By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
It has been announced, on 19 March 2019, that the well-known and successful SKY cycling team is being taken over by INEOS, a UK petrochemicals giant, which is owned by the richest man in the UK, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is reputedly worth £21 billion. Ratcliffe is a keen track cyclist himself.
The takeover will be effective on 1 May 2019 and the new INEOS team will be unveiled at the Tour of Yorkshire, which begins in Doncaster on 2 May and ends in Leeds on 5 May 2019.
The new team includes cycling ‘stars’ Geraint Jones and Chris Froome. The former is the 2018 winner of the Tour de France; and the latter has previously won this prestigious event four times.
The new team will clearly have its main sights on winning this year’s Tour de France, which begins in Brussels on 6 July and ends in Paris on 28 July 2019.
Ratcliffe already sponsors, for the sum of £110 million, the Ben Ainsley team in the 2021 America’s Cup yacht racing competition and he also has his sights on owning Chelsea Football Club, where he is a season-ticket holder.
The length of the sponsorship and the budget for the new INEOS team have not been revealed, but the budget is expected to be substantially greater than the current budget for the SKY team of £35 million.
This takeover of the SKY team by INEOS has not been welcomed in all cycling circles.
In fact, the President of the Cycling World Governing Body (UCI), David Lappartient, has remarked as follows:
“It’s important for the public that there’s big interest in the competition. We don’t want to have just one team that dominates cycling for 10 years.”
He also stated that the UCI is in the process of setting up a working group to look at the sport’s attractiveness.
A more scathing criticism of the takeover by INEOS, one of the biggest plastic producers in Europe, has come, perhaps not surprisingly, from ‘Friends of the Earth’, the environmental pressure group, as follows:
“Cycling is one of the UK’s most successful and popular sports but do the likes of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome really want to be associated with a planet-wrecking company like Ineos.”
Time alone will tell what effect this takeover will actually have on cycling and its popularity amongst cycling fans in the future! Or will it be business as usual, as cycling always seems to have had something of a controversial profile?
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’