ALAN HUBBARD'S COLUMN: INSIDE LINES

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The Independent Online
Learning the game by Aussie rules

It may not happen that often, but there are times when you get the feeling that those in charge of British sport are getting it right. So it is heartening to report that the long-awaited UK Sports Institute will offer something more than simply bricks and mortar boards when it is finally up and running. It has borrowed an idea - and an adviser - from its role model in Australia which should help get the best out of young athletes by ensuring that they have something to fall back on when their competitive days are over. The Athlete Career and Education programme - known as ACE - launched at Bisham Abbey last week provides a support service offering educational and career advice for the majority who eventually will have to return to earning a living outside sport. Deidre Anderson, who was reponsible for the Australian programme, has been hired to set up the UK scheme. Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies is among those who endorse it. "It is important that those involved in sport have something else in their lives," she says. "You don't want to be waking up in the morning wondering what is going to happen when it is all over." Another retired swimmer, Ian Wilson, is one of the dozen full-time advisers who will work with athletes in the Institute network. "I don't anticipate we will have many seeking our help leading up to the Olympics," he says. "But there could be quite a few knocking on our door next October."

Bridge too far for Samaranch

Usually, he plays his cards pretty close to his chest, but in promising that bridge will be included in, would you believe, the winter Olympics of 2006 that wily old bird Juan Antonio Samaranch is displaying a curious hand. Like chess, bridge is now being pushed as a sport rather than a cerebral pastime and will be featured as a demonstration event in Salt Lake City in 2002. The IOC president has promised it will be lining up alongside ice dancing, curling and other well-chilled pursuits in Turin four years later. At least, that's what MPs were told when they played an exhibition match with Britain's European champion ladies team at the House last week. What they may not be aware of is the method behind the old boy's apparent madness. It has long been his ambition to boost dwindling interest in the Winter Games by switching indoor sports like basketball, boxing and weightlifting from the summer show. But they won't play ball. Hence his surprise backing for the mind games. The bridge-builders are delighted, though Sandra Landy of the English Bridge Union admits to us, poker-faced, that one of the problems which has to be overcome is that of drugs-taking. "Some of the medications which are on the banned list, like beta-blockers, are keeping some of our members alive." Is it really a sport, this parlour game beloved of old biddies holding their aces in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other? "At international level playing a tournament over two weeks, 12 hours a day is more demanding than the most physical sport because the brain in the part of the body which consumes energy fastest," claim the EBU. Maybe, but we can't help wondering where it will all end. Anyone for Nintendo? An application for computer games to given sporting status has been rightly scorned by Sport England but if bridge is bona fide, why not backgammon, baccarat, or bingo? It all sounds rather like the last throw of the dice for Samaranch.

Minorities a major problem

After receiving a sports minsterial clip around the year last year for the lack of women and representatives from ethic minorities in their ranks, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, who regard themselves as the parliament of British sport, seem to have missed a golden opportunity to get back into Tony Banks' good books. Their new, streamlined board of directors has only nine members, one of them a woman but, alas, none black or Asian despite the huge involvement of these communites in sport. The CCPR say they are determined to rectify the situation, and their autumn seminar will be focused on the problems of exclusion in sport. No doubt Banks will have something to say.

Frankly, we're far too insular

Frank Dick, who quit five years ago as Britain's national athletics coach, now spends his time motivating the movers and shakers of the business world, but the man who was in charge during the most productive time in the sport's history believes there is a reason why we lag one pace behind the rest of the world in most of the sports we play. Our coaches, he says, are unwilling to share their own expertise with those from other sports or learn from contemporaries in other nations. "We have some great coaches out there but they should learn it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help or admit there something more you can learn."

Master motivator, page 14

Faulty Towers not for Wembley

Wembley yesterday dismissed as "ludicrous" reports that the Twin Towers will be reduced to rubble and used as foundation stones for the stadium's pending redevelopment ater next year's FA Cup final. The fact is that when final plans for the new-look arena are revealed this week the towers, like it or not, will be consigned to the scrapheap of history. So be it. Far more important, I suggest, is to provide a proper memorial to those human twin towers who helped make Wembley's reputation as the venue of legends, Sir Alf Ramsey and Bobby Moore.

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