Mark Perryman argues the case for Le Tour as a model of democratic sport
As a model of how to consume sport Le Tour puts other sporting mega-events such as the current World Cup or the 2012 London Olympics to shame.
No expensive new stadiums and arenas, often to be barely used after the extravaganza is over, sold off or knocked down. In fact no new infrastructure at all, apart from filling in the potholes on the road.
Free to watch. No frustrating battle for overpriced tickets, just turn up at the side of the road and enjoy.
Uncommercialised. The route so tortuously long, impossible for the sponsors and event ‘owners' to plaster with their advertising and police any local business or communities efforts to make any money out of the event.
Decentralised. What other global sporting event takes in Leeds, Ilkley Moor, Skipton. Ripon, Harrogate, York, Keighley, Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Saffron Walden, Epping Forest, before finishing up for the final part of the English leg, in London. Then crosses La Manche to go to all points north, south, east and west Francais.
European. Barely a month after UKiP top the polls in GB, and Le Pen’s Front National in France this is popular Europeanism at its best. A race that is absolutely French in character from Maillot Jaune to Musette celebrated and embraced by a huge chunk of the Great British Sporting Public. Yorkshire for two days the county of the Grand Départ and couldn’t be prouder.
British winners. A vital ingredient in cycling’s rising popularity, elite success, first on the track at the Olympics, more recently Wiggo, Cav and Froome in Le Tour. A sport at which the Brits are world-beaters largely outside the sporting media mainstream which is still absolutely dominated by football coverage, a sport where England in world terms, as they are spectacularly proving in Brazil this summer, are in contrast also-rans.
Watching and doing. Football in particular has almost entirely divorced watching the game from playing it. A game which despite being easily the wealthiest sport in the land is seeing participation levels falling, eleven-a-side football suffering the steepest decline in terms of recreational players. As a result football, and most other high-profile sports - especially team sports - has become increasingly something we watch from our sofas, not get off to do it. Cycling is different, vast numbers who line the route of Le Tour will ride bikes to reach their vantage point. Many will be regulars on the charity cycle circuit, sportives or just enjoy a weekend spin on two wheels. Watching and doing intimately connected.
Two wheels for all. What other sport can you do on the way to work, to the shops, visiting friends? Cycle as a family, or with a bunch of mates. Use as basis for a holiday, a way to explore the countryside. The binary opposition of recreation vs competition blurred to frame sport as pleasure, aspirational but not exclusive. Social and relaxing, for many the cafe or pub stop as important as the miles ridden, yet challenging and fast when the cycling fancy takes you.
Le Tour? This summer as English as a glass of plonk and a croissant. Just the way we like it s’il vous plait.
Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is Corbynism from Below and is published by Lawrence & Wishart, available to order from here.