Peter Corrigan: Give Seb a proper job, not chasing mirages

A question of Essex
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The Independent Online

If they ever devise an Olympic sport that gives fat kids a chance of glory we would owe it to the youth of the nation to pursue the Olympic Games with every ounce of breath in our lungs; although present indications are that there is precious little to spare after we have heaved our bloated bodies on our daily chores.

Meanwhile, it is becoming distressingly clear that the Olympic bid we are mounting has such a slim chance of success that we must withdraw from it immediately to save further expense and embarrassment and transfer the resources to an area of greater need.

This heart-felt demand will not appeal to the bid's bell-ringers and bandwagoners who have been spending the past week or so castigating us of little faith for our unpatriotic and defeatist bleatings.

I can sympathise with their impatience, because those most heavily involved with the battle to bring the 2012 Olympics to London have already invested so much time, effort and personal identification into running the flag up the pole that it would be humiliating for them to see it lowered so soon. Besides, there could by a knighthood or two in it for them.

But there was no mistaking the clarity of message when London finished third behind Paris and Madrid on the shortlist issued less than two weeks ago by the International Olympic Committee. This knock-back was swiftly followed by the resignation of the leader of the bid, Barbara Cassani, and her replacement by Sebastian Coe.

The most natural question is why Lord Coe wasn't at the head of the bid in the first place. No sensible answer having yet been received we can only assume that it was a major cock-up unless, of course, they intend to make it a relay race and Coe will hand over to someone else at the next stage.

If we weren't impressed by this sudden exchange of duties, you can be sure the humourless inspectorate of the IOC won't be, so why don't we cut our losses here and now? This is not a criticism of Coe, or his ability to operate on the world stage of sports administration, but blunt recognition that he has been put in charge of what our army in Napoleonic times used to call a forlorn hope.

This was a mission that carried tactical importance but almost no chance of survival and keen young subalterns would clamour for the honour of leading it. Coe is well past the subaltern stage but will no doubt carry out his duties relentlessly and with complete disregard for the safety of his own reputation.

But Napoleon didn't have half the advantages as an adversary that Paris possess. They are so far ahead of London in terms of facilities, proven organisational abilities, trouble-free transport and committed support from government and populace that they are out of sight. And if Paris don't win the vote, Madrid's case is also superior.

Why, then, do we wish to saddle Coe with a race he can't win? To allow a bid, that is going to cost in excess of £26 million, to go ahead on such meagre expectations is as obscene as the latest obesity figures, which are not totally unconnected to the basic reason why we are not fit to bring the Games here. You cannot present yourself as a credible sporting nation when you are bidding to stage the peak of athletic endeavour with one hand and producing a nation of carthorses with the other.

Apart from the fact that London's main rivals have greater claims to the prize, the plain truth is that there are far more urgent reasons for Britain to get off its big flabby arse. We are weighed down by the paradox that the greatest sporting nation on earth does less to encourage sport than any other in the so-called developed world.

Almost unnoticed, Sir Clive Woodward was the subject of a very interesting interview with Radio 5 last week in which he called for the country to have the benefit of a champion for sport. He didn't mean a politician drafted in as Minister for Sport on his or her way up or down the slippery ladder but a dedicated, iconic figure who would have the power to put sport's case in a far stronger way.

England's rugby World Cup triumph demonstrated what sporting success can do for the good of the nation but any chance it would prove a catalyst for government action, or that Woodward might be worth consulting, has not been realised. It was the last time anyone in Downing Street was in hearing distance of a cheer but they didn't take the hint and appear to feel that half-hearted gestures of support for the Olympic bid is all they need to do.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport are advertising at this moment for a Sports Director to advise the Goverment but neither the salary nor the brief suggests they are after the right quality of person.

It is not an adviser they need but someone of enough stature to be a bloody great bully, someone strong enough to bang heads together and pick a Treasury minister up by the ankles and shake the loose change out of his pockets.

I'd much prefer to see Seb Coe in that role than chasing after the mirage that is London's bid. It wouldn't take much to transfer him, and the best bits of the bid set-up, from the futile and degrading attempt to butter up the IOC to sorting out better sporting opportunities for a rapidly ballooning population and better facilties for our élite.

The IOC will be making their 2012 decision in July of next year and may be reducing the shortlist two months earlier. That means that London could be out on its ear by next May. What would serve out sport better - for Coe and his cohorts to beat their brains and energy out on a lost cause for the next 12 months or for them to re-direct their resources of ideas and finance to getting a grip of our sporting future?

In that way we could make a positive out of a negative. The Government should be the first to support such a move if only for the prospect of doing something right for a change.

A question of Essex

My best wishes and congratulations for a great career go to Nasser Hussain, who retired from first-class cricket last week but I wish I didn't feel so many misgivings about his abrupt departure.

I can understand Hussain wanted to end on a high, and endings do not come much higher than his match-winning century at Lord's last Monday, but he leaves a scent of unfinished business.

I would have liked, for instance, for him to play for his country the four more times that would have completed his 100 Test appearances. I would also have liked him to be around in case England needed him during the rest of the summer.

Finally, I would have liked to see him give some service to Essex before bowing out. I am aware that central contracts loosen the ties with your county but I imagine that Essex supporters would have liked a last, lingering look.

A £200,000 commentating contract with Sky is a powerful persuader and others, like Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart, have exited via similar routes. But I would have preferred a less hurried departure.