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Unibet Hung Out to Dry

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This may not be the most exciting news of the day, but I love a good legal drama, so I can't ignore the blowup between Unibet.com and, well, everyone.

CN is reporting that Unibet is trying to force its way into Paris-Nice, seeking a quick legal ruling (equivalent to a preliminary injunction?) that they have a right to race since they're a Pro Tour team. Presumably they're interpreting Monday's agreement with the Grand Tours as requiring full Pro Tour participation in races like Paris-Nice. Gregor Brown has a nice writeup of the press conference held earlier today with Unibet management and attorneys. Defying convention, Unibet's lawyer actually gives a concise explanation of what's going on:

"So there are two cases going on. One against the UCI, concerning the contractual promises that have not been kept. The cycling team will take the necessary steps before the court to obtain damages for that. On the other hand, there are proceedings going on in France, where Unibet has asked the French judge whether or not its exclusion in the Paris-Nice was justified or not. It is summary proceedings, in fast track proceedings, because this decision has to be made before the start of the race."

IMHO, the former point is a winner for Unibet. They spent a lot on equipment once they got the license to race... justifiable reliance on the UCI guarantee. But the UCI appears to have caved to the Grand Tours on the 19th and 20th licenses, essentially admitting that their rash decision to issue them before coming to any sort of agreement with the GTs (which touched off all the drama) was as boneheaded as it sounds. The UCI guaranteed two spots that it didn't have in hand yet, and somehow failed to solve the problem by insulting the grand tour organizers, teams and riders. Pretty straightforward liability. Unless Monday's agreement says something about including Unibet besides "considering their application in a positive spirit," then the UCI better start talking about settlement.

Meanwhile, Unibet is taking on the completely separate issue where the French won't let Unibet display a foreign gambling brand, which (I think) is part of the rationale for denying them a wildcard. Unibet's attorney points out the obvious hypocrisy:

"These laws are old," De Preter said. "There has never been a legal issue with the team since its existence, this is the first time this sort of law has been evoked. Again, other companies, like Lotto, like Française des Jeux, when they ride outside of their home country they are also theoretically illegal, yet no one cares about that. It is again clear that this is not the real reason or the real issue, and even if it were the real issue the team has offered repeatedly in writing that it is willing to change its jersey, and take off any labelling of Unibet."

There's a way to understand how the Unibet license got where it did... the UCI screwed up but you can at least see why. But the Unibet label issue seems patently stupid. Not only has the selective enforcement made the various French officials involved look horrible, but the law itself sounds like something you find in statutes right next to the requirement that the mayor receive a pig every spring. I have no idea why they are picking this fight, but it's hard to think of a motive that isn't totally corrupt. Hopefully Unibet will crush ASO on this one... and sell a zillion question mark jerseys, just to point out how misguided this is.