Sports bodies' spendingunder scrutiny

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The Independent Online
PROFESSIONAL sport is to be investigated by government inspectors after concerns that taxpayers' money is being misspent by incompetent administrators.

Football, rugby, cricket, boxing, athletics and a host of minor sports will come under scrutiny. Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has ordered an audit of sport's ruling bodies to ensure that state funds are not wasted.

The inquiry will be the first priority of the Government's new cultural watchdog, Quest - the Quality Efficiency and Standards body. It will produce a list of recommendations for improving accountability. Any ruling body failing to meet strict new criteria will lose its funding. Ruling bodies will also be warned that if they do not come up to scratch, a statutory organisation will be set up to control their activities.

The move follows a spate of high-profile controversies surrounding sports administrators. Ministers fear that the escalating rows over the management of football could overshadow Britain's bid to host the 2006 World Cup. There is also concern about the growing number of cases of athletes testing positive for drugs.

Whitehall sources said that sport's governing bodies had to demonstrate that they were operating above board. "There's so much money involved in sport now that it is essential that the management is accountable, clear and transparent," one source said.

Peter Leaver and Sir John Quinton, the chief executive and chairman of football's Premier League, were forced to resign last week in a row over two pounds 50m consultancy contracts awarded to former executives of the satellite television broadcaster BSkyB. The 20 Premiership chairmen forced them out as a sign of their anger over the contracts set up with Sam Chisholm and David Chance, who were enlisted to help with the next round of television negotiations.

Graham Kelly quit as chief executive of the Football Association in the face of widespread grassroots opposition and Glenn Hoddle stood down as England coach after causing uproar by saying disabled people were being punished for their actions in a previous life. The five major posts in British football administration are now unfilled and the sport is veering from crisis to crisis.

Controversy also remains over the attempt by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB to take over Manchester United Football Club. Insiders believe that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report, which was handed to the Department for Trade and Industry last week, is likely to allow the pounds 623m deal to go ahead, with some conditions attached.

One might be that the sale could go through as long as Manchester United directors left the room when fellow football club directors discussed the sale of broadcasting rights.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is almost certain to accept the MMC's recommendations because the Government will not want to be seen to be interfering.