The organisers of the Global Champions League have filed a complaint in Belgium, alleging that the FEI’s so-called exclusivity clause breaches European Union competition law.
The showjumping league and team competition confirmed on Monday that it filed its complaint with the Belgian Competition Authority in Brussels.
The complaint centres around the FEI’s so-called “exclusivity clause” on riders that prevents them competing in events not organised by the FEI itself.
The FEI exclusivity clause prohibits riders, horses, and officials from taking part in any non-FEI-approved event for six months prior to their participation in an FEI event.
The Global Champions League, developed by the Global Champions Tour, argues that, given the year-round nature of world class competitive showjumping, the exclusivity clause effectively bans riders from taking part in non-FEI events.
The complaint notes that the FEI acts both as the governing body of the sport, setting the rules for all competitions, while also running its own commercial showjumping events in competition with other organisations it governs.
FEI Secretary General Sabrina Zeender said her organisation had been notified of the complaint and had requested the full details. They were received last night.
“We have not yet had the opportunity to review them in full,” she said.
“The Global Champions Tour is one of a number of series that has been approved by the FEI. One of the roles of the FEI as the world governing body of equestrian sport is to make sure that the rules are fair and in the interests of the sport,” Zeender said.
“We always apply strict neutrality and the board of the FEI is competent to approve series in a very fair and transparent way.”
Global Champions Tour organisers say its complaint followed more than a year of talks between and the FEI. The backers of the new league format say it will invigorate showjumping and expand its reach and popularity around the world.
Team owners will recruit star riders, selecting two riders from a squad of four to compete in each week’s event, resulting in a new format.
The complaint includes a request for an interim injunction to prevent the FEI from penalising any riders, horses, owners or officials who participate in non-FEI approved events until the case is resolved.
The team competition, initially planned for a 2015 launch, was expected to build on the 10 years of the Global Champions Tour’s existing series, the current event calendar, and associated rider and horse travel arrangements.
However, as a result of the FEI not sanctioning the team competition to date, and further compounded by the challenge to riders, horses, and officials posed by the FEI’s exclusivity clause, the launch of the league and the team competition has been delayed pending a legal resolution.
Lawyer Jean Louis-Dupont, representing Global Champions League with Filip Tuytschaever, asserted that the FEI exclusivity clause was a clear breach of EU competition law and was therefore illegal.
“It stifles the ability to organise and market any events in competition to those run by the FEI itself. Recent precedents involving showjumping events in both Ireland and Italy back our case.”
Global Champions Tour president Jan Tops said: “The FEI has left us with no choice but to resort to legal action, as has been the case in other sports in similar situations, to overturn anti-competitive practices.
“For over a year we have entered into discussions in good faith with the FEI. We informed them of our intention to launch a team competition which has the support of riders and stakeholders and will bring about another much-needed revolution in our sport.
“In the spirit of compromise, we agreed to make some changes which it appears were designed to protect the FEI’s Nations Cup. However, since then the FEI has refused to give us the go-ahead and has caused us to postpone the launch at considerable expense.”
Global Champions Tour co-owner Frank McCourt said: “Jan and I share a vision for a new team-based competition that would bring more fans to showjumping across the world, generate a new level of excitement and energy around the sport, and redefine what it means to be an equestrian.
“Why the FEI would impede development of a new concept that will both advance the sport and benefit riders makes no sense unless their core mission is to protect their own commercial interests.
“Once we overcome this challenge, the real winner will be the sport of showjumping.”
Since 2006, the Global Champions Tour has offered unprecedented prize money to the world’s top riders and expanded the number of participants competing in stunning city venues across the world, including the use of indoor venues.
It says it has grown TV audiences, spectator attendances, and opened up new international markets such as China.
The tour was founded by Tops, the four-times Olympic equestrian and Dutch team gold medalist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.