In September 2019, cycling organizations Velon and the Italian Cycling League filed separate complaints with the Commission, alleging that the world governing body for sports cycling, Union Cycliste Internationale (“UCI”), breached EU competition law in its dual role of regulating and organizing cycling events.
Velon, a joint venture made up of certain professional cycling teams, provides live coverage of races, real-time biometric rider data, and organizes cycling events. In its complaint, based on Articles 101 and 102 TFEU, Velon argued that UCI uses its regulatory powers to increase participation at its events and prevent other race organizers from growing into competing leagues.
- First, in 2017, Velon launched the Hammer Series, a new format of linked races where cyclists compete on a team basis rather than as individual athletes. According to Velon, in February 2019, UCI ruled that it would not recognize this new competition, which meant that UCI license holders were prohibited from participation, risking fines and temporary suspension from UCI
- Second, Velon complained about UCI’s new technical regulation that allegedly seeks to give itself and race organizers ownership and control over teams’ racing data. This regulation supposedly prevents Velon from further offering its fan-engagement technologies, which include live performance data and real-time biometrics information.
In early November 2019, Velon filed an addendum to its initial complaint, arguing that UCI discriminated against women’s cycling by prohibiting a race in Norway that would offer same prize-money to both male and female participants. At the same time, Velon also filed a request for interim measures, asking for this race to be staged in May 2020.
Separately, on October 7, 2019, the Italian Cycling League (“IPCL”), a consortium of racers, teams, and riders, filed a complaint alleging that the UCI’s decision to increase the number of teams participating in the WorldTour (premiere cycling competition) breached Article 101 TFEU. The IPCL argued that the expansion would increase the number of UCI events, thereby preventing cyclists from competing in less-renowned competitions not organized or recognized by UCI. In other words, a calendar full of UCI events would arguably prevent cyclists from participating in other non-UCI events.
The merits of the complaints are expected to be assessed in the context of the specificities of sport as acknowledged in EU case law and Article 165(2) TFEU, which stipulates that “Union action shall be aimed at . . . developing the European dimension in sport, by promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions.”
According to EU courts, sport’s governing bodies may regulate and restrict participation in third- party events, and do not breach EU competition rules if such regulations are inherent to, and proportionate to, legitimate objectives. This includes, among other things, the protection of health, safety, integrity, organization and proper conduct of competitive sport, and the need to maintain competitive balance, promote fairness and openness, and safeguard equal opportunities for players and teams.
Against this background, the Commission found, in a 2017 decision, that certain terms of the International Skating Union’s (“ISU”) rules sanctioning athletes for participating in an event not authorized by the ISU were illegal. The Commission attributed importance to the ISU’s severe suspension terms, including a lifetime ban, which in the circumstances were found to be neither inherent nor proportionate to the protection of legitimate sports objectives. The Commission’s ISU decision is currently subject to appeal before the General Court in Case T-93/18 International Skating Union v. Commission.
 See Velon’s statement ‘Velon files complaint with European Commission against UCI,’ October 1, 2019, available at: https://www.velon.cc/news/2019/9/27/velon- files-ec-complaint-uci; Italian Cycling League’s statement ‘La Lega Ciclismo denuncia l’UCI alla Commissione Europea,’ October 8, 2019, available at: https:// legaciclismoprof.org/2019/10/08/la-lega-ciclismo-denuncia-luci-alla-commissione-europea/.
 See Velon’s statement ‘Velon makes additional complaint against UCI for discrimination against women’s cycling,’ November 8, 2019, available at: https://www. velon.cc/news/2019/11/7/velon-makes-additional-complaint-against-uci-for-discrimination-against-womens-cycling.
 See Italian Cycling League’s statement ‘La Lega Ciclismo denuncia l’UCI alla Commissione Europea,’ October 8, 2019, available at: https://legaciclismoprof. org/2019/10/08/la-lega-ciclismo-denuncia-luci-alla-commissione-europea.
 Article 165(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, OJ 2012 C 326.
 See David Meca-Medina and Igor Majcen v. Commission of the European Communities (Case C-519/04 P) EU:C:2006:492, paras. 43– 54.
 International Skating Union’s Eligibility Rules (Case COMP/AT.40208), Commission decision of December 8, 2017.