The authority that governs one of Great Britain’s moist successful Olympic sports has been branded ‘absurd’ and accused of ‘greenwashing’ after signing a sponsorship deal with energy operator Shell.
British Cycling were also ridiculed after they claimed their partnership with the oil firm would ‘help our organisation take important steps towards ground zero’, and it was that stance that saw a number of key staff within the outfit resign.
And environmental campaigners Greenpeace branded the move as an attempt by Shell to ‘greenwash’ their questionable business model.
“The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan,” said the organisation’s policy director, Dr Doug Parr.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Jamie Peters has also claimed that fossil fuel companies should be banned from advertising in sports in the same way that tobacco and alcohol brands have.
British Cycling have launched an impassioned defence of their stance, stating that they feel the sponsorship deal will help to improve the performance of Team GB cyclists and para-cyclists by investing in ‘world class innovation and expertise’.
Brian Facer, British Cycling’s unable to read the room chief executive, said:
“We’re looking forward to working alongside Shell UK over the rest of this decade to widen access to the sport, support our elite riders and help our organisation and sport take important steps towards net zero – things we know our members are incredibly passionate about.”
For their part, Shell have also claimed that the deal may help their customers to use low and zero carbon vehicles like bicycles and electric cars, although they continue to fail in their bid to practice what they preach – in September, an independent study found that Shell continued to invest relatively little in low carbon solutions despite their environmentally-aware PR.
Having Your Cake and Eating It
The problem, it seems, is that cycling as a sport is somewhat complicit in greenwashing….whether its stakeholders want to admit as much.
After all, Team Sky was acquired by Ineos back in 2019, a company founded by Sir Jim Ratcliffe that has become one of the largest petrochemical producers on the planet.
Ratcliffe has been accused of greenwashing himself, and his firm is a major manufacturer of plastics – the very thing that Sky were trying to eradicate from the world’s oceans.
The company’s founder is also a supporter of fracking, which is thought to cause significant impacts upon local ecology.
So cycling as a sport has work to do to improve its green credentials, and that is a process that could be accelerated judging by the public outcry over the Shell deal.
An open letter calling on the partnership to be scrapped has been signed by more than 700 individuals and organisations, with an ‘irreconcilable conflict of interest’ cited as a key factor alongside cycling’s role in promoting greener forms of travel.
The letter signs off by calling on British Cycling to ‘consider immediate action’ in ending their collaboration with the oil giant.