The landmark Tour de France Grand Depart from Yorkshire was on the brink of being forfeited amid a row over Government funds, it has been revealed.
Sir Rodney Walker, chair of the now-disbanded Tour organising body TDFHUB2014 Ltd, has revealed that his unexpected role in making sure the spectacle went ahead only came about after a fall-out with Government chiefs.
The right to host the opening stages of the world’s most watched annual sporting event was won through the leadership of Gary Verity, chief executive of tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire, in 2012, pipping the Government-supported bid to host the race in Scotland.
But, in a candid first public speech on the impact of Yorkshire’s Grand Depart at an event held by Barclays and Armstrong Watson at The Leeds Club yesterday, Sir Rodney claimed that the maverick move left ministers in Whitehall furious and prompted a rift that almost saw the Government refuse to give its £10million of financial backing.
“Gary’s [Verity] intervention was to say the least unwelcome and my first real interaction was when my successor and chair of UK Sport said ‘do you know that man? Can you tell him to back off?’,” the 71-year-old said.
“I didn’t even bother asking. I think I also said ‘do not underestimate his ability to win’.”
Welcome to Yorkshire’s unexpected victory caused ripples in Central Government. Last year The Yorkshire Post revealed that UK Sport considered the event to be a “very high risk project” with “significant financial and logistical challenges”, and minutes from top level meetings revealed that UK Sport and the Department for Culture Media and Sport initially wanted the event to be marketed as England’s Grand Depart.
Sir Rodney soon joined forces with Welcome to Yorkshire and lobbied contacts in the hope of changing minds within Government, including that of then Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson.
Describing a phone call from the minister, Sir Rodney explained: “He [Mr Robertson] said ‘there is no way we are going to give a penny to Welcome to Yorkshire’ and I said ‘you have a simple choice, if you don’t give them money it wont go ahead and it will probably go to Florence’.”
Within days Mr Robertson was back in touch with Sir Rodney and insisted he chair the Government funds, which led to the formation of TDFHUB2014 Ltd in July 2013. Gary Verity was appointed joint vice chairman.
Sir Rodney said: “The Government was seriously p****d off that Welcome to Yorkshire got in the way of their masterplan but in the end, to be fair, they could not have been more complimentary about what was achieved.”
He added: “It was down purely and simply down to Welcome to Yorkshire and to be fair it was down to one man, Gary Verity, he was the man who had the vision.”