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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 June 2007, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Unibet blasts cycling 'scandal'
Unibet team rider Gorik Gardeyn
The team won a four-year licence last year
An online gaming company has described a decision to ban the cycling team that it sponsors from next month's Tour de France, as "a scandal".

The Unibet team has been barred from the event because French rules outlaw advertising by foreign gambling firms.

Sweden-based Unibet said the injustice was compounded because the main sponsor of the Tour, which begins in London, is France's horse betting monopoly.

Race coordinator Christian Prudhomme said he was simply obeying French law.

'Real shame'

Unibet is the main sponsor of the Green Cycle team, which was awarded a four-year Pro Tour licence last year, giving it entry to major cycling events.

The team was allowed to compete in a race in Marseille in February, but the gaming firm's logos had to be removed from all clothing, company spokeswoman Inga Lundberg told the BBC.

She said race organisers had now insisted that the team would not be able to compete at all in the Tour de France - which starts in the UK before moving to France - even if it removed the logos and was not known as the Unibet team.

Its team of nine riders due to compete in the event includes one of the UK's top cyclists, Jeremy Hunt.

"This whole situation is a scandal," Ms Lundberg said.

"And for Jeremy not to be able to compete when the tour is in his own country would be a real shame for him.

"We really hope that the tour organisers will change their minds, but just don't know what will happen."

'Career damaging'

Team director Jacque Hanegraaf said that the decision would have an economic and personal impact on the team.

"We have not given up yet and for the team, taking part in the event is the most important thing, even if it means the loss of our corporate identity, but we should not have to do that," he said.

"By denying the riders the chance to compete in the highlight of the cycling calendar the organisers are damaging careers."

He added that cycling had been singled out and that it was inconceivable that French television would not show a crucial European football match because one of the teams had a gaming firm as a sponsor.

As well as horse race betting group Pari Mutuel Urbain backing the tour, France's lottery operator, La Francaise des Jeux, is a sponsor of a team.

European Union market commissioner Charlie McCreevey had written to Tour organisers to object to its decision, Unibet said.

The firm, which is listed on the Stockholm stock exchange, specialises in sports betting as well as online poker and casino games, and has about 1.7 million customers.




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