Asks if Predictor-Lotto are now also illegal?
By Shane Stokes
Following Friday's decision by a judge in Nanterres to dismiss Unibet.com's case trying to force ASO to allow the team ride Paris-Nice, a response has been issued on the squad's website.
Earlier this year the team used non-branded jerseys to get around an 1836 law protecting state monopolies on gambling. However, despite being told by the police that these complied with the law, the latest court action has turned that situation around.
"At stake is our team's right to freely exercise its sporting business," said the Unibet.com squad in the press release. "Till now, it would have been unthinkable that the US Postal team would not have been entitled to race in Germany for not having a German postal license. It would have been unthinkable that Deutsche Telekom would not have been entitled to race in France for not being notified or licensed as a French telecoms operator. It would be unthinkable that Bayer Leverkusen could not play a Champions League game in Belgium because its "Bayer" sponsoring goes against the Belgian law on advertising of medicines."
"[The team] it is currently the victim of the discriminatory behaviour of Amaury Sport Organisation. ASO, organiser of Paris-Nice and the Tour de France, has found itself supported by the local Public Prosecutor. The Public Prosecutor did indeed decide to intervene in the court hearing of the eighth of March, and his argumentation denied the riders the right to participate, this even in neutral jerseys. This reasoning has been adopted in today's decision. For the President, it seems that the jersey without the Unibet brand is 'a pretence for clever and slanted publicity!'"
In a week when a similar monopoly in Italy was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice, prompting speculation that such protectionism could soon be phased out due to actions being taken by the European Commission, the team was not impressed with the turn of events. Indeed the action could have far-reaching consequences, with general manager Koen Terryn pointing out on Friday that Champions' League football teams Werder Bremen and AC Milan are sponsored by Bwin. Will they now also be prohibited from playing on French soil?
Saturday's press release continued by saying that Predictor-Lotto's participation in Paris-Nice will make ASO accomplices in breaking the same law. It points out that the Belgian National Lottery has no licence in France, something it says makes "its brand and advertising as such also illegal."
Team lawyer Richard Milchior said that Unibet.com has made sure that this apparent contradiction has been highlighted. "At the court hearing of March 8th, we have presented a bailiff's report documenting a possible breach of the law of 1836, consisting inter alia of the availability of the Internet site of the Belgian Lotto in France", he stated.
The team will hope in the short term that another legal avenue can be found to enable them to race on French soil. Longer term, management, riders and lawyers will look to the European Commission's expected action to investigate whether monopolies such as that protected by the French state are illegal under restriction of trade legislation.