The three-man appeal panel, chaired by James Dingemans QC, upheld the club’s claim that the scope and application of the primacy of tenure rule gave rise to an unjustified distortion of competition and that the rule was therefore “contrary to EU and UK competition law” and void.
The panel said the decision to uphold London Welsh’s appeal involved consideration of the current exemption enjoyed by three clubs already in the Premiership who do not have primacy of tenure. They determined there was “insufficient justification” for the “narrowness of that exemption” on aspirant championship clubs.
London Welsh, who have not featured in the Premiership before, will discover who they face on the opening day of next season when the fixtures are released this week.
The Pinsent Masons team advising London Welsh was led by Global Head of Sport Trevor Watkins, assisted by Andrew Herring, Charlotte English, James Earl and Kimberly Perry. The Blackstone Chambers team of Tom de la Mare QC and Tom Richards assisted.
Commenting on the appeal win, Trevor said: "The decision sets down clear principles on how sport should govern itself. It has been long acknowledged that sport needs and should have the leeway to organise its affairs in ways that might otherwise be deemed to be anti-competitive.
The decision makes clear, however, that careful consideration needs to be given to how this happens; whether a rule goes too far or indeed if the same end result can be achieved in a “better" way and offend legal principles less. If that balance is not struck correctly, a rule or principle is likely to be seen as unjustified distortion of competition.”
He added: “The decision has far reaching implications, not only for our clients, London Welsh, who can now look forward to their first season in the Aviva Premiership, but also for other sports bodies, competitions and teams as they look to plan, develop and improve.”