Could economic sanctions against Russia, and the plummeting value of the Russian ruble, undermine cycling’s latest “super team?”
That’s just what Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov suggested in a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg TV. As part of a longer chat with Tinkov earlier this month, a few off-hand comments from the Russian entrepreneur have set the cycling community on edge.
When asked a generic question about cycling, Tinkov offered up that a convergence on possible tougher sanctions against Russia, coupled with the drop of oil prices and the dramatic devaluation of the Russian currency, could torpedo his team.
“If the sanctions will deteriorate the Russian economy, and share prices decline even more … then the Tinkoff bank starts to suffer, then I stop my sponsorship,” he said bluntly on Bloomberg TV. “I don’t know as owner of the team if I will be able to find a substitution sponsor in Europe. Most likely, I will not, and I will have to shut down the team.”
Tinkov said there could be a domino effect that could trickle down — from a high-stakes face off between the United States and Russia over the Crimea region — to his cycling team.
Further pinched by the shrinking rouble, Tinkov vaguely suggested that the team could be an unintended victim of the international intrigue playing out across the Ukraine.
“We are all connected now,” Tinkov continued. “If you push us [the Russians], eventually 80 people in Europe will lose their job because of the sanction. … I have 80 employees on high salaries from Denmark to Spain, with 14 nationalities, because of me, and of Tinkoff bank in Russia.”
Does the team have reason to worry, or was Tinkov shooting from the hip, as he so often does?
Since buying out Bjarne Riis in late 2013, the outspoken Tinkov has ruffled more than a few feathers, and has promised to create the best team in cycling. Already with Alberto Contador under contract, Tinkov picked up Peter Sagan on a big-money, three-year deal going into 2015.
Tinkov often leads people to believe he has plenty of money to bankroll the team, but during the interview, he seemed to suggest that if the economic situation sours even more, the cycling team could be in danger.
There was no official reaction from the team over the weekend.
UCI rules require teams to post a deposit in a Swiss bank to cover a percentage of total team salaries, but that isn’t enough to carry the team’s entire budget in the case of an abrupt exit by a team sponsor.