Regulations of Belgian Billiards Association found in breach of EU antitrust law

We are proud to announce that Tist Schoeters and Jonathan Himpe successfully represented BC MISTER 100, the billiard club of 35-time World Champion Raymond Ceulemans, in landmark proceedings before the Belgian Court of Arbitration for Sport (BCAS).

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Over the past few months, the club was embroiled in a fierce legal battle with the Belgian Billiards Association after it decided to cover its billiard tables with non-approved (synthetic) billiard cloth produced and distributed by a competitor of the sponsor of the Belgian Billiards Association. As a result, all matches that were played on non-regulatory cloth were sanctioned a forfeit to the detriment of the home player.

The arbitral award of 14 May 2019

In a well-reasoned arbitral award of 14 May 2019, the BCAS ruled that the Belgian Billiards Association – which as an umbrella federation has a monopoly on the governance of billiards in Belgium – has abused its dominant position by categorically approving only one specific brand of billiard cloth for the competitions it organizes. By doing so, competition in the related market for the sale of billiard cloth is distorted according to the BCAS. In the absence of any objective justification, the BCAS found such anti-competitive business practices explicitly in breach with Belgian and EU antitrust rules (articles IV.1 WER and 102 TFEU).

Referring to the Meca-Medina ruling of the European Court of Justice (case C-519/04 P), the BCAS also recalled that EU law prevails over the regulations of sports federations. Accordingly, the mere fact that a rule of the Belgian Billiards Association would be purely sporting in nature does not have the effect of making the antitrust rules inapplicable.

What is extremely interesting for similar restrictive conditions that may be contained in regulations of other billiards associations is that the BCAS clearly states that its conclusion would not have been different if the Belgian Billiards Association would only approve billiard cloth made of wool (instead of cloth from one specific brand), since it has not been demonstrated that there is any objective justification for the use of such fabric. In that respect, the BCAS notes that it has not been proven that synthetic cloth would have a negative influence on the course of the ball and/or could lead to match fixing. On the contrary, the BCAS established that countless official matches are being played abroad on synthetic sheets, which shows that the criteria applied by the Belgian Billiards Association are arbitrary in nature and therefore cannot be objectively justified.

Relevance

The relevance and importance of this decision cannot be overestimated, since once again a clear position has been taken regarding the application of competition law within the sports industry. This award will undoubtedly be of significant precedent value for future disputes.

The integral decisioncan be found on the BCAS webpage (Dutch only) .

Tist Schoeters

Partner

Jonathan Himpe

Partner

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