Inside Parliament: True blue professional pours scorn on `amateurism' of sporting chiefs

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The Independent Online
A fierce blast of cold realism was dealt to a nation overheating at the start of a sporting summer yesterday with a Commons denunciation of the "incompetence" and amateurism of Britain's sporting establishment.

The Test and County Cricket Board was dismissed as an out-of-touch "gin and tonic brigade", the Lawn Tennis Association "a curse on the game", and the Football Association a "bunch of amateurs".

The drubbing came from David Evans, Tory MP for Welwyn and Hatfield but, more relevantly, a director and former chairman of Luton Town Football Club and the only MP to have been both a professional footballer (Aston Villa) and a first-class cricketer (Warwickshire and Gloucestershire).

As his colleagues jawed on about a summer of sporting success on the basis of the Test match starting well for England, playing host to the Euro 96 football championship and Wimbledon on the sweltering horizon, Mr Evans turned on the cold shower.

He did not think England was destined for victory in any of his three favourite sports - football, cricket and tennis - until players and managers rediscovered "the old English virtues of discipline, modesty and common sense".

He said Terry Venables, the England football coach, had shown "moral cowardice" in refusing to name the players responsible for damage on the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong.

He looked forward to Mr Venables's replacement, Glenn Hoddle who, he hoped, would be a manager with his top shirt button done up rather than a "Sunday morning Jack-the-lad manager".

As for the team, "Gazza and the rest" should not be taking the field against Switzerland at Wembley at all today. Mr Venables should have resigned over the flight fiasco and the whole squad should have been dismissed, he said. Those in future who wore the England shirt would then have been aware of their responsibilities and "worn it with pride".

Mr Evans' criticism of English cricket was much the same. Captains had press conferences "in flip-flops, unshaven, no jackets ..." while the team wore watches and sunglasses on the field in a Test match, "not to tell the time or to keep out the sun but to line their pockets with money from sponsors".

Decrying the need for a manager for a home series, he said the Test administration team were all ex-players, "the gin-and-tonic brigade, all out of touch and flapping around now not knowing how to arrest the decline of cricket".

But he found tennis "the most ludicrous situation of all", with no female players in the top 100 in the world and only one man. "The last time a British male player won Wimbledon was 60 years ago."

The Lawn Tennis Association had the game in its grip but had been a "total disaster" in providing facilities for youngsters. The LTA was run by "losers", he said, "people who have never won anything either on or off the field".

His solution was to end the LTA's stranglehold on tennis finance by ending its right to run Wimbledon and collect the pounds 20m pot. "The LTA is a curse on the game and will continue to be so until the All England Club are brave enough to say enough is enough," Mr Evans said.

Paul Gascoigne's in-flight party was the subject of a bitter exchange between right-winger Lady Olga Maitland and Joe Ashton, Labour chairman of the all-party football group, who said the incident had been blown out of all proportion.

"Are you suggesting that it is totally excusable for this appalling behaviour?" demanded Lady Olga. The fact is that these men put on the most appalling behaviour, they were a disgrace to Britain and they should have been disciplined."

Mr Ashton retorted that Lady Olga only knew what she had read in the papers and added that nine hours after the flight had landed "two cleaners went on to the plane and then ran to the press and said there had been some damage. That's when it took off."