British Cycling is facing a backlash from environmental groups and its members after announcing a major new partnership with the oil giant Shell. The governing body claimed it would “help our organisation and sport take important steps towards net zero”.
Critics used social media to ask whether it was April Fool’s Day and the mood was captured by one respondent who wrote: “Partnering a fossil fuel company as an accelerant to your path to net zero? Is this satire?”
The decision to enter a long-term partnership with Shell was condemned by Greenpeace. “The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan,” the Greenpeace UK policy director, Dr Doug Parr, said.
“After being booted out of museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil is 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.”
A similar message was sent by Friends of the Earth, whose energy campaigner Jamie Peters questioned why the eight-year deal had been struck at all. “Cycling is the epitome of environmentally friendly travel,” he said. “It’s deeply disappointing that British Cycling could think it’s appropriate to partner with a fossil fuel giant.
“Shell is continuing to invest billions in oil and gas projects, while using cynical PR initiatives like this partnership to attempt to greenwash its harmful activities.
“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.”
There were also numerous threats to cancel British Cycling memberships as a result of the deal on social media, with some noting it is the second time in a month British Cycling has made a questionable PR move, after their widely mocked suggestion that people should not use their bikes at all during the Queen’s funeral, which they were later forced to reverse.
“What fresh hell is this?” wrote another respondent. “What on earth are the leadership team thinking?” “This is ethically abominable,” said another. “Whoever is behind this should be ashamed to be party to greenwashing at this scale.”
British Cycling said the partnership would help support Great Britain’s cyclists and para-cyclists through the sharing of world-class innovation and expertise and help more people ride.
“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,” said British Cycling’s chief executive, Brian Facer.
• This article was amended on 11 October 2022. In an earlier version, text within a quote incorrectly referred to “UK Cycling” rather than British Cycling.