Competition Law and Sports Governance: Disentangling a Complex Relationship

37 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2022 Last revised: 4 Aug 2022

Date Written: June 7, 2022


Cases like International Skating Union and Super League show that the application of EU competition law to rules adopted by sports governing bodies is complex and occasionally controversial. This article discusses the peculiarities of sports as an activity and addresses the implications for Articles 101 and 102 TFEU. It shows, first, that the relationship between individual participants in a tournament is best described as co-opetitive, in the sense that their viability and success depend on sustained cooperation. Second, the emergence of a regulatory structure is inevitable. Third, tensions – of a horizontal and a vertical nature – are bound to emerge within an association. These tensions are explained, inter alia, by the opportunistic behaviour of individual participants (which may seek to benefit from the joint venture while simultaneously undermining it).

The case law accounts for the peculiarities of sports. Measures aimed at addressing opportunistic conduct within a cooperative structure (such as the non-compete obligations imposed by governing bodies) do not have, as their object, the restriction of competition and do not invariably have anticompetitive effects, which are to be established case-by-case. Absent exclusive or special rights, moreover, governing bodies are not subject to a general duty of non-discrimination vis-à-vis competing organisations.

Keywords: Article 101 TFEU, Article 102 TFEU, Sports, Governance, Co-opetition, Non-Compete, Opportunism, Football, Super League, UEFA

JEL Classification: K21, L14, L24, L41, L42, L83

Suggested Citation

Ibáñez Colomo, Pablo, Competition Law and Sports Governance: Disentangling a Complex Relationship (June 7, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Pablo Ibáñez Colomo (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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