PBA NEWS

Notice to UMB by PBA`s law firm in Belgium

date 2019-04-11       hits 1558

this is a PBA`s notice about UMB sanctions against players participating in the PBA Tour


the original letter is attached


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We represent the Professional Billiards Association (“PBA”), the Korean Billiards Players Association (“KBPA”) and other European billiard players in connection with the above-referenced matter.  
 
As you may be well aware through news media that the PBA will be launching a new professional billiards tour (“PBA Tour”), the very first professional carom billiards tour, for billiard players around the world, aiming to develop and grow the global billiards industry.  The PBA Tour intends to bring about the growth of the overall billiards market, its ultimate goal, through stabilization and expansion.  In particular, the PBA Tour seeks to achieve this goal by, inter alia, increasing prize money annually, broadcasting the tour worldwide, securing general enterprise sponsors (besides companies manufacturing/selling billiard products), and exposing to more media coverages.  Through such endeavors of the PBA Tour in expanding the whole billiards industry, billiard sport itself will further grow and develop for the benefit of all players, fans and relevant parties in the industry. 
 
Not only will the PBA Tour draw old billiards fans but it will also attract more new viewers and consumers in their twenties to forties, and through this fan base, the PBA Tour will win over more sponsorships from diverse enterprises which will enable them to increase prize money and number of competitions annually.  Ultimately, such increases will boost players’ performance and more fans will find billiards more entertaining and enjoyable, and through this virtuous cycle, billiards will develop into a sustainable sport in the end.


The first PBA Tour season is scheduled for June 2019 and the 2019-20 season will consist of 8~10 tours at maximum and the number of tours per season will gradually increase thereafter, with up to 24~30 tours a year, which will take place both in Korea and anywhere else in the world.  In the case of the 2019-20 season, the total prize money for a “regular tour” is KRW 200~300 million and the total prize money for a “major tour” is KRW 300~400 million, which will be distributed according to rankings.  Based on the stable operation of the PBA Tour, it is also planning to run a billiard professional team league comprised of local governments, local leagues, general enterprises, etc., tentatively to be held in 2020~21.  Such operation and diversification of tours will lead to diversification of contents available to billiard fans all over the world, and the fans can then enjoy billiards with more zest utilizing such contents.
 
The PBA Tour will assure the sustainability of the professional tours, the age-old dream of both billiard players and fans, and will also assure billiard players’ right to freely participate in all competitions (e.g. PBA, UMB).  Moreover, for mutual growth of professional and amateur billiards, the PBA Tour will spare no effort in vitalizing tours for students and women by every means possible, including broadcasting on TV channels, and will also co-host world-class competitions.  As such, by professionalizing billiards, the PBA Tour will lead continuous development of the whole billiards industry desired by all billiard players, fans and relevant parties.
 
Hence, in an effort to realize the long-cherished dream of everyone involved in the billiard industry, the professionalization of billiards, promoters of the PBA (“PBA Promoters”) had several discussions and meetings with the Union Mondiale de Billiard (“UMB”) and its commercial partners, Kozoom Korea and Kozoom France, over the past few years since August 2017 till March 2019 to discuss its plans for the PBA Tour in harmony with the UMB event calendar.  Also, as part of its effort to successfully launch the PBA Tour, the PBA Promoters had meetings with leading players as well, including the players based in Europe, to have them sign for the PBA Tour.
 
Yet, contrary to the PBA Promoters and UMB’s discussions, the UMB representatives have been making negative comments against the PBA Tour in public which in turn interfered with launching the PBA Tour.  For instance, according to a report by Kozoom posted on February 21, 20191, during the closing ceremony of the Antalya World Cup, the UMB President, Mr. Farouk Barki stated referring to the PBA Tour "We will not hesitate to suspend players for extended periods if they participate in these unauthorized events.''  And CEB President, Mrs. Diane Wild, confirmed by stating "It is clear that the CEB will fully support the UMB. A UMB sanction will be automatically applied at CEB and national level.  Exactly as the opposite would also be the case, a player suspended by his federation would be de facto suspended by CEB and therefore by UMB.''
 
Mr. Barki further added "It was our first task to warn players about the dangers of a transition. We don't accept, and I say we never will, that players will play for an organization in tournaments that are not sanctioned by the UMB. They need to know that we will take huge sanctions, and not only suspend players, but we will not allow them to come back for years…Playing for this other club of organizers, means that they will not be allowed anymore to play tournaments or competitions anywhere else, in any country."


On top of the above and many other news articles reporting on official comments made by the UMB and its member federations and commercial partners, according to a report by 3-Cushion Billiards posted on March 4, 20192, “The reaction by the UMB was swift and negative. The UMB declared that any player who jumped to the new organization would be banned from UMB competition for years. That looming threat caused several players to declare they would not play in the new league. Others have stayed on the sidelines waiting to see if this if[is] for real before publicly declaring their loyalty.”
 
As illustrated above, the UMB made it clear in public that the PBA Tour is unsanctioned and thus any player participating in it will be banned from all events sanctioned by the UMB.  The UMB did not stop there but approached individual players and warned of one-year suspension for participating in one unsanctioned event.  And consequently, the UMB’s threat to ban a player who participates in one PBA Tour event from participating in UMB events for one year hindered the players from signing for the PBA Tour which in result interfered with launching the PBA Tour itself despite all efforts to contract the top players to successfully launch the PBA Tour.  In the event the PBA Tour never launches due to the UMB’s severe penalties above, this certainly would lead to tremendous losses suffered by the PBA and the players, both monetarily and in terms of reputation.
 
Aside from making such menacing official comments, during his discussions with the PBA Promoters in 2017, the UMB President, Mr. Barki, has demanded EUR 1.7 million for the year 2018 with annual increments of EUR 100,000 thereafter for sanctioning the PBA Tour. Even after a few years of discussions and negotiations, Mr. Barki persisted in demanding the same sanctioning fee of EUR 1.7 million which he requested again during the last meeting with the PBA Promoters on March 1, 2019.  The meeting was over due to such demand for the absurd amount of money and his continuous negative remarks about the PBA Tour.  
 
Along with the UMB’s negative public comments against the PBA Tour, according to the same report by Kozoom referenced above3, Mr. Xavier Carrer, Founder and CEO of Kozoom Group, the UMB’s commercial partner, made a malicious remark against the PBA Tour "Bravo&New has a very aggressive strategy to take over the billiards market. They don't care about the UMB and the consequences of their business outside Korea. Their Business Model is not only based on media market but also the equipment business. Why would they buy Kimchi Billiards if it's not to sell cues and tables?''  He went on and added “their strategy is to organize these long tournaments to broadcast many matches on their TV channel and make the promotion of their tables, cues and accessories…It is clear that Bravo&New, together with Kimchi, have decided to destroy what UMB and Kozoom built up the past years to make billiards more professional. For that, they use Frédéric Caudron as their main ambassador to persuade top players to leave the UMB…They are not dealing with rookies. Players know the risk is very high and they will be smart enough to protect their interests.''  
 
Such misleading and insulting statements of Mr. Carrer in public depicted BNEW as an avaricious entity jumping into the billiard industry only chasing money.  This apparently is not true as BNEW is investing a significant amount of money, time and labor to further develop the sport, to make it more sustainable and ultimately to benefit the whole billiards industry by professionalizing billiards as described above in detail.


There is no question that a player’s freedom to participate in any competition and freedom to contract with any organization should be guaranteed which will open up new sources of income and attract more fans eventually. The PBA has been working feverishly longing to promote billiards as one of the top five professional sports along with football, baseball, volleyball and basketball by launching the PBA Tour offering more opportunities for all billiard players, attracting more fans and sponsors, which will ultimately benefit the whole billiard industry and possibly the entire world of sports in general.  The UMB, on the other hand, without giving justification, has been threatening to ban the players from participating in any events not sanctioned by the UMB rather than cooperating with the PBA to further develop the industry.
 
In April 7, 2019 UMB had sent a so -called “Information Statement” to 9 Players with a copy to Aplayers Federations and UMB Board which states that those Players will be prohibited from participate in UMB competition for up to three years.
 
The UMB’s threat interferes with launching the PBA Tour preventing to the PBA from attracting top players.  And such conduct of the UMB is in clear breach of the EU competition rules regulating anticompetitive behaviors since it has “limited the development of alternative and innovative” billiard competitions, “restrict[ed] the commercial freedom of athletes who are prevented from participating in independent” billiard competitions, and “deprived” billiard fans from following other events.  The International Skating Union (“ISU”) case shows that the UMB’s behavior is in breach of the EU competition rules. The ISU rules impose severe penalties up to a lifetime ban from all major international speed skating events on speed skaters participating in competitions that are not sanctioned by the ISU.  When the case was brought to the European Commission, it ruled in 2017 that “the ISU rules imposing severe penalties on athletes participating in speed skating competitions that are not authorised by the ISU are in breach of EU antitrust law. The ISU must now change these rules.”4
 
Thus, to be compliant with the EU Commission Decision rendered on December 8, 2017 and subsequent discussions with the EU Commission, the ISU amended Rule 107 paragraph 13 of the  2016 ISU General Regulations in respect to Open International Competition and announced the amendment in ISU Communication No. 21715, which basically requires not to unreasonably withhold or deny approval of an application duly made by a third party.  Furthermore, in the Communication, the ISU expressly specified that “any application submitted by a third party pursuant to this Communication will be treated in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner as compared to applications submitted by ISU Members for any corresponding event on the ISU Calendar.”
 
Similarly, in the case of the Federation Internationale De Natation (“FINA”), an international swimming federation, Olympic and world champions filed an antitrust suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December 2018 after the FINA's threats to ban swimmers who competed in the International Swimming League (“ISL”) event.  The ISL also filed a separate suit against FINA in the same Court.  Subsequent to filing of the suit, the FINA confirmed "FINA acknowledges that swimmers are free to participate in competitions or events staged by independent organizers."6
 
In addition to the general trend in the sports industry evidenced in the foregoing cases, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (“ASOIF”) recently urged International Federations (“IFs”) to cooperate with private entities.  As the UMB states it is part of the Olympic Movement7, it should be taking note of the report on Future of Global Sport 2019 issued by ASOIF which specifically states that “IFs will need to develop a more proactive, creative, commercially driven and collaborative mind set, re-evaluating their role and strategies in favour of increased partnership and collaboration with the private sector.”8  One of the notable points is that the current trend is not limited to one specific sport nor one particular country but it covers all IFs around the world irrespective of the type of sport and country so long as IFs rules are found to be in breach of the competition rules.


In an effort to amicably resolve the dispute over the sanction, the PBA is willing to work with the UMB to reach a mutually agreeable solution.  The negotiation would cover points such as integrity rules (e.g. anti-doping), a reasonable amount of sanctioning fee and scheduling the PBA events in line with the UMB calendar to respect the UMB’s current competition schedule.  Moreover, the PBA and the UMB would also discuss their close collaboration in adding billiards to the 2032 Olympic Games as an official Olympic sport.
 
Furthermore, the PBA requests the UMB to recognize the PBA as its partner in equal terms, cease its unlawful conduct, grant the PBA Tour all necessary sanctions and state such publicly enabling players to participate in the PBA Tour, and completely exclude the UMB’s commercial partners from the negotiation with the PBA.
 
Please respond by April [*], 2019 in respect to the above, and in the event UMB fails to respond by such date, our clients will take any actions or legal proceedings as necessary, including filing proceedings with the court and competition regulators, to protect its rights and to recover damages for losses the PBA has suffered.
 
This includes of course also proceedings in order to obtain an injunction against UMB.
 
 
 
Sincerely yours, 
 
  
Patrick Marnef  / Roeland Moeyerson