By Hedwig Kröner
Team directors of the Swedish ProTour squad Unibet.com have now finally received an official order from French prefectural authorities, which states that the team cannot, at the moment, advertise the name of its sponsor at races in France. On the morning of stage two of the Etoile de Bessèges event in Nîmes, team manager Jacques Hanegraaf was given the order by the sub prefect himself, and had to ask his riders to put on the generic "question-mark" jersey.
"An official paper from the French state; that was what we were still waiting for," commented Hanegraaf to L'Equipe. "Now at least we can look at how we can follow up this affair on the judicial level. The team will race through the end of the event without advertising, just as our in-race cars." At the ongoing event, team Unibet.com is thus referred to as 'the Swedish team' on race radio.
Gambling is in fact legally prohibited in France, as in most European countries - only the French state lottery Française des Jeux, horse race betting institution PMU (which sponsors the Tour de France) and the Casinos benefit from a derogation. As Unibet.com is an online gambling company, thus accessible from French territory via internet, Française des Jeux has engaged in legal action against the company, as well as other sports betting internet websites such as bwin.com. Belgian state lottery Lotto (co-sponsor of ProTour team Predictor) is not in the same situation, as it does not provide an internet platform allowing play.
Now, it is up to the European Commission to rule on the subject, with some observers saying that a liberalisation of the gaming market may be the outcome of the legal procedure.