‘A shocking decision’: Industry reacts as British Cycling signs deal with Shell

In October, British Cycling announced an eight-year deal with oil and gas company Shell UK, which was met with a wave of backlash on social media. BikeBiz asked the industry what it made of the partnership, and this was the response…

This piece first appeared in the November edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Last month, British Cycling announced a partnership with oil and gas company Shell UK, prompting criticism from many of its members as well as environmental groups. The national governing body for cycling in Britain announced that Shell would be the new official partner of the federation, resulting in support and investment from the energy and petrochemical firm.

The company will support British Cycling’s work in elite-level cycling and para-cycling, along with its advocacy, campaigning, and grassroots organisation work. British Cycling also claimed Shell will help with its planned path to becoming a net zero organisation.

The agreement includes specific investment from Shell UK to support a new programme – to be named ‘Limitless,’ which aims to increase opportunities for disabled people in cycling. This project will provide a pathway for disabled riders from local to elite level, funding accessible environments for disabled riders across British Cycling’s 2,000 registered clubs. British Cycling said Shell will also help support BC’s transition to an electric fleet of vehicles.

But the announcement was quickly met with widespread criticism, with many raising issues with the environmental impacts caused by Shell’s work in fossil fuels. Greenpeace UK called the partnership a ‘brazen greenwash’ and many said they were cancelling memberships, with research fellow Dr Harrie Larrington-Spencer tweeting: “I’ve resigned from the British Cycling diversity and inclusion working group I was part of. Their partnership with Shell is unethical and antithetical to the grassroots cycling the group supports.”

BikeBiz’s senior staff writer Rebecca Morley asked the cycling industry what they made of the announcement, and it’s fair to say there were some strong opinions.

Trade reaction
“It’s just not a good look is it,” said Tony Childs, GC Bike Repairs MD, Portsmouth. “No doubt British Cycling want significant investment to fulfill a long-term plan and Shell are looking to downplay some terrible PR in recent times, not the least of which is record profits at a time when fuel and energy bills are going through the roof.

“Add to this the terrible messages around climate change and all fuel providers’ part in it. It just seems to be a multinational cynically trying to buy some goodwill by aligning themselves with a proven winning sporting team and an activity – cycling – which is seen as part of the answer to a more sustainable future.”

Lee Rae-Byford, owner of bicycle repair shop the Cogfather in Burgess Hill, called it an ‘absolutely shocking decision on their part’. “Shell and its fellow oil giants are one of the main reasons this planet is potentially becoming uninhabitable for future generations.

“No matter how many green initiatives they launch, they are still heavily involved in extracting fossil fuels for many years to come, and for BC to get into bed with them is beyond belief. I have been a member for nearly 10 years, that membership is now cancelled.”

Ian Cation, manager of Escape Bike Shop in Ingleton, North Yorkshire, said it’s a ‘strange’ partnership. “I would have thought anyone with cycling at heart would never think an allegiance with an oil company would look good,” said Cation.

“I think if it is purely short-term cash injecting then great but Shell will have eyes on manipulating cycling for their own good and not the benefit of cycling as a sport or general form of transport and lifestyle choice. British Cycling needs to come forward and clarify how they came to decide the partnership has long-term benefits and will promote its work without contradicting the ethos of the organisation.

“I think the general social media public reaction I have read is a clear indication no one is really thinking real world good will come out of the deal.” Business owner Louise Jowett, who is a Breeze champion and leads rides for women on a voluntary basis, is ‘very surprised and not happy’ by the partnership. To date, Jowett said the rides have been sponsored by HSBC and clothing etc have shown this.

“I am not happy to lead rides as a volunteer for Shell to promote their so-called green agenda and therefore assist in advertising them,” said Jowett. “I would sooner pay for the clothing and training myself. Not sure what BC are thinking of.”

Forward-looking strategy
Some people have however noted the potential the partnership could lead to increased participation in cycling, which would then benefit the industry. Nick O’Brien, Grupetto Italia, London said: “As a long-standing British Cycling member my thoughts on hearing of BC partnering with Shell was initially, (as with so many other recent announcements) it’s just another nail in the coffin of an organisation fast losing touch with their memberships’ needs…

“However on reflection, the relationship could, if developed carefully, be the best thing that happened to cycling in the UK since the 2012 Olympics in terms of increasing participation and growing opportunities over the coming years – all of which is obviously going to benefit our cycling industry and more importantly many of the environmental targets BC have mentioned.

“By carefully nurturing new and existing programmes both parties stand to benefit if it’s handled properly. Neither organisation will have jumped into this agreement without considering the backlash and obvious negativity associated with mixing zero-emission transport, sport and a global oil giant.

“Shell aren’t blinkered, they know the value of getting it right and the risk of getting it wrong for BC is too high, so they’ll have to deliver on their Limitless programme and performance targets and we’ll all be a little better off.”

Royce Murphy, cycling coach and bike fitter, Berkshire, said the major energy companies are the largest investors in green technology, and that needs to be recognised and supported. “To look at their history and condemn their forward-looking strategy is short-sighted,” said Murphy.

“The world is moving toward becoming carbon neutral, so any energy giant today that wants to be an energy giant in the future needs to shift toward green sources of energy. Shell is doing that, and it should be supported.”

A spokesperson for charity Cycling UK gave BikeBiz: “It’s not Cycling UK’s place to comment on British Cycling’s choice of partners. Our job is to make the UK a better place for cycling, to demonstrate how cycles are a machine to fight climate change, to help make cycling more accessible for more people – and we’re able to continue this work thanks to the support of our members.”

British Cycling declined to offer further comment when approached by BikeBiz.

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