On its website, www.unibetcycling.com, the Unibet Professional Cycling Team cited "unjustified exclusion ... from ProTour races organized by the 'Big Tours' (ASO, Unipublic, RCS)," as a factor in the decision to end the team's sponsorship.
In December 2006, the squad was awarded a ProTour license by the UCI and along with that the "right and obligation to start in world's highest cycling competitions." The team fell victim to an ongoing power struggle between the UCI and Grand Tour organizers and was prevented from starting several major races throughout the season. French organizers often refused to invite the team, citing French laws prohibiting the advertising of foreign gambling.
At the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise, the team was only allowed to compete in a jersey with out the team name. It raced in jerseys with question marks. In fact, Unibet's participation in just about every subsequent ProTour event would be in question, and the "exclusion was repeated by ASO for other races in France and Belgium." Perhaps the most significant exclusion was not being invited to the Tour de France.
"This mutually-taken decision was a very difficult one, but as the team and the individual riders had been excluded to compete for discriminatory and inconsistent reasons, Unibet had no other choice," said Petter Nylander, CEO of Unibet, an online sports betting site listed on the Stockholm stock exchange
The International Herald Tribune reported that Unibet on Wednesday had released a disappointing earnings report that missed market expectations and that Nylander attributed the squad's woes to increasing Unibet's legal expenses.
Although Unibet is withdrawing from ProTour team sponsorship, the company has not ruled out participation in sports in general. Citing its passion for sports, the organization said it "continues to defend its vision to develop winning synergies between the company and the world of sports."
This withdrawal was not a surprise to the team or many fans. Team manager Koen Terryn told VRT the decision was expected.
Unibet's withdrawal of sponsorship comes less than a week after ProTour team Discovery Channel announced it was disbanding. Team Astana is also at risk for losing its ProTour license in the wake of several recent doping scandals. There were 20 ProTour teams going into the 2007 season.
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