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Waterloo for Unibet, ASO and UCI?
 
By Podofdonny
Date: 3/6/2007
Waterloo for Unibet, ASO and UCI?
 

"…whereas the Battle of Waterloo 1815 saw the final defeat of the French Emperor , the battle of Brussels Airport 2007 saw a short term victory for common sense without solving any of the problems which had caused the impasse in the first place……"
Unibet.com (c) Unibet.

Belgium has been described as the “Cockpit of Europe”, since it has been the scene of so many battles between the Powers of Europe

On Monday it was not Napoleon versus Wellington on the fields of Waterloo of 1815, but rather the giants of cycling who faced a final showdown.

History repeats itself, and it was again a Frenchman, Patrice Clerc (ASO), and an Irishman (and another Dubliner ) Pat McQuaid (UCI) who lead their assembled allies into battle.

However, whereas the Battle of Waterloo 1815 saw the final defeat of the French Emperor , the battle of Brussels Airport saw a short term victory for common sense without solving any of the problems which had caused the impasse in the first place.

The agreement reached by the UCI's Pat McQuaid and Alain Rumpf, Patrice Clerc (ASO), Angelo Zomegnan (RCS Sport) and Victor Cordero (Unipublic), as well as the crucial input of IPCT representatives Patrick Lefevere and his lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, can be summed up as:

The 18 Pro Tour teams have the automatic right to start in the events of the 3 Major Tour organizations which will remain on the UCI calendar.

The 2 remaining teams Astana and Unibet, will be looked upon favourably by the Major Tour organisers but legal problems will be taken into account (such as the legality of advertising on line gambling)

Further talks will take place in September.

Reactions

Of course, for the majority of Pro Tour Teams the agreement is a huge relief.

The mood was summed up by T-Mobile Team sports director Rolf Aldag.

"For the sake of the sport of cycling we are delighted that a solution could be found,"

The big loosers were Unibet.com who have invested €32 million ($42 million) to be a part of the ProTour and now find they could be excluded from some of the biggest races.

Their website issued this statement –

The ProTour cycling team Unibet, managed by Green Cycle Associates AB, has learned from the agreement between ASO, RCS, Unipublic, the IPCT and the UCI, that it is still up to the Great Tour organizers to decide if the team would be granted a « wild card » to participate in races part of the international (PT?) calendar.

Today we will not further comment on the issue as we, the team management, investigate our legal and regulatory position and options.

In case you would be interested in additional reflections regarding our actual position we welcome the press tomorrow afternoon at 2 PM . Koen Terryn, Jacques Hanegraaf and Christophe Depretere (legal counsellor) will attend the press conference.

It is very likely that Unibet.com will contest the “Brussels Airport” agreement.

If sporting merit is a question for selection to the world’s greatest races then Unibet.com, who have an investment programme in cycling worth 32 million euros , and have been at the top end of the action throughout the weekend’s racing should be a safe bet.

If the Unibet Team are not allowed to race in France, where advertising on line gaming without a licence is illegal, then Koen Terryn, of Unibet.com raised an interesting point when talking to Het Nieuwsblad ,

« If ‘La Française des Jeux’ cycling team start the Tour de France 2007 in London, they will be breaking British Law. «

The « Battle of Brussels », unlike Waterloo, is certainly not the last battle in this war.

The Fog of law

Various website and newspapers have quoted this reference,

. Oddly enough, the French law in question is a 19th century regulation that bans the promotion of gambling, including "lotteries," which could conceivably ban participation by two long-time pro teams, Française des Jeux and Predictor-Lotto

The Daily Peloton is no expert on French Law, but this statement is both inaccurate and misleading.

The Law is much older than that -

The French state's role in controlling the country's $24 billion gambling market has evolved little since 1539. That's when King Francois I established a lottery in Paris to stamp out ``charlatans'' so his subjects didn't ``spend their time, labour, virtues and necessaries in games of hazard,'' (Web site of La Francaise des Jeux)

Unibet, ASO and the Jack of Hearts.- 2 March 2007


Unibet.com (c) Unibet.

The ongoing dispute between the race organisers and the UCI is not yet resolved.

Team managers postponed any decisions over the Paris Nice Race and asked for a conciliation meeting with the International Cycling Union (UCI) and event organisers.

This meeting will now take place on Monday.

The arguments over who should be allowed to participate in the week long race, which starts on March 11, have been continuing since January.

Organisers ASO, who also run the Tour de France, rejected the race application of Swedish team Unibet.com.

Unibet.com

The Daily Peloton has, quite rightly, published the Unibet.com statement which points out not only their commitment to cycling sport at the top level, but also their desire and attitude to develop the sport.

However, the decision to grant Unibet.com Pro Tour status was a surprise to many observers. Not because they did not immaculately meet the conditions for selection but rather because of the nature of their business. On line gambling.

Internet gambling means big business around the world. Online gaming sites have been a rapid growth area over the last ten years and several Governments world wide started a clampdown on their activities

Even prior to the Safe Port legislation of September 2006, the USA Government was taking a tougher stance against On Line gaming organisations, usually prosecuting under the 1961 Wire Act, which prohibits inter-state telephone betting. Alongside moral issues the USA Government is concerned that some internet gambling sites could be used for money laundering operations, to sponsor terroism.

Either in response, or in harmony with the USA clampdown, the French Government, made it illegal to advertise or promote gambling in France without a French gaming licence and began its own purge in September 2006.

Two directors of Austrian online gambling company Bwin, who where heading to AS Monaco soccer club, were put in prison for illicitly offering gambling services in France.

The French Government, which ultimately controls both PMU and FdJ.com (both Cycling sponsors) is keen to protect it’s own interests.

With sales of €8.93 billion in 2005, La Française des Jeux is a leader among the world's lotteries. It is No. 1 for instant scratch games and in fifth place in the overall league table of lottery operating countries, after the United States, Italy, Spain and Germany.

In 2005, La Française des Jeux contributed 2.33 billion euros to the public purse through levies on wagers.This money goes to the French general budget, or to sports or welfare.

With such high stakes it is a fair bet that the legal disputes between the On Line Gambling Industry and European Nations who make their activities illegal will be lengthy, costly and controversial in the European Courts. The European Commission has indicated that private online gambling sites cannot have less access to bettors than the state-run lottery monopolies that generate billions in tax revenue for most European countries.

With such a background, and with race organisers and racing cyclists, all considering that 18 Pro Tour Teams was enough, the decision of the UCI to grant Unibet.com a Pro Tour Licence was always going to be a contentious issue.

To endanger cycling, and its major races, into becoming a test case for lawyers contesting the legalities of on line betting in the European Courts, is a controversy that cycling could well do without.

Especially since it was an entirely self inflicted wound.

As we understand the present laws in France, if ASO allow Unibet.com to ride in Paris Nice they will be breaking French Law.

How can the UCI demand that race organisers break the laws of their own lands?

The moral question

Surely there is a moral question about sponsorship?

Cigarettes? Alcohol? Drugs? Betting? At what point does a sponsor become unacceptable?

The public’s perception of sporting sponsorship has become far more sophisticated and judgemental over the past 50 years.

In the mid seventies, the worlds greatest ever cyclist, Eddy Merckx figured in some television commercials for cigarettes; an act for which he was criticized and which he now regrets. Since that time Governments world wide and sporting organisations have increasingly clamped down on avertisers and sponsors who they consider do not reflect either the health and well being of the nation or the sporting aspirations they are trying to encourage.

Many people have grave concerns over on line gambling, and that is surely an issue that the UCI must have taken into account when they awarded Unibet.com their Pro Tour licence.

Unibet.com have made it very clear under their rule 6.9.1 that “Unibet does not offer any bets including the team or any rider representing the cycling team Unibet.com.”

Yet when their riders are in race they must have an influence on the final result.

With the legalities of on line betting in Europe in dispute, the moral issue of gambling and possible accusations of vested interest, it is easy to see why some race organisers are less than keen to invite Unibet.com to their races.


Unibet.com (c) Unibet.

 
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