British Cycling partnership with Shell UK labeled as ‘brazen sportswashing’

Environmental groups speak out about the new partnership while many on social media threaten to cancel memberships.

Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images

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British Cycling’s decision to bring on Shell UK as its new official partner through 2030 has been criticized as “brazen sportswashing” by an environmental group.

The energy company replaces the banking organization HSBC UK, which stopped its sponsorship of the governing body at the end of 2021.

British Cycling says that the new partnership will support its elite teams, and help the body achieve its goals of net-zero carbon emissions. However, the announcement has been widely criticized on social media with many threatening to cancel memberships, and environmental organization Greenpeace described it as “brazen sportswashing.”

“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 organization and sport take important steps towards net zero – things we know our members are incredibly passionate about,” British Cycling CEO Brian Facer said.

“Within our new commercial program, this partnership with Shell UK brings powerful support for cycling, will help us to improve and will make more people consider cycling and cyclists.”

Greenpeace said that the energy company coming on board to help with British Cycling’s net-zero targets were “absurd” and that the governing body should not have taken Shell on as a partner.

“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,” Greenpeace UK policy director Dr Doug Parr said.

“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.”

A study by the Climate Accountability Institute named Shell as the seventh biggest emitter of carbon dioxide between 1965 and 2017.

Shell has set a target to be a net-zero emitter of carbon by 2050. It has also committed to reducing its absolute emissions by 50 percent by 2030 after a Dutch court ruled last year that it must cut down its CO2 emissions by 45 percent compared to its 2019 levels. This includes emissions from its customers, which make up the vast majority of the company’s carbon output.

However, its boss Ben van Beurden insisted in November 2021 that it needed funds from its oil and gas business to pay for it. The company is still seeking to develop new oilfields, including the Cambo oilfield in the North Sea, which is around 125km northwest of the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

In 2014, the company was granted rights to explore for oil and gas off the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa despite objections from locals. However, an interim order blocking the firm from exploring was put in place in December last year and that was upheld by another South African court last month.

Friends of the Earth, which brought the 2019 Dutch court case against Shell said the announcement by British Cycling was “deeply disappointing” and said that Oil Companies should be banned from sport.

“Cycling is the epitome of environmentally friendly travel. It’s deeply disappointing that UK 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,” Friends of the Earth campaigner Jamie Peters 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.”

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