When God’s Own County secured the rights to stage the opening of the world’s greatest cycle race over another Government-backed British bid it didn’t go down well in the corridors of power in London.
Now revelations that sports leaders and senior civil servants sought to present next year’s Grand Départ of the Tour de France as an all-English rather than a Yorkshire spectacle have prompted fury in the White Rose county raising fears of incipient sporting London-centricity in the wake of the Olympics.
Next summer hundreds of thousands of fans will line the route to watch the peloton, including previous winners Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, as they weave their way through a sumptuous 290km route from Leeds to Sheffield on the first two days of the event before heading south for a final UK stage between Cambridge and London.
Minutes of top level meetings released under the Freedom of Information Act however reveal that UK Sport and the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) originally asked the tourism agency Visit England to take over the marketing of the jamboree and erase Yorkshire from the credits.
“They have discussed marketing the event as England and the opportunities for Visit England to be involved in this. Visit England confirmed that they would be keen to lead …” the minutes from a meeting in March reveal.
Ministers and cycling’s governing body had originally backed a £10 million scheme which would have seen the race begin in Edinburgh shortly before the referendum on Scottish independence and proceeding into Wales.
It is claimed the Prime Minister had already been briefed by sports minister Hugh Robertson the bid was successful although Tour organisers would not accept the four-day plan for what it insisted should be a three-day event. However, Mr Robertson said that at no time had he discussed the issue with Number 10.
Yorkshire then stole the prize with a maverick bid led by tourism head Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire (WTY), who believed it provided the perfect advert for the county’s delights before a global TV audience of three billion.
Before agreeing to divert the money the board of UK Sport sought to block Mr Verity’s role in the project and raised a series of objections over his organisation’s ability to make it a reality.
“(The) board agreed that it should not invest National Lottery funding into WTY’s proposal due to the concerns that had been raised regarding the financial and logistical viability of the hosting plans. (The) board also expressed limited confidence in WTY’s leadership of the event,” the minutes said.
Former Labour sports minister Richard Caborn, who was MP for Sheffield Central for 27 years, said Yorkshire was not getting the recognition it deserved.
“We expect UK Sport to back Yorkshire as they did for the London bid for London 2012. When the Tour de France set off from London (in 2007) it wasn’t marketed as an England event it was a London event,” he said.
“We have to be careful we don’t overheat London in terms of sport as has been done with the economy. Yorkshire is a remarkable place – from the countryside to its elite sportsmen and women. If Yorkshire had been competing at the last Olympics it would have come 12th in medal rankings. We do make our contribution.
“We would want to be recognised for that and when we are successful on the international stage – like London – we would expect to get recognition,” he added.
The Yorkshire Post, which obtained the original documents, said the actions of DCMS and UK Sport, “smacks of sour grapes.” It said: “Their own Grand Départ bid … was rejected in favour of Yorkshire's rival bid which revolved around the iconic imagery that will be beamed to a global TV audience.”
UK Sport said it was now reassured over the organisation of the event which will also receive £11 million from Yorkshire councils including Leeds, which will host the first day of the race.
A new committee overseeing the event outside London will be headed by former UK Sport chief Sir Rodney Walker with Mr Verity as his deputy.
In a statement UK Sport said: “The Tour coming to Yorkshire, Cambridge and London next year will be one of the highlights of the sporting calendar and all of the stakeholders are committed to doing all we can to make it a huge success.”
Jeremy Brinkworth, Visit England’s sports tourism project director said: “There will clearly be a major focus on Yorkshire as the host destination for the Grand Départ and the start of this very exciting event.
“There is a renewed interest in and enthusiasm for cycling in this country, and the Grand Départ in Yorkshire, and Cambridge to London stage provides us with a great hook to create a powerful marketing campaign promoting cycling tourism around the whole of the country.”