Why Didn’t UK Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson Get The Sport England Chair? The Reason Is Shameful.

Grey-Thompson is sitting in her wheelchair outside in a park. There are trees (without leaves) behind her on both sides. She is wearing a purple shirt and is holding an unlit Olympic torch. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

Sport England is the UK Government’s sports funding body. According to The Independent, it “has an annual budget of around £300m, which it is in charge of investing in grass-roots sport.”

The whispers were growing louder leading up to the announcement of the new Chair of Sport England that it would go to 11-time gold medalist paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Instead, the position went to Nicholas Bitel, the current chief executive of the London Marathon. So, what happened?

Grey-Thompson is in the UK House of Lords as an independent crossbench peer, which means that she is not aligned with any political party. The Telegraph characterizes her as a “well regarded both as an authority on sport and as a disability rights campaigner.”

She is also a vocal opponent of recent changes to the welfare system in the UK. Just a few weeks ago, she was supposed to have a live TV debate with George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, “the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters, equivalent to the role of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the Treasury in other nations.” An insider on the show said she was axed at the last minute because Osborne did not want to be shamed on TV.

It appears that her advocating for disabled people and/or people on welfare in the UK cost her the position. 

According to The Telegraph, “speaking earlier this year, Baroness Grey-Thompson acknowledged that she had applied for the job but said she might be seen as “too outspoken” by the department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).”

And now, The Telegraph, in a different article, is reporting that “Grey-Thompson was offered the chairmanship of Sport England nearly two weeks ago by the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, only to learn on Monday that her appointment had been rejected by Number 10.” [note: “Number 10” = Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration in the UK in the same way “White House” = Obama’s administration in the US]

It is claimed that a number of Tory peers sought private meetings with David Cameron to voice their concerns that she was too “political” to run the country’s largest sports quango and that her appointment should be blocked. […]

But it became apparent in recent days that the Government was having second thoughts, with Whitehall sources briefing about Grey-Thompson’s lack of experience in the commercial sector compared to Bitel, whose leadership of the multi-million pound London Marathon since 1995 made him better equipped to handle the £300 million annual Sport England budget.

The Independent reported, “Mr Bitel denied any involvement in the recruitment process and said it was Lady Grey-Thompson who gave him his reference when  applying for the position. But many, including fellow disabled peer Anne Begg, regard the decision as a government “stitch-up”.”

Grey-Thompson has expressed her disappointment but she has also been gracious to Bitel:

A disabled woman uses her platform as a sports star and peer in the House of Lords to speak up for people who have less than her. And for that she is punished by a conservative government which wants to push through legislation that hurts the most vulnerable without answering for that.

Shame on those Tory peers and Number 10.