New showjumping series gets go-ahead from Belgian authority

Simon Delestre and Ryan Des Hayettes during the Global Champions Tour in Antwerp earlier this year.
Simon Delestre and Ryan Des Hayettes during the Global Champions Tour in Antwerp earlier this year. © Stefano Grasso/LGCT

A new showjumping league will launch next year after the FEI was ordered by the Belgian Competition Authority to allow riders to take part.

The ruling follows a complaint laid in June by organisers of the Global Champions League over the FEI’s so-called “exclusivity clause” which prohibits riders, horses, and officials from taking part in any non-FEI-approved event for six months before their participation in an FEI event.

The Global Champions League, developed by the Global Champions Tour, argued that, given the year-round nature of world-class competitive showjumping, the exclusivity clause effectively bans riders from taking part in non-FEI events.

In its interim measures ruling, the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) ordered the FEI to suspend its exclusivity clause with regard to the Global Champions League pending the investigation into the GCL’s complaint.

The ruling by the BCA means that the Global Champions League will now launch in 2016. Riders will not be penalised by the FEI for taking part in the Global Champions League and the BCA has ordered the FEI to inform the national federations, riders, officials, and organisers of such in writing by August 31.

In 2016, the new Global Champions League will see team owners recruit star riders, selecting two riders from a squad of four to compete in each event, creating a new competition alongside the successful Global Champions Tour for individual riders.

GCT President Jan Tops said: “We welcome this important decision by the Belgian Competition Authority, which now gives us a clear path to launch the Global Champions League in 2016.

“It is important to note that the decision of the BCA is in clear recognition that without the suspension of the exclusivity clause it would have been impossible to go ahead. I am happy that there is now clarity for all the riders and our stakeholders and we look forward to delivering fantastic competition for the enjoyment of everyone.

“We look forward to continuing to transform the sport we love to ensure a bright and healthy future for everyone involved in showjumping around the world.”

Frank H. McCourt, Jr., co-owner of GCT said: “This decision by the Belgian Competition Authority represents a historic and transformative moment in the sport of show jumping.  It sends a strong and decisive message that fair play and open competition matter as much in show jumping as they do in football, cricket, basketball, and every other global sport.

“We thank the BCA for recognizing the validity of our case and for ordering the removal of the restrictions placed by the FEI upon the riders wanting to participate in the Global Champions League.”

The BCA’s interim measures ruling states that the exclusivity clause is suspended, in as much as it applies to riders participating in the Global Champions League, until after the clause’s legality has been examined by the Belgian Competition Authority. During the investigation of the complaint introduced by the GCL, the FEI is prohibited from suspending or sanctioning, directly or indirectly (via the national federations), in any way whatsoever, athletes because of their participation in an event organised in the framework of the Global Champions League.

The decision by the Belgian Competition Authority, which is responsible for safeguarding and promoting an effective competition on Belgian territory, is binding across the sport due to the international nature of show jumping, in the same way as soccer’s Bosman ruling in a Belgian court impacted on players’ contract-related freedom across the game.

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