Sir Ratcliffe, a billionaire who likes to buy famous sports

Sir Ratcliffe, a billionaire who likes to buy famous sports
Sir Ratcliffe, a billionaire who likes to buy famous sports

Football and cycling stand out from the list somewhat. You will immediately understand why. The founder of the chemical giant Ineos, one of the richest men in Britain, is the owner of the French football team OGC Nice and the Swiss football club Lausanne-Sport. But also of the cycling team Ineos Grenadiers, the stable with the biggest budget, which is now also striving for a leading position in the Spanish Vuelta.

And it’s still not enough for him. When the war in Ukraine broke out this year and anti-Russian sanctions forced Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich to put the club up for sale, Ratcliffe pounced on the team. He made an offer of 4.25 billion pounds (121 billion crowns) for the purchase. However, they were overtaken by $5.3 billion (131.5 billion crowns) from a consortium led by Todd Boehly, an American businessman who co-owns the LA Dodgers baseball club.

Why did we go cycling? Because we could. It’s a bit like trading chemicals. We look at things that are emerging and on the rise… Ineos is primarily in chemicals and petrochemicals, so it has no face to the consumer. Some sports are dying, such as golf, squash… But cycling continues to flourish. The Tour de France captivates half the planet every year.

Sir James Ratcliffe

It must have been infuriating, Ratcliffe is not used to losing. After all, who else should own a proper Premier League team than him, a true Englishman. And that’s why he immediately went on a new offensive. In August 2022, he expressed interest in buying Manchester United, a team he has always been a big fan of. This comes after Bloomberg reported that United’s current owners, the Glazer family, were considering selling a minority stake in the club.

The Glazers were reportedly reluctant to sell, but found themselves under increasing pressure from the club’s fans due to a poor start to the season. The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, according to the BBC, welcomed Ratcliffe’s interest, but said the takeover would require support from the fans. “Any potential new owner must commit to the culture, ethos and best traditions of the club…,” the prominent association said.

Ratcliffe’s athletic outbursts mostly make sense. A man who grew up in an ordinary family in the suburbs of Manchester now wants to buy the city’s most famous team.

And when British cyclists Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas began to dominate the world peloton and elevate cycling in Britain, Ratcliffe also took up racing bikes. In March 2019, he bought the Team Sky cycling franchise and subsequently renamed it Team Ineos. That same year, the old team won the Tour de France 2019 with Colombian rider Egan Bernal.

But that is far from all. Some time ago, Ratcliffe supported the Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge’s attempt to run the classic marathon distance (42.195 kilometers) under the magical 2-hour mark. As part of the Ineos 1.59 Challenge project, Kipchoge started on a cold Viennese morning surrounded by a group of seven drivers who rotated regularly. In front of them, the accompanying vehicle drove at a precisely determined pace of 2.50 per kilometer, the group kept to the green laser line in front of them, and Kipchoge finally managed the attempt successfully in 1:59:40. Of course, it was not an official record due to the illegal circumstances of the attempt.

Less than half a year later, Ineos became the main partner of Mercedes AMG F1 and signed a five-year contract with the team.

If anyone thinks that Ratcliffe does all this just for the love of his beloved sports, then they are wrong. To say that these are just indulgences for the troubled petrochemical business, which does not have a good reputation for many reasons, would perhaps be too strong. But…

Love for sport and business

Sir James Ratcliffe himself explained it well in an interview with Cyclingnews some time ago. “Why did we go cycling? Because we could. It’s a bit like trading chemicals. We look at things that are emerging and on the rise… Ineos is primarily in chemicals and petrochemicals, so it has no consumer face. Some sports are dying, such as golf, squash… But cycling continues to flourish. The Tour de France captivates half the planet every year.”

Yet it all started so innocently. Dad was a skilled carpenter who eventually made it to the owner of a laboratory furniture factory. But in the beginning they led a completely normal life in Failsworth, a suburb of Manchester. As a small boy, Jim went to school alone and the local blacksmith kept welding his broken bicycle. Perhaps that’s when Jim’s love for cycling began. At home, he looked out of the window at the hundred chimneys of the surrounding roofs. Thanks to them, he learned to count well, which later came in handy in business.

After studying at the University of Birmingham, he found his first job with the oil giant Esso. From that moment on, he was engaged in petrochemicals, until in 1998 he founded the company Ineos. From this small base, using high-yield debt to fund deals, Ratcliffe began buying unwanted operations from groups such as ICI and BP. Let’s skip the next years of rise to 2018. It was a milestone in his amazing career. The Sunday Times Rich List named him the richest man in the United Kingdom with a net worth of 21.05 billion pounds (600 billion crowns).

Eurosceptic, Brexiteer

Already a powerful man, Ratcliffe made no secret of his clear, perhaps problematic, views. A staunch Eurosceptic who claims that European economies are becoming increasingly cumbersome and inefficient, he of course also supported Brexit. A strong campaigner for shale gas fracking has also criticized government rules that have led to a virtual ban on its mining in Britain.

After all, the British billionaire is in the eye of many environmental organizations for activities leading to environmental damage. A wave of protests rose when, for example, he bought the Sky cycling team. Last year, Greenpeace criticized New Zealand rugby’s decision to accept a six-year sponsorship from Ineos as incompatible with the country’s “clean green” values.

But these events always fizzled out soon, because hundreds of thousands of sports fans swallowed Ratcliffe’s intentions even with the bait.

With his current partner Catherine Polli, Ratcliffe lives mainly in the tax haven of Monaco. He also owns a luxury house on the shores of Lake Geneva in the Swiss village of Gland, right next to Michael Schumacher. The property is located on the imperial estate of Napoleon Bonaparte. And he likes to race around the sea in the 78-meter superyacht Feadship Hampshire II, built for him by the famous Dutch shipbuilder Royal van Lent.

Otherwise, Ratcliffe is an enthusiastic adrenaline junkie. He has undertaken expeditions to the North and South Poles, a three-month motorcycle journey in South Africa and in 2013 he completed the extreme Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara desert.

The article is in Czech

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