Transport for London (TFL)’s decision to pull out of hosting the start of the 2017 Tour de France is both a short-sighted decision and a missed opportunity. Last week, organisers were left bemused and angry after the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, performed a dramatic u-turn over concerns about the cost of staging the event.
But many feel that it may harm the ‘Olympic legacy’ that sought to promote sporting engagement for future generations. Great Britain has a long and distinguished track record of delivery success in major cycling events, and it remains one of the more popular pastimes for Britons everywhere.
One only has to look at their success, both in track and road cycling, at the last Olympics, or even the fact that Britain has had a winner in the Tour de France in three of the last four years (2012, 2013, 2015) as evidence of this. The opportunity to showcase the greatest road cycling event in the world is surely a welcome privilege and would have exposed it to a whole new audience which makes the decision even more baffling.
Johnson has since admitted that he made the decision on behalf of Transport for London (TFL) to pull out at the eleventh hour, and he cited the reported £35 million which would have been coughed up in order to stage the event as justification for it. Yet, even Johnson himself has been a huge advocate of a drive towards people swapping cars for bicycles with his successful ‘Boris Bike’ scheme proving very popular in London since its launch in 2010.
Staging the event would not have been uncharted territory, either. London hosted the Grand Depart in 2007 and was also the setting for the sprint finish at the third stage in 2014. Elsewhere, Yorkshire successfully hosted the first two stages of last year’s tour in which an estimated quarter of the county’s population turned out in support. In total it attracted around four million spectators and provided a whopping £100 million boost to the local economy.
It is well documented that there are some critics who feel that the money spent on staging the event would not be worth it, particularly in the current economic climate where cuts are expected to be made to the transport budget across the UK later this year.
Having said that, TFL are missing a glaring positive: the amount of money they will get as a result of tourists, spectators and other things connected to the event, which like in Yorkshire, will bring a welcome return to aid the economy.
Speaking to BBC London 94.9 last week, Mayor Boris Johnson spoke of it as something not worth the money given it lasts for such a short time. This may apply to London as a city, but the benefits to the UK as a whole would have been enormous and would have helped to inspire the next generation of cyclists and fans. Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, claimed that the government had “wasted a huge opportunity” and frankly he has a point.
It is troubling given the Olympics which, as a spectacle, certainly faltered in its promises and targets. Of course it said nothing about staging every event imaginable, but promoting a healthy lifestyle, engagement in sports and inspiration were some of the key messages of the post-Olympic legacy.
While it’s understandable that the UK is still feeling the cost of staging the 2012 Olympics, it’s not only the organisers that are going to feel a little angry at this change of heart, but so too are the those who missed out at London’s expense, including Edinburgh, which hosted Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain this year .
TFL have not only potentially stunted the growth of one of our most popular and successful sports but also harmed the engagement of a new generation of fans.
Image courtesy of Frans Berkelaar.