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Industrial Policy

Padel complaint filed with EU over restrictive contracts on brewer-backed circuit

The world’s top padel players and the sport’s international governing body have jointly submitted a competition complaint to the European Commission as the booming racquet sport becomes embroiled in a civil war.

According to a filing obtained by POLITICO, the padel players and the International Padel Federation (FIP) have accused Spanish brewer S.A. Damm’s Setpoint Events — which runs the World Padel Tour (WPT) outside the federation’s umbrella — of breaking EU law by distorting competition and abusing a dominant position. The filing alleges Setpoint is restricting WPT-contracted players’ ability to compete in rival tournaments for the hybrid of squash and tennis while threatening them with punitive financial sanctions should they do so.

The complaint lands shortly after the FIP and padel players launched a new circuit, known as the FIP Championship, run by the official federation and backed financially by Qatar Sports Investments — the owner of French football giant Paris Saint-Germain. The new padel circuit, which would increase prize money tenfold and create more high-profile tournaments, would be run under the auspices of the international federation, in line with the governance structure of other major sports. 

In the legal complaint, submitted to the Commission earlier this month, the players and the FIP want EU antitrust regulators to investigate “exclusivity provisions” in the World Padel Tour contracts and “grant interim measures preventing Setpoint from taking actions against players who seek to play in the FIP Championship and other padel tournaments or events.” 

The Commission can use so-called interim measures to intervene while a full investigation is ongoing. The Commission said it “received the complaint which we will assess based on our standard procedures.”

The complaint also alleges that the WPT contracts could cause “serious and irreparable damage” to the federation, players and the new circuit. “Setpoint has already demonstrated a willingness not only to refuse permission to players wishing to participate in competing tournaments and events but also to punish players that seek to do so,” according to the complaint.

The players and federation also claim that the WPT contracts “seriously restrict” the potential “commercial exploitation” of padel events.

Top padel players hit out at Setpoint Events in a letter dated February 14 and seen by POLITICO, charging that the company leveled “inappropriate and disproportionate” threats of punitive sanctions against them. 

In a statement on Wednesday, FIP President Luigi Carraro accused the World Padel Tour of running an “abusive and exploitative monopoly regime […] insulting the professional athletes and stifling the global growth and ambition of the sport.”

The Professional Padel Association said in a statement: “It shouldn’t take the European Commission to free the players and the sport of padel from this sorry situation, but the players will take whatever action needed to defend their livelihoods and to develop a better future for padel.”

A representative for the World Padel Tour did not respond to a request for comment.

EU competition regulators in Brussels have shown reluctance to act on complaints in the sports sector, but the Commission in 2017 ordered ice skating’s governing body to end “disproportionately punitive” sanctions for skaters who participate in events not authorized by the governing body.

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