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British Cycling chief resigns after fierce reactions to Shell sponsorship deal and trans feud

British team riders Neah Evans, Katie Archibald, Josie Knight and Anna Morris compete in the women’s team pursuit

British Cycling has announced the departure of its chief executive following the furious backlash against its “brazen sportswashing” partnership with Shell.

The governing body confirmed Brian Facer would step down “with immediate effect” less than two years after his enthusiastic unveiling of his controversial new eight-year deal with the oil giants.

His departure also comes six weeks after British Cycling had to apologize for telling people not to cycle at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and six months after it had to suspend its transgender policy amid a major row over Emily Bridges’ bid to transfer to step from horseback riding to men’s races.

That policy was published before Facer’s arrival from London Irish, but it was impossible not to link his departure to a deal with Shell that Telegraph Sports has been told that the board of the governing body nevertheless remains committed.

In a succinct statement announcing his departure, the start of the hunt for a new chief executive and the appointment of director Danielle Every as acting CEO, Chairman Frank Slevin said: “We remain fully committed to delivering our ‘Lead our sport, inspire the strategy of our communities, as we continue our work to support and grow our sport and wider activities, and provide our Great Britain Cycling Team riders with the best possible platform for success.

“Our new CEO will join the organization at an exciting time as we build on the inaugural UCI Road World Championships in Scotland next year and the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024.”

Facer announced the Shell deal earlier this month: “We look forward to working with Shell UK for the remainder of this decade to broaden access to the sport, support our elite riders and help our organization and sport significant steps towards net zero – things we know our members are incredibly passionate about.”

Brian Facer - British Cycling chief resigns after fierce reactions to Shell sponsor deal and trans row - SWpix.com/Simon Wilkinson

Brian Facer – British Cycling chief resigns after fierce reactions to Shell sponsor deal and trans row – SWpix.com/Simon Wilkinson

The response was immediate and intense, with social media networks seeing people threatening to resign from the governing body, ridiculing Facer’s claims and wondering if it was April Fool’s Day.

Environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth condemned the collaboration as “brutal sportswashing”.

“The idea that Shell is helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan,” said Greenpeace UK policy director Dr. Doug Parr. “After being evicted from museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil sees sport as the next frontier for their brutal greenwash. But their goal has not changed: to distract from the inconvenient fact that the fossil fuel industry is making our planet uninhabitable.”

Callum Skinner, the Rio 2016 track sprinter who won gold in the team event and silver in the individual, posted on Twitter: “Well that went as expected, glad I don’t have to kick their posts anymore.

“By the way, the athletes are not allowed to speak out or perform, be nice.”

As it had expected a backlash, the Shell deal was almost certainly a sign of how desperate British Cycling is in seeking commercial revenue to supplement UK Sport and Sport England funding.

The governing body was left with a funding gap of an estimated £30million for this Olympic cycle after HSBC UK decided to include a clause in its own eight-year sponsorship deal in late 2020. That hiatus was extended for a year due to Covid and the Tokyo 2020 postponement, but the money ran out by the end of 2021.

British Cycling is also struggling with declining membership. That’s despite claims made last year that membership would grow by 100,000 in Paris by 2024.

The deal with Shell is estimated to be worth between £1 million and £2 million a year, roughly what Sky paid 10 years ago. However, Sky would offer a lot of Value in Kind in marketing support for Sky Rides. The HSBC deal was worth up to £8 million a year.

The board is still looking for a leading partner.

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