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Commission warns on Unibet

Commission warns on Unibet
By Reuters

16/05/2007 at 22:06Updated

The European Commission has issued warnings to Belgium, France and Italy over action against the Unibet cycling team because of its connections to betting, according to a spokesman and others.

Wednesday's announcement by the EU executive arm is the latest twist in a battle between the sport's governing body -- the International Cycling Union (UCI) -- and the organisers of showpiece events such as the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia.

The Commission expressed concern that Swedish cycling team Unibet.com was being prevented from competing in Belgium because it is sponsored by a Malta-based online betting company.

"The Commission understands that the Green Cycle Associates cycling team, a Swedish company, has been refused entry to two races in the Belgian UCI," a letter obtained by Reuters said.

The Commission said it was asking Belgium how these provisions were in line with free movement of services in the EU and the banning of a company and a team that are legally established in the bloc.

Race organisers ASO did not invite the Unibet team to compete in the Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day events last month citing a Belgian law that prohibits online betting companies of advertising in the country.

The EU's internal market chief is also considering similar action against Italy, the Commission said after Unibet were denied access to this year's Giro d'Italia.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had earlier warned France over the same issue, and a Commission official said that Brussels would step up legal action against the French government in June over its enforcement of anti-betting laws governing cycling and all other sports.

"There is clear evidence that France has breached EU internal market rules, following an analysis of the situation", said the official, who asked not to be identified.

In January, ASO, who also organise the Tour de France, turned down Unibet.com's application for the Paris-Nice stage race.

Europe's betting industry greeted the moves by McCreevy describing them as an encouraging signal.

"Sport clubs throughout Europe... are facing unfair sponsorship restrictions and also missing significant competition opportunities," Konstantinos Maragkakis, spokesman for the European Gaming and Betting Association said.

However, an official at Belgium's gaming commission said on Wednesday that the UCI could face legal action after Unibet.com competed in the Ghent-Wevelgem race in April, which is part of the ProTour series.

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