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13th October, 2022

Shell's new deal with British Cycling sparks social media firestorm

Shell UK's new sponsorship agreement with British Cycling has generated a storm of negative social media publicity, writes Richard Fox.

In announcing the deal, Shell emphasises that the new partnership - an eight year deal - will see a shared commitment between the two organisations to

     help more – and wider groups of – people to ride, including bold plans to make cycling more accessible for people with a disability;

     support Great Britain Cycling Team cyclists and para-cyclists through the sharing of world-class innovation and expertise, including bringing new lubricant technology to all levels of cycling; and

     take steps to help British Cycling accelerate its own journey to net zero and encourage more low- and zero-carbon forms of transport such as cycling and electric vehicles.

It also includes a specific investment from Shell UK to support a new programme – to be named Limitless – which aims to break down the barriers people with disabilities face when accessing cycling. The ambition, claims the company, is to embed disability and para sport into the heart of communities and develop a clear pathway from local to elite performance, with the funding helping create inclusive and accessible environments for riders with disabilities across British Cycling's 2,000 registered clubs. The programme will be launched, and further details on how to access the funding made available, by the end of the year.

But the announcement was greeted with derision and anger on social media, with numerous British Cycling members saying that they will terminate their membership of the organisation.

Greenpeace UK policy director, Dr Doug Parr, poured scorn on the agreement, dubbing it "brazen greenwash".

"The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan", he said. "After being booted out of museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil are 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. British Cycling missed an opportunity to tell the oil giant the one thing they needed to hear: on your bike, Shell".

The term "greenwash" was also used by Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Jamie Peters, who called the deal "deeply disappointing".

"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", he added. "The same should apply to oil and gas companies which are devastating the health of our planet".

Environmental campaigning organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion (see photo below of their protest at the Shell Centre in 2019) have been highly vocal over many years about the activities of oil companies.

BP's sponsorship of the National Gallery, which spans more than thirty years, will end in December. Although it has been highly controversial, the oil giant claims that its " ... support of the gallery's Portrait Award, one of the longest running cultural events in London,has enabled more than six million visitors to enjoy free admission to the exhibition and contributed to the career development of more than 1,500 portrait artists, from aspiring young painters to established professionals".

To what extent, longer term, the positives of Shell's association with British Cycling will outweigh negative publicity produced by protesters remains to be seen.









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