a bit further than for other companies, it is not without limits.

Not least because sports, in particular football, are incredibly popular and play an important societal role, sports cases are highly political. The outcome of the Super League case, and the other cases, have the potential to shape the landscape of (European) sports, and thereby at least indirectly affect what is an important hobby to many.

[Photo by Tomasz Krawczyk on Unsplash]

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