International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has called on national Olympic committees (NOCs) to defend what he called the “European sport model” from commercial bodies. Though Bach didn’t mention the specific organizations by name, the issue connects to the ongoing struggle between FINA and the ISL in swimming.
Bach addressed the European Olympic Committees General Assembly last week, warning that the current sport model faced “serious threat” from outside commercial organizations. Bach emphasized “the social contribution which sport makes to society all over Europe,” alleging that the outside bodies are ignoring the social contribution of sports and seeing them only as commercial assets, according to Inside the Games.
Bach specifically mentioned European basketball, which is in the midst of a conflict between the international basketball federation and Euroleague basketball. Earlier today, we examined a paper by an Italian legal expert, who wrote that the basketball federation created a Champions League that was in direct competition with European professional clubs, and that the international basketball federation “did not hesitate to put pressure on national federations threatening the possibility of excluding their national teams from participation in main competitions such as EuroBasket and the Olympic Games” in an attempt to force athletes to compete in the Champions League rather than the Euroleague events.
Inside the Games also mentions the National Hockey League (NHL)’s decision not to build a break into its season to allow players to compete in the 2018 Olympics, along with the current dispute between FINA and the International Swimming League, which has bubbled over into the threat of two-year suspensions for athletes who compete in next month’s unauthorized Energy for Swim meet in Italy. You can read all of our previous coverage of that dispute below:
- FINA rule interpretation could outlaw Energy for Swim meet
- Athletes could face 1-to-2-year bans if Energy for Swim isn’t approved
- ISL: FINA delaying agreement ‘because they know time is critical’
In his speech, Bach essentially sided with FINA in that dispute, calling on National Olympic Committees to work with governments to defend the current model from the commercial bodies he says threaten it. Per Inside the Games:
“We have to realise the model is under pressure, for not to say under threat,” Bach said. “We see a tendency from some Governments, and in particular the European Union, that the value of an organisation and an activity is not determined any more by its values and its contribution to a better society. But it is determined by money and markets.”
“They treat sport like any goods in life and speak of free trade and engagement,” Bach continued. “This is putting many of our sports organisations into trouble… We have to look into this and start defending our European sports model… It is in the interest of European society.”
Bach’s speech comes just under a year after a banner European Commission decision that forced the International Skating Union to change its rules punishing athletes for competing in unauthorized competitions. The Commission found those rules to be in violation of antitrust law, and at least one legal expert says that decision should also affect similar rules in swimming, gymnastics, hockey and cycling.