Can’t catch a brake: Anti-INEOS protestors face resistance at the Tour of Britain

As Stage 8 of the Tour of Britain wound its way around Greater Manchester yesterday, the riders were greeted at various locations along the route by placard waving, devil-mask wearing protestors.

Their target was Jim Ratcliffe, founder of petrochemical company INEOS and, as of May, the sponsor of Team Sky.

INEOS is a major UK fracking company and the biggest producer of virgin plastics (newly manufactured plastics) in Europe. Pioneers of the Fracking for Plastic process, INEOS import controversially fracked shale gas from the USA to fuel plastic production.

As the owner of fracking licences for multiple sites in Manchester (Barton Moss, Trafford and Salford) and Yorkshire, Ratcliffe is lobbying the government to relax UK fracking restrictions in order to capitalise on a fuel source that is closer to home.  

Ratcliffe’s plans do not stop there. Using his own personal wealth, he has created the INEOS Sport franchise and has set about buying sports teams from across the sporting spectrum. First it was Swiss second division club FC Lausanne Sport in 2017.

Then he provided £110million for Ben Ainslie’s 2021 America’s Cup tilt. A few weeks ago he completed an £88.77million takeover of OGC Nice. However, it was his takeover of Team Sky in May which caused the biggest splash.

Andy Gheorghiu (Food and Water Europe; Break Free From Plastic) labelled the takeover as an attempt at “narrative controlling” by Ratcliffe. He suggests that INEOS are aiming to cash in on cycling’s environmental connotations to create a “positive perception” of the company.

Speaking at this week’s Friday for the Future protest in St Peter’s Square, he summed up his distaste for INEOS: “This company is actively increasing our climate and plastic pollution crisis. They shouldn’t be allowed to sponsor sports teams, greenwash their image and use the subsequent investment to increase the lifespan of environmentally damaging processes.”

Gheorghiu also believes that Ainslie’s sailing team and Team Sky were deliberate targets.

“The sailing community are very vocal against marine waste. Team Sky, too, actively promoted Sky Ocean Rescue which campaigned for reduced plastic usage and pollution. Is it a coincidence that INEOS, a virgin plastic producer, has become the owner of these teams?” 

Saturday’s protest in central Manchester was just one of many levelled at Team INEOS since their inception earlier this year. Anti-fracking protestors targeted the team at the Tour de Yorkshire (a county where Ratcliffe holds fracking licences) whilst Gheorghiu led – and was arrested for – a Break Free From Plastic demonstration when the Tour de France visited Brussels in July. Earlier this year INEOS invested £3billion in plastic production plants in Antwerp and have been linked to the pollution crisis in the Port of Antwerp.

Saturday’s main protest was at the finish line in Central Manchester. Around a dozen campaigners from Frack Free Greater Manchester and Break Free From Plastic descended on Deansgate to conduct their protest.

Speaking on Friday, Allan Challenger (Frack Free Greater Manchester) gave his reassurance that the aim of the protest was not to disrupt the race experience.

“Many of us are cycling fans,” he said. “Our protest is to raise awareness of, and expose, INEOS’ actions, not to ruin the occasion.”

However, within minutes of raising a Frack Free Greater Manchester flag, fellow spectators were vocally opposed to the group’s presence, demanding that the signs and placards be taken down to preserve the view.

Leafleting attempts were met with similarly negative reactions. As a British team with a roster of popular British riders, INEOS commanded a lot of the crowd’s favour.

One spectator questioned the ethics of laying all of the blame on Ratcliffe and INEOS when other pro-cycling sponsors were also guilty of greenwashing.

Examples include Bahrain-Merida, Astana and UAE who are all bankrolled by oil producing nations. Gheorghiu acknowledged that greenwashing, and capitalising on sporting success for good publicity, was not a new business model.

Another protestor cited the example of tobacco companies as an industry that was guilty of the latter. However, he argued that protesting against INEOS is particularly relevant for Manchester as the company owns licences in the region and aims to start fracking in the near future despite widespread opposition.

By the time the breakaway sprinters were led home by Mathieu van der Poel, the protesters had police officers for company and Challenger had been summoned from his camp on the opposite side of the road in an attempt to keep the peace, such was the dissatisfaction of the spectators.

Team INEOS were well represented in the award ceremony, winning the accolades for Best British Rider (Ben Swift) and Best Team, and were greeted with loud applause and ironic cheers in the direction of the protestors.

The anti-INEOS protest was not well received in Manchester but the campaigners, like the riders, have time to recover and regroup before returning to St Peter’s Square on Friday for their monthly Youth Global Climate Strike. Their fight for our climate goes on. 

Image courtesy of Andy Gheorghiu via Twitter, with thanks.

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