Tour de France team hit by gambling controversy
The Tour de France bicycle race has once again been hit by controversy. But this time it is not over drugs but gambling; as the European Commission rides to the rescue of a team banned for being sponsored by an online bookmaker.
France's restrictive gaming laws have led tour organisers to block a team backed by Unibet, a Malta-based gambling company, from entering July's competition. Charlie McCreevy, the European Union's internal market commissioner, has written to lawyers of the Green Cycle team and the International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body, pledging his support.
He is already taking Paris to court for protecting its national gambling monopolies against online competition and says he will seek to broaden the case to include this restriction.
McCreevy detects more than a whiff of hypocrisy, given that the biggest backer of the tour is the PMU, the French horse racing monopoly, which encourages bets on the race.
“The consistency of the French approach is highly questionable, given that other teams sponsored by gaming operators in France, such as the Francaise des Jeux (lottery operators), are permitted to participate and given that the main sponsor of the event is in fact a gaming operator, the PMU.” says the letter. ”The Belgian national lottery also has a team.” he adds.
Green Cycle, which joined the professional tour this year, has recently been banned from two races through the Belgian Ardennes by Amaury Sport Organisation, which also stages the Tour de France, even though it had offered to remove the Unibet logo from its jerseys. It is suing for $6.8 million in damages.
The sports group says that permitting the team to race would leave it vulnerable to prosecution in France for aiding and abetting illegal gambling.
“It's as if they said in a bar, 'Beer is dangerous if you drink the other fellow's brand but not if you drink my brand',” McCreevy's spokesman said. “States are free to control gambling, but it must not be discriminatory.”
McCreevy also objects to France's flexing its muscle beyond its borders. "The Tour de France runs through Britain and Belgium and is broadcast worldwide. The French state is trying to extend its cozy arrangement to other countries," the spokesman said.