British Cycling performance director Stephen Park has said the governing body is “not blind” to criticism surrounding its eight-year partnership with oil and gas company Shell.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly at the UCI Track World Championships last week, Park said: “We recognise the sensitivities of working with a company like Shell.
“Our commercial team are very conscious of that. I’m sure the board were very conscious of that as well."
The partnership, announced earlier this month, sees the energy company sponsor British Cycling in its efforts to reach net zero and to get more people with disabilities into the sport.
The Great Britain Cycling Team sported the company's logo on their jerseys at last week's Track World Championships.
“We need to have commercial partners to help support what we do,” Park said. “It’s been difficult over the past four years or so, and Covid has not helped.”
In 2020, HSBC UK announced it would end its eight-year partnership with British Cycling, exercising a break clause in their agreement and citing a shift in marketing priorities. According to Park, the organisation is still searching for a replacement headline sponsor.
“Running a programme of the size and scale and scope that we do within the Great Britain Cycling Team, where we’re trying to deliver medals across all of those Olympic and Paralympic disciplines, is not cheap,” Park said.
For the Paris 2024 cycle, the Great Britain Cycling Team received over £35 million in funding from UK Sport and the National Lottery, nearly £10 million more than it did for the games in Tokyo.
Park was eager to add that the Shell deal is "not all about the money" for British Cycling.
"Our riders and staff are actually really passionate about the environment, about sustainability, about our journey to net zero,” he said. “Shell provide us with an opportunity of doing that.”
Asked if he was surprised by the public backlash to the partnership, Park replied "no".
“I think you’d be naïve to expect it to be different,” he explained. “Of course there was an expectation that there would be sections of the population who fundamentally have an issue with lots of other partners we have, and indeed within the sport of cycling, and how they’re operating around the world.
“British Cycling is not blind to what some sections of the public perception is about what Shell do and how they do it.”
Last year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% by the end of 2030. It is estimated that the oil and gas giant's activities are responsible for around 1% of global emissions each year.
In a statement shared last week, Greenpeace’s UK policy director Dr Doug Parr called Shell’s partnership with British Cycling “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," the Greenpeace director added.
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