Ineos takeover of Team Sky provokes anger from environmental campaigners

Tom Cary
The Telegraph
Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome face accusations that their new team owner, Ineos, is greenwashing by backing the former Team Sky - AFP
Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome face accusations that their new team owner, Ineos, is greenwashing by backing the former Team Sky - AFP

Team Sky’s star riders Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas found themselves immediately plunged into controversy on Tuesday after it was confirmed that owners BSkyB and 21st Century Fox had agreed to sell the team to petrochemicals giant Ineos.

Lobbyists described Ineos as a “planet-wrecking” company which was only interested in using the sport for “green-washing”.

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The transfer from Team Sky to Team Ineos, confirmed in a statement, will happen a lot sooner than predicted.

BSkyB had been prepared to fund the team until the end of the season but Ineos will become sole owner of Tour Racing Limited, the team’s holding company, from May 1. An official launch is to take place at the Tour de Yorkshire on May 2.

While some fans hailed Sir Dave Brailsford’s success in saving the team, and around 80 jobs in the process, describing it as great news for cycling in general, others questioned the choice of backer.

Ineos, which is part-owned by Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe, is one of the largest plastics manufacturers in Europe, while Ratcliffe is a vocal advocate of fracking in the UK, including Yorkshire, which could make Team Ineos’s debut race interesting.

<span>Team Sky has a new owner, Ineos&nbsp;</span> <span>Credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP </span>
Team Sky has a new owner, Ineos  Credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP

Tony Bosworth, a fossil-free campaigner at Friends of the Earth, described the deal as merely “the latest blatant attempt at greenwashing” by Ineos.

Ratcliffe last year took over Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team, ploughing in £110 million to become sole backer.

Bosworth added that the potential switch of logos on Sky’s cycling jersey from Ocean Rescue to Ineos was a “harsh change of tone”.

“This is also a company that wants to frack large swathes of northern England and the East Midlands,” Bosworth said. “Ineos has also been lobbying hard for the Government to relax safety rules so fracking companies can trigger larger earthquakes before having to down tools.

“Cycling is one of the UK’s most successful and popular sports, but do the likes of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome really want to be associated with a planet-wrecking company like Ineos?”

Others, however, were more excited by the deal, which keeps the biggest team in cycling afloat. Former rider David Millar described it as “the best news professional cycling could have right now” adding: “If they’d shut down, it would’ve been back to the dark ages”.

<span>Sir Jim Ratcliffe's Ineos Chemicals Group has taken over Team Sky which will become Team Ineos for the new World Tour season</span> <span>Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire </span>
Sir Jim Ratcliffe's Ineos Chemicals Group has taken over Team Sky which will become Team Ineos for the new World Tour season Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Millar argued that Brailsford and other senior Team Sky figures, including his sister Fran, who is Team Sky’s director of business operations, deserved huge credit for pulling a spectacular rabbit out of the hat when many said they would struggle to find a sponsor willing to back the team at the level to which they had become accustomed.

Team Sky confirmed in their statement that Ineos would “continue to fund the current team in full " - over £30m per season – "honouring all existing commitments to riders, staff and partners”.

“Chapeau on losing the biggest sponsor in professional cycling and replacing it with the biggest sponsor in professional cycling @franmillar et al,” Millar tweeted.

Neither Team Sky nor Ineos would take questions, so it remains to be seen how the team plan to tackle the allegations of green-washing.

Ratcliffe recently signed the global plastic industry’s Operation Clean Sweep and it is understood that he and Brailsford have plans in this area, with Brailsford’s remit likely to extend far beyond cycling. There is also the question as to what Ineos makes of the various controversies which have swirled around Team Sky over the past few years.

Publicly, everyone involved in the team declared the deal a huge positive, with four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome saying he was looking forward to “continued success as Team INEOS!” and thanking “everyone involved in keeping this special group of people together”.

Thomas, meanwhile, said he was “super happy that the team can continue and stay together!!” adding: “Thank you to Sky, hello to INEOS.”

Brailsford also thanked Sky for their 10 years of backing, saying he had every confidence that Ratcliffe was the “right partner”.

“The speed with which it has happened represents a huge vote of confidence in our future,” he said. “In Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos, I know that we have found the right partner whose vision, passion and pioneering spirit can lead us to even greater success on and off the bike.”

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