Anti-doping Revisited: The Demise of the Rule of ‘Purely Sporting Interest’?

  • Stephen Weatherill
Part of the ASSER International Sports Law Series book series (ASSER)


On 18 July 2006 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) set aside the decision of the Court of First Instance (CFI) in Meca-Medina and Majcen v. Commission. Before the CFI the applicants, who are professional swimmers, had unsuccessfully applied for annulment of the Commission’s decision to reject their complaint that bans imposed on them for violation of the sport’s anti-doping rules contravened EC competition law. The swimmers also failed before the ECJ which, having set aside the CFI’s judgment, dismissed the application for annulment of the Commission’s Decision. However, the ECJ’s ruling is significant for rejecting the CFI’s relatively generous approach to the scope of sporting autonomy to apply rules with economic effects. In what may prove to be the most enduring phrase in the judgment, the ECJ ruled that ‘the mere fact that a rule is purely sporting in nature does not have the effect of removing from the scope of the Treaty the person engaging in the activity governed by that rule or the body which has laid it down’. The ECJ’s approach is in line with that suggested in this Review by the present author in a critical comment on the CFI’s decision, but the purpose of this contribution is not simply to reflect on (what I consider to be) a helpful correction to the basis of interaction between EC competition law and sport, but rather also to look forward to future challenges. The practical effect of Meca-Medina and Majcen, as an authoritative statement of the limits of sporting autonomy under EC competition law, is to assert EC law’s firm grip over the choices available to governing bodies, and this has important implications inter alia for the looming litigation arising out of FIFA’s rules compelling football clubs to release their players for international representative matches.


Competition Rule Treaty Provision Sport Federation Conditional Autonomy Sport Body 
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Copyright information

© T.M.C. ASSER PRESS, The Hague, The Netherlands, and the authors 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Somerville CollegeOxfordUK

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