Tour de France and Paris-Nice organiser ASO asked MrBookmaker.com to be a sponsor of Paris-Nice in 2004, according to Koen Terryn, general manager of Unibet.com, which was formerly Mr.Bookmaker. ASO is still unwilling to let Unibet participate in the race, saying that the online gambling company is illegal in France.
"In 2004 we were told that PMU would stop sponsoring the sprinter's jersey in Paris-Nice," Terryn told Belgian Sportwereld. "The Belgian Daniel Marichal negotiated with us in the name of Jeanne Azarro, now retired, of ASO's marketing department. He personally came to our company headquarters for that purpose. Eventually we decided not to do it."
At the time, the conflict regarding online gambling companies throughout Europe had not yet grown large enough to prevent the websites from advertising in high-level sports. Since then, several European countries have prohibited companies like Bwin and Unibet.com to display their sponsorships of soccer or cycling teams in their respective countries, thereby protecting the states' monopoly of lottery and gambling. (For a wider perspective on the fight between Unibet, ASO and the UCI, click here.)
Still, Unibet.com is fighting for an entry in Paris-Nice, which starts this Sunday, and feels that it is treated unfairly. "We have already been riding with plain jerseys and cars," Terryn continued. "What more can we do?"
Unibet has asked a court in Paris to enforce its right to start in Paris-Nice. The last pleadings were held Thursday and a ruling is expected on Friday afternoon.