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Chris Hoy: British Cycling deal can ‘put cycling on Shell’s agenda’

“If you want to make change, it’s better to be on the inside,” the six-time Olympic champion said

British Cycling’s much-ridiculed partnership with Shell could help inform and influence the oil giant’s environmental policies, says Sir Chris Hoy.

Speaking at this week’s world track championships in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines – where Great Britain’s Shell-branded riders secured a thrilling gold medal against Italy’s Filippo Ganna-powered Olympic champions in the men’s team pursuit – the sport’s most decorated track star claimed that while the deal was “controversial”, many of British Cycling’s staff and riders believe that it provides the governing body with the opportunity to “put cycling on the agenda” and give it “a voice” within the fossil fuels industry.

Earlier this week, the national governing body was accused of facilitating ‘greenwashing’ after announcing that it had agreed an eight-year sponsorship deal with the multinational oil and gas company.

> "Greenwashing, pure and simple" - fury as Shell UK sponsors British Cycling

According to British Cycling, the partnership with Shell – which, the governing body has clarified in recent days, is not equivalent to the ‘Lead Partner’ role formerly held by HSBC – “will see a shared commitment to supporting Great Britain’s cyclists and para-cyclists through the sharing of world-class innovation and expertise,” as well as “helping more – and wider groups of – people to ride, including ways to make cycling more accessible for disabled people.”

Shell UK, which operates the country’s largest public network of electric vehicle (EV) charging points, says it will support British Cycling’s aim to move towards a fleet consisting entirely of EVs.

Announcing the deal, British Cycling’s CEO Brian Facer claimed that the body’s partnership with Shell would also “help our organisation and sport take important steps towards net zero”.

However, as road.cc’s sister website eBikeTips pointed out, a recent report has claimed that Shell, which insists it is committed to achieving net zero by 2050, had told employees in an internal communication from 2020 to never “imply, suggest, or leave it open for possible misinterpretation that [net zero] is a Shell goal or target.”

> Oil giant Shell to make e-bikes as well as e-scooters – or at least their name will be on them

The partnership has prompted a fierce backlash from cyclists across the UK, many of whom have cancelled or threatened to cancel their British Cycling memberships in protest at what they believe is Shell’s attempt to ‘greenwash’ its environmentally damaging activities by investing in an activity associated with sustainable, healthy living.

While that particular accusation has already been aimed at pro team sponsors involved in the fossil fuels industry such as Ineos and TotalEnergies, as well as oil-rich states like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Shell’s involvement with an organisation that not only purports to represent elite athletes, but also people who ride bikes across the country, has perhaps added even more fuel to the greenwashing fire.

In the wake of the announcement, one British Cycling member, a trained ride leader for the organisation’s Breeze women-only rides, said that the energy company “stands for everything we everyday cyclists don’t,” while another who has belonged to the organisation for more than a quarter of a century said that the sponsorship was “green washing for [Shell UK], plain and simple.”

However, despite the negative feedback from its membership, Sir Chris Hoy – who secured eleven rainbow jerseys for British Cycling during his illustrious career on the track – has claimed, that while the deal may have been “controversial”, most of the athletes at this week’s world track championships in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines believe that British Cycling’s partnership with Shell could help change the oil and gas giant’s policies from within.

“It’s not unfair to say that it was a controversial partnership to announce,” the six-time Olympic champion told BBC presenter and Invictus Games cycling medallist JJ Chalmers on Thursday.

“I think most people were quite surprised that a cycling federation aligned with a global corporation that’s in the oil industry. You wouldn’t think those two sit side-by-side.

“But, put yourself in British Cycling’s management’s position. They need to get a sponsor, they need to have a partner. In the current climate, trying to find a major sponsor for one year, let alone for eight years, is a significant challenge.”

> British Cycling and Shell: How HSBC pulling plug and COVID-19 hit governing body’s finances

Hoy, who is working at this week’s track worlds as a pundit, continued: “It will be interesting to speak to the management to see what they’ve got to say, but I guess a lot of the chatter in the track centre has been saying, well do you know what, if you want to make change, it’s actually better to be on the inside. To have a voice within the organisation, to try and make them hear your opinions and what you want to do for your sport.

“It’s not just about elite sport and the national team, it’s about representing the views of the entire membership and putting cycling on the agenda with a massive corporation like Shell.

“If you can get them to change their policy even slightly, then that’s a positive thing.”

The reaction to Hoy’s comments has been decidedly mixed, with some fans and journalists describing the retired sprinter’s comments as “very weak” and “naïve”.

Referencing some of the arguments used to defend last year’s takeover of Newcastle United Football Club by a consortium which includes Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, journalist Rob McGregor wrote on Twitter: “Is there a single instance of being ‘on the inside’ that has resulted in a sport, or a sports club, influencing the policy/actions of a [problematic] owner or sponsor?”

“‘We need to get a sponsor’ will the epitaph on this sport’s headstone,” said cycling writer Tom Owen.

> “Reinforcing the point that bike racing isn’t exactly green”: Giro d’Italia organisers criticised for rumoured Rome finale – and 700km transfer

On the other hand, Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s press officer Phil Lowe described Hoy’s argument as “absolutely spot on”.

“A lot of people [are] bitching about it, but who is coming up with an alternative?” Lowe asked, before claiming that “what cycling needs first is financial backing. You have to decide what you want from a governing body.

“I want a successful team and better cycling infrastructure, and not a lesson on morality.”

Meanwhile, British BMX rider Kieran Reilly echoed Hoy’s comments, telling BBC Sport that while he was “surprised” by the partnership with Shell, he was “excited to see what they bring”.

“If Shell partnered itself with a sport that wasn’t green there'd be a bigger reaction,” the European silver medallist said.

“Shell are taking a step in the right direction. I don’t think we will lose credibility as a sport.

“It’s Shell bettering themselves, cycling is helping Shell do that. There’s no argument for our sport being bad in that environment.”

Responding to this week’s widespread criticism of the deal – which manifested itself in an open letter signed by over 700 organisations and individuals calling on British Cycling to renounce the partnership – a Shell spokesperson said: “We agree that society needs to take urgent action on climate change. Shell has a clear target to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050.

“We are also deeply committed to the UK and are planning to invest between £20-25bn in the UK energy system over the next decade – more than 75 percent of this will be in low and zero-carbon products and services, including offshore wind, hydrogen and electric mobility.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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32 comments

Avatar
Reynolds531 | 1 year ago
2 likes

Do you like tarmac? How about synthetic fabric skinsuits? Butyl rubber? I could go on.

Be thankfut for petrochemical companies who do the dangerous dirty work to bring wonderful materials for us to use.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Reynolds531 | 1 year ago
3 likes
Reynolds531 wrote:

Do you like tarmac? How about synthetic fabric skinsuits? Butyl rubber? I could go on.

Be thankfut for petrochemical companies who do the dangerous dirty work to bring wonderful materials for us to use.

All hail the mighty petrochemical companies! We can accept that there are certain uses of petroleum products that we can't do without in our modern lifestyle (whilst continuing to search for more sustainable alternatives); that doesn't mean a blanket acceptance of the use of petroleum, particularly for transport, and it certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't challenge companies like Shell, which has a quite appalling environmental and human rights record, particularly in its operations in the Niger Delta.

 

Avatar
TheBillder replied to Reynolds531 | 1 year ago
2 likes
Reynolds531 wrote:

Do you like tarmac? How about synthetic fabric skinsuits? Butyl rubber? I could go on.

Be thankfut for petrochemical companies who do the dangerous dirty work to bring wonderful materials for us to use.

There will be useful materials, with no practical alternatives that are less damaging, for some time to come. But could you list a few petrochemical companies that only deal with essential materials and make all reasonable efforts to produce them with the minimum emissions? Hint: not those that sell fossil fuels for burning, nor those that flare waste gases.

Avatar
wolf dog | 1 year ago
2 likes

shell isnt just big oil anymore.  shell has a higher esg rating than tesla. shell has more ev charging points than any other busness on the planet, and invests alot of money in new low carbon energy transition businesses. of course they are huge in providing lng to many countries, reducing coal burning.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to wolf dog | 1 year ago
3 likes
wolf dog wrote:

shell isnt just big oil anymore.  

Shell invests around $25 billion in oil and gas development each year, including such ecocidal practices as deep ocean extraction, tar sands extraction and fracking. It invests around $300 million in alternative energies, i.e. about 1% of its development budget. That demonstrates how deeply committed the company is to continued petroleum and gas exploitation; up to 2030, it is forecast that Shell's operations will account for 1.2% of all global warming emissions, a staggering figure from a single company. A little green window dressing, including sponsoring a cycling organisation, can't cover that up.

Avatar
TheBillder replied to wolf dog | 1 year ago
3 likes
wolf dog wrote:

shell isnt just big oil anymore.  shell has a higher esg rating than tesla. shell has more ev charging points than any other busness on the planet, and invests alot of money in new low carbon energy transition businesses. of course they are huge in providing lng to many countries, reducing coal burning.

I hope you're enjoying your internship in Shell's marketing team.

Like many other oil companies, Shell is desperately trying to tell us that they've changed. To an extent, they have - realising that oil has peaked, they are trying to diversify. But the core activity is still extraction of fossil fuels for themselves and others to burn, with attendant issues around their relationships with some very unsavoury regimes. If they were serious about climate change rather than profits, the change would be far more dramatic.

And if you think ESG ratings tell the whole story, I'm afraid you need to do a bit more of your own thinking.

Avatar
Velo-drone | 1 year ago
2 likes

I'm surprised that Sir Chris is so unfamiliar with the concept of how sponsorship works.  

It doesn't give you "a voice" in the affairs of your sponsor.  It gives your sponsor "a voice" in your affairs.

For example, HSBC didn't start shipping triamcinolone out to their execs after the great British cycling/Team Sky results.  

And I'm pretty sure that Newcastle United didn't get any say in what interest rates Wonga charged their borrowers.  

 

 

Avatar
Zjtm231 | 1 year ago
3 likes

All those complaining I guess are riding bamboo bikes that they made themselves with rubber tyres that they sustainably tapped from trees after walking to a rubber plantation?

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Zjtm231 | 1 year ago
4 likes

No... but ones here are likely riding (more than the general populace).  I guess you'd want proof that the naysayers are photosynthesing and not breathing out CO2 (to show they're part of the solution) or they're hypocrites?

Avatar
Simon E replied to Zjtm231 | 1 year ago
8 likes
Zjtm231 wrote:

All those complaining I guess are riding bamboo bikes that they made themselves with rubber tyres that they sustainably tapped from trees after walking to a rubber plantation?

Comments like this are just wanky shite.

By your reckoning I suppose everyone who has ever tasted sugar must therefore support slavery.

Hoy is trying to put a positive spin on a 'deal with the devil' situation but it's just wishful thinking. I think Boofus has summed it up concisely - "You don't change the devil, the devil changes you ".

If the bigwigs at Shell thought the future was in active travel and green technologies they would be doing something more useful than sponsoring BC, who have no real interest in promoting active travel or the environment.

Avatar
Zjtm231 replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
1 like

Wanky Shite - how eloquent. Would you be happier if Shell sponsored F1? Would that be better?

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Zjtm231 | 1 year ago
5 likes
Zjtm231 wrote:

Would you be happier if Shell sponsored F1? Would that be better?

Yes, because it would be honest. Everybody knows that F1 is tremendously wasteful and environmentally damaging, so they would not be able to use such a sponsorship to try to burnish their environmental credentials in the way that they are by sponsoring cycling.

Also, they do sponsor F1 through their connection with Ferrari.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Zjtm231 | 1 year ago
5 likes
Zjtm231 wrote:

All those complaining I guess are riding bamboo bikes that they made themselves with rubber tyres that they sustainably tapped from trees after walking to a rubber plantation?

The carbon footprint of making a bicycle is approximately 98 kg CO2 (European Cyclists' Federation estimate), so once a bike has been ridden as a replacement for 695km of car journeys (under three weeks of commuting for me) it is into the black as far as CO2 emissions are concerned, so no, you don't need a bamboo bike legitimately to express concern. 

Avatar
Zjtm231 replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
0 likes

.

Avatar
Zjtm231 replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
1 like

I dont disagree with your calculations. So no you don't need a banboo bike but if you really felt stongly enough about it then perhaps those that moan about Shell should take their own advice....

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Zjtm231 | 1 year ago
3 likes

I agree. I won't be sponsoring BC to the tune of millions. I'll just keep riding my bike, not owning a car and doing the odd half-assed bit for other people on bikes.

Avatar
ktache replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
2 likes

Unfortunately I have never driven so the wonderful steel framed Marin Pine Mountain (91/2) that I sourced 2nd hand in 97 as my Getting to Work bike, and got me to work for over twenty years was just a massive carbon producer.

Grrr...

Avatar
Car Delenda Est | 1 year ago
3 likes

Reminds me of that time Dupont got PETA to shill their plastic non-recyclable non-biodegradable bearskin hats to the MOD

Avatar
Boofus | 1 year ago
10 likes

You don't change the devil, the devil changes you 

Avatar
dubwise | 1 year ago
14 likes

Hey Chris, why don't you speak to the Ogoni people of Nigeria and in particular the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa about Shell?

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Awavey | 1 year ago
9 likes

at this point in time...I dont consider Sir Chris Hoy to be an impartial observer on this topic

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Paul J replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
3 likes

Hoy is a big petrol-head now, in his post-cycling career, isn't he?

Avatar
eburtthebike | 1 year ago
4 likes

“A lot of people [are] bitching about it, but who is coming up with an alternative?” Lowe asked, before claiming that “what cycling needs first is financial backing."  Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s press officer Phil Lowe.

The end justifies the means.  The reasoning used by all losers unable to make a moral argument for their actions.  Is it really a good justification of taking fossil fuel money to win a few medals?  And are those medals really worth anything when it was money that won them, not talent?

Avatar
Awavey replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago
2 likes

the obvious reaction to Phil Lowes outburst, and he's a press officer ffs maybe working with Patrick Lefevere dulls those senses after a while, is ok so why arent Quick Step Alpha Vinyl sponsoring British Cycling then as an alternative ?

Avatar
Car Delenda Est replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago
3 likes

Agreed.

Cycling and professional sport cycling are not the same thing.
Raising money for an international race does nothing for me the commuter cyclist.
Maintaining the bike manufacturing's razor focus on recreational cycling reduces the options available to me the commuter cyclist.

Avatar
thehill | 1 year ago
5 likes

@chrishoy - nice bloke and legend on a bike, but they are using you as a muppet/puppet.
went to shell.co.uk to see what they were doing, oh wait, nothing even remotely visibile.
did a search and found a press release buried away
https://www.shell.co.uk/media/2022-media-releases/shell-uk-and-british-c...
can imagine a bunch of PR people thining, job done, although they have supposedly spent 8 big ones, so you'd think they would want a bit more out of it
 

Avatar
CXR94Di2 | 1 year ago
10 likes

Big oil has been for years undermining research, facts about climate change,
and pollution with carefully targeted propaganda and political lobbying.

It's just 'green washing '

Avatar
alexuk | 1 year ago
0 likes

Hoy has more brains than all you loonies that have been bashing the deal. So glad he has the strength of character to say the obvious that most millenials are missing. Hoy wins again.

Avatar
Sredlums replied to alexuk | 1 year ago
9 likes

It's not Hoy's strenght of character, but his dependence of his income that's doing the talking here.

His reasoning is the same as for example every time the Olympics or the Soccer WC etc. choose a host country with a terrible regime. 'Yes the regime has its problems, but we are sure that our presence there, with the eyes of the world upon it, will bring change from within'. And every time that turns out to be utter bull crap.
The regime just takes a piss out of them, again and again. Putin had a field day when the Olympics were in Russia.

Hoy is Shell's puppet, his reasoning is flawed, and the excuses are weak.

Avatar
Awavey replied to Sredlums | 1 year ago
4 likes

I dont think he's anyones puppet, but he is in that awkward position in the sports commentating business, where his current and future earnings rely on him not being too controversial or upsetting the apple cart alot. So he wont openly criticise his former employers at BC, or a company like Shell and instead reflect the positive spin & shield the teams riders from direct criticism.

and theres a reason why the saying it takes a long time to turn an oil tanker around exists.

but there we go at least they dodged signing up with Aramco, like the ICC have just done, who knew the game of cricket needed to be more sustainable.

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