Its not about cycling: Yorkshire’s Tour

Thursday, 19th September 2013 at 17:44 UTC 5 comments

I wanted to unpack a few of my thoughts around the Tour de France and its imminent visit to Yorkshire. But lets not talk about carbon bikes, gruelling climbs or team sponsors, lets talk about what it means without the cycling. Which is actually probably more than the cycling itself adds up to.

To start this train of thought, I want to go back to the beginnings of the Tour de France as a means to promote a newspaper. The newspaper had a problem. It wanted to show a representation of the route that would show up on a map of France. The specific issue was that, 110 years ago, maps of France showed basically the whole of the Earth’s landmass, minus the bits the British ruled over. The French understood their country as containing half of Africa and various other parcels of land.

So when the newspaper drew of map of a single landmass, broadly hexagonal in shape, as the canvas for their race, they ended up creating a completely new understanding of the geography of France. Through something as simple as drawing out the route of the race, people came to understand their country in a new way.

Why do I raise this? First and foremost, this is Yorkshire’s Tour. Never before has a sporting event been held with such international interest that has focused on Yorkshire as a region with its own distinct identity. Yes, we have a cricket team, but the audience it gathers is fractional compared to the Tour and it plays at a handful of grounds around the county. In fact, this is Yorkshire as a modern Region, not as a Historic County. It is part of a groundswell towards an identity for that bit of England beyond London’s reach. Such a major event can only serve to strengthen our identity as a region, in the same way that the Olympics served to strengthen London’s sense of status as a World City.

Road cycling, perhaps more than any other sport, is about physical geography as well as political geography. The race will take in a broad sweep of what Yorkshire has to offer and can only boost tourism in the long term. Who, when watching the majority of London 2012 events, had their mind drawn towards Britain’s countryside? With aerial shots from helicopters, cycling is the perfect sport for showcasing sights beyond the limits of our cities. This isn’t just about Leeds, Harrogate, York and Sheffield, but about the entire region.

I take my hat off to Gary Verity, the boss of Welcome to Yorkshire. At a time when the region’s public bodies have been eviscerated by a government that sees no need for anything regional, lest it detract from a City-of-London-centric vision of Britain, he has played a blinder, not only in regards to the Tour but generally in terms of keeping Yorkshire on the map. If we ever raise enough sense of self-identity to bring about a successful referendum for a regional assembly, he will have been one of key people in facilitating it. Not bad for a man who’s job isn’t political leader of the legion, but tourism chief.

Every year I see more White Roses being flown. Every year I see a stronger sense of what it is to be ‘Yorkshire’. For sure, the same is happening in the South West, as well as Scotland and Wales. And its not limited to Britain, with Catalonia looking ever more at odds with the Madrid vision of Spain. And lest anyone thing this is a right-wing move, the politics in all these places is towards socially-minded politics. The Tour coming to Yorkshire is a big step forwards for our Regional Identity on the global stage, and will change how we and the world view ‘Yorkshire’. I for one am keen that we embrace that shift.


Entry filed under: Britain, Culture, Cycling, Politics, Sports, Yorkshire.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ceri  |  Thursday, 19th September 2013 at 18:52 UTC

    I don’t agree that it’s all ‘socially-minded politics’ around here. We have a UKIP MEP & a fair amount of BNP support.

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Thursday, 19th September 2013 at 22:01 UTC

      Both UKIP and the BNP have opposed regionalism on some level. People voting UKIP are unlikely to vote in favour of a move to separate our politics from that of London and the wider UK. UKIP pose the problem as Europe and the solution being Westminster, whereas the SNP says the problem is Westminster and proposes the solution of devolved power.

  • 3. Tom Davidson  |  Thursday, 19th September 2013 at 21:43 UTC

    I think it is true what you say that “Yes, we have a cricket team, but the audience it gathers is fractional compared to the Tour and it plays at a handful of grounds around the county”..

    However I always feel that cricket is understated as to its popularity. Yorkshire is the most successful county of them all in Cricket by a long way.

    Also cricket is popular in India (1.2 billion population) Pakistan (200 million minus a few) Bangladesh (150 milion ish) Australisa (20 milion ish) England (50 mill) South Africa (50 million) etc..

    Basically cricket is just about as popular as a sport gets, but in the West we view India probably more as a country than a continent (which would be a fairer representation of its size) and also, I believe, the West do not believe Indians have the same value as Westerners, and therefore do not view the popularity as cricket as popular.

  • 4. Nigel Sollitt  |  Friday, 20th September 2013 at 8:29 UTC

    I agree with almost everything you say Graham. However, Yorkshire is a historic county and the identity of the people of Yorkshire is intrinsic to the heritage and tradition of that county, not to any government imposed region which so many Yorkshire folk despise; not least those Yorkshire folk which it excludes. Seeing more White Rose flags recently is not a sign of an emerging Yorkshire identity but a sign that the people of Yorkshire have recently felt more need to let the world know of their pride in a Yorkshire identity that has existed for centuries; a pride that TdF Grand Depart 2014 can only swell!

  • 5. Greg  |  Sunday, 22nd September 2013 at 21:06 UTC

    What Ceri said: Yorkshire provides one of only two BNP MEPs. Most North Yorks MPs are Tory – Hugh Bayley is the only one if you exclude whatever we inherited from Cleveland. East Yorks, Beverley and Howden constituencies are all Tory too. South Yorkshire is all Labour apart from Nick Clegg, while West Yorkshire is split 12L, 7C, 2LD plus George Galloway.

    In short, Yorkshire’s just as divided as everywhere else.


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