British Cycling announced this week
that it has formed an eight-year partnership with the oil and gas company Shell. The cycling organisation that forms the British governing body for cycling was previously partnered with HSBC, but has now formed an agreement to receive support and investment from Shell UK. British Cycling says the new partnership will see a shared response to support Great Britain’s cyclists and para-cyclists with "the sharing of world-class innovation and expertise; accelerating British Cycling’s path to net zero; and helping more – and wider groups of – people to ride, including ways to make cycling more accessible for disabled people."
The news that British Cycling has decided to partner with Shell has prompted criticism, with the decision to partner with an oil and gas company seemingly at odds with the British cycling organisation's goal of reaching climate net-zero targets. British Cycling CEO Brian Facer states the deal will "help our organisation and sport take important steps towards net zero," but a report in the Guardian
suggests that while Shell's ambition is to be a net-zero emissions company by 2050 or sooner, there is no immediate goal to actually start moving to net-zero in the next 10 to 20 years.
Climate activists have weighed in, with Greenpeace UK policy director Dr. Doug Parr stating: "The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan. After being booted out of museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil are looking at sports as the next frontier for their brazen greenwash. But their aim hasn't changed - to distract from the inconvenient fact that the fossil fuel industry is making our planet uninhabitable. British Cycling missed an opportunity to tell the oil giant the one thing they needed to hear: on your bike, Shell."
Environmental charity Friends of the Earth said: "Tobacco firms are rightly banned from sports sponsorship due to the damaging health effects. The same should apply to oil and gas companies which are devastating the health of our planet. Shell should have been told to get on its bike."
Protect Our Winters UK has sent a letter
to British Cycling CEO Brian Facer offering a right to reply by the end of the week before it "will then escalate and will be reaching out to our network to participate in a range of tactics."
Lauren MacCallum, the general manager at Protect Our Winters UK told Pinkbike: "The decision for British Cycling to partner with Shell is disastrous basically, especially in the middle of the climate crisis and we think that Shell's values do not align with that of British cyclists. (...) When there's extreme heat events we cant run races. You can kind of list the impacts in various ways in which it will impact our community which is bad for business and bad for our community and health. So we are calling on British Cycling to reverse their decision to partner with Shell and look for another appropriate sponsor which matches the values and ethos of the British Cycling community.
At Protect Our Winters UK we can sympathise with the decision to accept the sponsorship from Shell because when you are only applying a high-performance sporting excellence lens to this, of course taking the biggest cheque or the most investment seems like the right thing to do. I think now we are at a point in society and as a community where sport and cycling don't exist in a vacuum and we need to see better ethical excellence and ethical performance from leaders at British Cycling. What is the relevance of gold medals in a crisis?
Our next step is to engage with the stakeholders, so that is with members, coaches, sponsors, athletes and our network to engage in a range of tactics. What tactics will be I'm not going to say just now because it's kind of the whole point but we will basically look to engage with the cycling community and industry to participate in a range of actions which will add to some of the pressure that British Cycling will be feeling right now."
After the announcement on October 10, a large number of users on Twitter took to the post from British Cycling to express frustration at the news, with widespread implication that some riders will be cancelling their memberships with the organisation. One Twitter user who says they are a ride leader for British Cycling's Breeze women-only rides says that the news is "ridiculous" and they are "never wearing anything branded Shell."
It goes without saying that high performance sport costs a significant amount of money. And many of the people upset with British Cycling for this decision are similarly frustrated at a lack of funding for athletes and venues. Furthermore, British Cycling isn't the first big name in cycling to partner with fossil fuel companies, or other industries that appear at odds with cycling's interests.
British Cycling's former partner HSBC has a long history of controversies
—from money laundering to sanctions breaches to fraud. Similarly, the Ineos Grenadiers team that features Tom Pidcock and recently signed Pauline Ferrand Prevot
is partly named after one of the largest chemical companies in the world. Ineos produced 22,300 tons of chemicals and over 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019, making the company the largest source of emissions in Scotland. When the Ineos partnership was announced there was similar backlash, without any results.
It remains to be seen how British Cycling will respond, and if the response will lead to any changes. We reached out to British Cycling for its response but they had nothing further to add at the time of publishing.