Movistar joins forces with the Saudi Cycling Federation
In a surprise move, the team announced the collaboration agreement with the Saudi Cycling Federation in a brief communiqué that only mentions training, developing cycling projects and supporting events.
Collaboration agreement between Movistar Team and Saudi Cycling Federation
When rumours spread a few weeks ago about the incorporation of Repsol as a sponsor of Eusebio Unzue's team, information that was later denied by the team itself, there was something certain about the entry of new capital into the team: petrodollars were involved.
Yesterday afternoon, completely unexpectedly, Movistar Team released a brief statement announcing the collaboration between Abarca Sports, the team's management company, and the Saudi Cycling Federation.
According to the information issued by Movistar Team, the agreement aims to develop technical staff, improve cooperation in training programs, exchange experiences, hold regular workshops and support events, races and activities in Saudi Arabia over the next few years.
However, there is no reference anywhere to the compensation obtained by Movistar Team in this agreement or whether it includes any kind of sponsorship or financial investment in the team. Nor has it been revealed whether this collaboration will include any change in the team's name or in its characteristic jersey dominated by the M of the telephone company's logo.
What has not been long in coming is widespread criticism of the agreement with a country accused of the systematic violation of human rights in what has come to be known as sportwashing, in reference to the image-cleansing through sport that this type of collaboration is intended to achieve. Criticisms that squads such as Israel-PremierTech, Bahrain-Victorious or UAE Team Emirates, even INEOS Grenadiers have had to deal with for years in relation to the business model of their main sponsor.
There has even been speculation about how the presence of the successful Movistar Team women's team, captained by world number one Annemiek Van Vleuten, might fit in a country that constantly disregards women's rights.
This puts Movistar Team in a delicate situation with an image that has been deteriorating in recent years with episodes such as the clashes with Miguel Angel Lopez, first in La Vuelta two years ago in La Covatilla and which had an undesired outcome with the Colombian's abandonment in the penultimate stage of the Spanish round last season.
The team' image has not been helped either by the constant disagreements with the leaders who have passed through its ranks, such as Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, or Richard Carapaz, whose disagreements with one of the main agencies representing riders in the world of cycling were uncovered. Added to this is the not very combative attitude of one of the mythical squads of this sport with its more than 40 years of history.
An image that had improved after the reaction in the final part of this season, with a notable role in La Vuelta a España, in which Enric Mas managed to reach the second step of the podium and some final races that served to certify, based on tenacity and good results, the permanence in the World Tour category after a year with the sword of Damocles of relegation threatening the team.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has been immersed in this image-cleansing process for years, injecting huge amounts of money into sports such as Formula 1, golf and football. In terms of cycling, the Arab country has been collaborating with ASO, the organiser of the Tour de France, among other events, since 2020 in the Saudi Tour, which takes place at the beginning of February.