Goodbye Team Sky, goodbye oily Ineos, I can’t support a cycling team advertising fracking

Palms greased with the very best lubricant – money – the petrochemical giant is greenwashing its poor record on pollution and climate change

Harry Cockburn
Friday 03 May 2019 14:46
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Tour de Yorkshire 2019 route preview

Ahh, lovely cycling. Swooping through the stunning countryside of the Yorkshire Moors. Dry stone walls fly past. Trees in blossom. Pub gardens. The boughs of ancient trees sway in the breeze. Look, a green woodpecker. And what’s that just behind – a mighty crane? No, not a crane, oh, it’s the top of a fracking rig. Oh, and there come a line of thundering lorries. No probs, I’ll give way. Actually, the drilling is pretty noisy, I might just go the other way, over that hill there. Oh dear, another fracking rig ahead. Maybe I should have stayed in after all.

In the 21st century we are all powerlessly gawping at a world growing so hideous and backwards it’s often impossible to do much except watch one piece of idiotic carnage after the next, all flying past in high resolution.

The most recent assault on our sense of decency comes in the form of the UK’s most capable cyclists somehow being convinced into wearing the logos of one of the UK’s most capable pollution-generating institutions.

With cycling regarded as a pursuit inextricably allied with the preservation of the UK’s tranquil rural areas, the fact our Tour de France champion is now an advertising billboard for Ineos, Europe’s biggest petrochemical company, is a painful irony for many of those who follow the sport.

If that’s not quite exasperating enough, then the fact the team’s first race in their new oily colours is in Yorkshire, where Ineos holds significant shale gas exploration rights, which could amount to hundreds of fracking wells, is enough to make you question what the hell the riders and the team are doing by accepting their dirty money and legitimising such a brand.

Team Sky was hardly a bed of ethical feathers – Rupert Murdoch creaking somewhere in the shadows, a jiffy bag that seemed to contain some empire-toppling mystery substance...

But one must draw the line somewhere and speak up. For me, it is with a company so dedicated to polluting the environment, the founder and UK’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, said he’d close a plant in Middlesbrough with the loss of thousands of jobs unless it is was exempt from EU clean air and water regulations.

It is with a company that has put pressure on the government to revise seismic levels upwards to allow larger earthquakes so fracking firms may pump greater quantities of chemicals into the ground to release shale gas.

It is with a company owned by a man who backed Brexit, then moved to Monaco in order to save up to £4bn in tax.

“We make $5bn-$7bn (£4bn-£5bn) a year in profit so there’s no harm in investing a modest amount of that into very worthy sporting endeavours which we enjoy,” Ratcliffe said this week. But he is not putting aside any “modest” amount to develop a women’s team, despite this being a major growth area for the sport.

I can understand why many of the younger and less well-known cyclists on the team would have little choice than to follow the money, but for those like Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, who could cycle for any team, it is desperately disappointing to see them stick with this appalling change in circumstance.

It seems they want to close their eyes and hang on for dear life – as though they were racing down an oily mountain to a big pot of money at the bottom.

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As a fan, not of Team Sky per se, but certainly of the most recent Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, it was painful to see his team being booed and jeered at during protests before they even started the race (Thomas is not riding the Tour de Yorkshire). I’ve followed his career. I am also from south Wales, I also love cycling. My family live a few miles from where Geraint Thomas has a house near Chepstow.

But supporting sporting heroes is not more important than standing against the nefarious companies driving the climate crisis that threatens enjoyment of the sport itself. It is a great shame.

If the team had an image problem before, what fresh bleakness do the coming months hold?

With this development it seems more than ever we are all just at the mercy of the big black boulder of unstoppable wealth accumulation. Can none of us stand up against it?

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