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People are very upset with British Cycling for partnering with Shell

Announcement met with accusations of green washing

It’s safe to say British Cycling’s big announcement of a new major sponsor this week didn’t quite go over as planned. The sporting body excitedly announced Shell UK as a new official partner with Brian Facer, CEO of British Cycling, adding that the move would “help our organization and sport take important steps towards net zero—things we know our members are incredibly passionate about.”

Facer was right on about half of that statement. It turns out British Cycling fans are passionate about net zero. But they, and the broader public, were not buying a partnership with a major oil producer as a legitimate path toward achieving that goal.

The move may not seem so controversial in Canada, where a huge number of oil and gas companies double as corporate sponsors for sporting bodies. But global organizations such as Greenpeace down to Protect Our Winters UK chapter and the Trash Free Trails initiative all quickly spoke up to condemn the corporate partnership.

“The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan,” Greenpeace UK policy director Dr Doug Parr was quoted as saying in The Guardian. He went on to note that various museums around the world have rejected funding from Shell and other oil companies on ethical grounds in an effort to help prevent green washing.

Rocky road for British Cycling

It’s the second very public faux pas for the sport organization in recent weeks. British Cycling was skewered online for its suggestion that people should not ride their bikes during the Queen’s funeral. B.C. backtracked on that statement, but it is unlikely it will, or even can, back out of the partnership with Shell UK.

The new partnership replaces the previous major sponsor HSBC. British Cycling lost HSBC’s support after the 2021 Olympics, halfway through an eight-year contract. A change in HSBC’s marketing strategy (and the pandemic) were cited as the reasons for ending the contract early but the decision also came in the midst of a long string of controversies at the national sporting body.