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Opinion: British Cycling’s big fossil fuel shame

Opinion: British Cycling’s big fossil fuel shame

A British athlete in a mountain bike event during the 2023 Cycling World Championship. Photo credit: SWPix.

By Anders Lorenzen

Anyone who tuned in to the world championship in cycling currently underway in Glasgow was greeted with one of the world’s largest culprits of the climate crisis. Last year, Royal Dutch Shell, the fossil fuel giant, was shamefully appointed as their main sponsor by the British Cycling Federation. 

The British cycling team is represented in more or less every single discipline in the championship. Spectators and viewers were treated to the large Shell logo dominating the arms of athletes as well as all coaches, support staff etc, demonstrating the tight grip of the fossil fuel industry’s effort in sport washing.

When the sponsorship deal was announced last year ship it attracted headlines, but people quickly lost attention. However now that the world championship is on British ground, with a host of cycling activities over the course of two weeks from track cycling to road cycling, amateurs and professionals, the unethical sponsorship deal deserves renewed attention and criticism. 

An impossible position

It is one thing for a professional team to be sponsored by a fossil fuel giant, such as the British team Ineos. But it is another thing to sponsor a national team which includes all ranks of cyclists, amateurs and professionals. If a rider from Ineos goes to war with the team about its fossil fuel interests, and as a result falls out with management, it is likely he will win a contract elsewhere. 

A young up-and-coming athlete may be uncomfortable with having to carry the Shell logo in order to do what he or she excels at. He/she may want to criticise the team publicly for the sponsorship or go further and refuse to wear the logo, but that athlete could be gambling on their career. This is an unfair and irresponsible position to put any athlete in. 

In the age of the climate crisis and Shell’s huge role in exacerbating it historically and currently, what was British Cycling as the country’s ambassador for the sport thinking? As a body, they ought to be the adult in the room and be role models for cycling as a whole. But instead, they decided to enter a partnership with such an unethical company and put its athletes in such a difficult situation.

A lot of people take up cycling as an alternative mode of transport, to reduce fossil fuel-powered transport, as a hobby, as a pastime sport, or to pursue a future career in the sport. They do so because of its sustainability credentials or the connection to nature it offers. British Cycling has partnered with an organisation whose main interest is to diminish and weaken the role of cycling in our society on the prime basis that it weakens its business models. 

Shell is one of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world and is thus historically responsible for a large portion of the emissions already emitted and a cause of the climate crisis. While they’re supporting a few clean energy projects, this pales in comparison with the amount of money they’re still spending in extracting more oil and gas and on looking for new undiscovered fossil fuels.

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