October 05, 2015

BRUSSELS (AP) The European Union on Monday opened an antitrust case against the International Skating Union for alleged abuse of its position following complaints by two Dutch speedskaters they were threatened with a life ban if they competed in races not sanctioned by the world federation.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said her office will investigate whether the ISU is trying ''to enforce a monopoly'' by threatening lifetime bans against skaters.

Mark Tuitert, the 2010 Olympic champion over 1,500 meters, and Niels Kerstholdt wanted to join a novel South Korean competition in Dubai, the Icederby, but say they were threatened with a ban if they did. A life ban would kick them out of the world championships and Olympics, which is still the lifeblood of the sport and the best opportunities for professionals to make a living.

Vestager said ''athletes can only compete at the highest level for a limited numbers of years, so there must be good reasons for preventing them.''

The Icederby offers prize money of 2 million dollars, and the ISU has said it fears it would become a target for betting.

''The ISU is confident that its rules comply with EU competition law and are necessary to protect skaters from the grave risks posed by corruption in sport,'' the federation said in a statement.

Many top skaters have long protested that the ISU is not moving with the times and complain about a stranglehold which keeps them from reaching their full professional potential. Outside Olympic years, long-track speedskating finds it tough to find appeal outside its traditional hotbed of the Netherlands.

Tuitert welcomed the EU's decision to challenge the ISU.

''It's a breakthrough we have been waiting a long time for,'' he said, adding that while he has retired from the sport, ''the complaint is also for volunteers, coaches and everybody involved'' in speedskating.

Tuitert said it is ''a grave injustice that we are threatened with a lifetime ban.''

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Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague, the Netherlands.

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