LONDON (Reuters) - Jim Ratcliffe’s chemical company INEOS makes profits in the billions and, since he loves sport, Britain’s richest man sees it as entirely logical to invest some of that money in backing projects and individuals that inspire him.
The 66-year-old is the driving force behind “The 1.59 Challenge” - Eliud Kipchoge’s second attempt at a sub-two hour marathon after the Kenyan world record holder missed out by 25 seconds with his “Breaking Two” bid at Italy’s Monza racetrack two years ago.
INEOS is providing the backing for the new attempt, which will take place probably somewhere in the U.K. later this year, probably London and probably in September or October.
Ratcliffe’s company is also the new owner of cycling’s former Team Sky, is funding Ben Ainslie’s 2021 America’s Cup sailing challenge, owns Swiss soccer club Lausanne Sport and has been linked with a possible takeover of Chelsea.
Asked why he was making such investments, Ratcliffe told reporters at the launch of Kipchoge’s bid: “You don’t want to get too deep about it really. We make six or seven billion dollars a year in profit so what’s wrong with investing a bit of that in sport? On some good challenges, good people, try to inspire people? It’s good fun.”
Ratcliffe is the founder and chairman of petrochemical and acquisition company INEOS, which employs 19,000 people in 24 countries and has annual sales of around 60 billion dollars.
Away from the business, he is a keen cyclist and has always been a recreational runner.
He founded the “GO Run for Fun” charity and promotes the Daily Mile - both aimed at getting young children active - and has a special admiration for Kipchoge having pounded out many of his own marathons, though at a far more pedestrian pace.
“I’m not sure Nike had been invented when I started running,” said Ratcliffe, who ran his fastest marathon at the age of 57.
“It was in the days when you would go running around London or New York and people would stare at you. When I did my first marathon they hadn’t heard of sports drinks, so after 20 miles you fell over because you hadn’t had any sugars.
“I was in the pace car in front if Eliud for the London Marathon and he was not looking like I look when I cross the finish line. He was looking very serene and comfortable. He’s still getting better.
“The road was poor, it was a really hilly course, it was windy, he didn’t really have pacemakers that were effective and he did 2:02.37.”
That was the second-fastest marathon of all time - beaten only by Kipchoge’s extraordinary 2:01.39 in Berlin last year.
“For any of us that do a little bit of running, just the concept of running 42km at two minutes 50 seconds per km is unthinkable really,” Ratcliffe added.
“There are so few people on the planet who could run even one kilometer at anything like three minutes.
“This is the most extraordinary challenge that faces a human being and would be an almost super-human achievement.”
Ratcliffe said the venue for the attempt had still to be nailed down and though the organizers of the London Marathon were helping, more co-operation would be needed.
“We just have to hope that the powers that be in London are sympathetic to the quest,” he said. They have to think about it, do they want it. Because there are other places to go.”
The venue for the Team INEOS cycling launch last week was moved and kept secret for fear of being disrupted by environmental protesters who object to INEOS’s production of plastic and involvement in fracking, but he said he was unconcerned.
“It’s outrageous that the government listen to a noisy, miniscule minority instead of looking at science,” he said of the anti-fracking protesters.
“I think you’ve got security at all these major public events so we have to deal with that,” he said. “You just have to be sensible about it.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, additional reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis