Athletes’ contracts allow for fair comment but instruct against defamatory remarks.
Attentive cycling fans watching last week’s Track World Championships may have noticed a subtle change to the kits of the British contingent competing on the boards of the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome to the west of Paris.
As the riders gripped their handlebars, shoulders turning inwards, a flash of red and yellow appeared on their arms: the logo of the petrochemical giant Shell. As the men won team pursuit gold and the riders hugged each other in celebration, the scallop emblem of the world’s ninth-largest corporate producer of greenhouse gas emissions was in clear view for all to see.
The beginning of the Track World Championships came mere days after British Cycling’s announcement of an eight-year sponsorship deal with Shell , the oil and gas company promising (without a hint of irony) to help the organisation work towards becoming net zero in its carbon dioxide emissions.
The backlash has been fierce, from environmental organisations condemning the partnership to British cyclists announcing they’d cancelled their memberships. Even cartoonists have entered the fray. The radio silence from board members and employees of British Cycling is to be expected – commercial director Darren Henry found that out the hard way, having put his foot in it with contrary proclamations taking him from environmental campaigner to Shell shill in the space of a year.
But what of the athletes? Their bodies are their billboards for British Cycling’s commercial decisions, so our thoughts turned to what the riders might be […]