Hoey urges FA to get even tougher

<i>Exclusive:</i> On her first anniversary, the Sports Minister applauds moves to clean up football: 'I'd like to see some of the money going from the richer sports to help the struggling. We have to find a way of sharing some of the spoils, as happens overseas'
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The Independent Online

At present occupying pole position on the top shelf of the display cabinet in Kate Hoey's office is a replica of the Isle of Man TT Trophy, presented to her after she had completed the full circuit as a pillion passenger during this summer's meeting. But it is more than just another memento of her tendency to live the role of sports minister as Action Woman. "I feel quite emotional about it because it was there that I presented Joey Dunlop with the last garland he was to receive before he was killed in Estonia," she says. "He was such a wonderful person, who to me epitomised what sport should be about."

At present occupying pole position on the top shelf of the display cabinet in Kate Hoey's office is a replica of the Isle of Man TT Trophy, presented to her after she had completed the full circuit as a pillion passenger during this summer's meeting. But it is more than just another memento of her tendency to live the role of sports minister as Action Woman. "I feel quite emotional about it because it was there that I presented Joey Dunlop with the last garland he was to receive before he was killed in Estonia," she says. "He was such a wonderful person, who to me epitomised what sport should be about."

Hoey was among the many thousands attending the funeral of the prolific world champion who, like her, hailed from Northern Ireland. It was probably the saddest moment of her first year in office, the anniversary of which is this weekend. It has been a turbulent 12 months, though a productive one, high-lighted last week by the Government doubling the money it allocates to sport through the Exchequer.

If nothing else Hoey, 54, has proved as effective at bashing ears in Downing Street as she has at putting her size six trainers into some of those institutions which have occasionally irritated her, such as the football authorities, the Wembley planners and Sport England. Anyone who gets up Ken Bates's nose can't be doing a bad job.

When she gave her first interview here after taking over from that master of the faux pas, Tony Banks, she seemed intent on turning down the volume and becoming, as she put it, the Minister for All Sports, not just football. She kicked off her first year at a cricket camp for kids in Buxton and starts the second by attending a new police scheme in Leeds to get potentially errant youngsters hooked on fishing.

Between times she has turned up, and tried her hand, at just about everything from baton twirling to the biathlon. She skipped the FA Cup final, told football it was getting too big for its boots, cast aspersions on the World Cup bid ("I'd rather we won the World Cup than hosted it"), tossed a spanner into the Wembley works, ordered the government quango Sport England to stop throttling itself with red tape and reorganised Lottery funding.

"You don't think I've been too hard or too radical, do you?" she asked last week. Well, some may argue not quite hard or radical enough, but there's time yet.

With remarkably good timing, the anniversary of her first year inoffice has coincided not only with the Chancellor's £50m windfall but the new measures from the Football Association to clean up the game, something Hoey has long advo-cated. She describes the measures as "tough, but timely and very welcome", adding: "I know in the past I have been critical of football and I will continue to be so if I feel it is necessary. But I am heartened by these moves and I feel that the new team of Geoff Thompson and Adam Crozier are really good news, and are beginning to flex their muscles.

"I still believe the FA should exert greater control over the game, particularly the Premier League which is a powerful body which can be harnessed for the long-term good of the game or go on in a very selfish way. These latest measures seem an indication that this control is beginning to happen. Some people have accused me of having a down on football, but this isn't so. I love the game at all levels, non-league as well as the big league. But I will never kow-tow to football just because it is a big and important sport. If it is doing something wrong, I will say so.

"Much as I care about the game at the top, it is big enough and rich enough to look after itself, and the advent of the Football Foundation will now help ensure that more money gets back to the grass roots. I'd also like to see some of the money going from the richer sports to help those that are struggling. We have to find a way of sharing some of the spoils, as happens overseas. Some sports, like cricket and rugby, take a positive attitude towards this and I hope football will do the same. When I came in I was absolutely determined that there was no point in doing the job unless sport was recognised at government level as being really important. I also wanted to give recognition to so-called minority sports.

"Although there is still a long, long way to go, the cash boost that sport has now been given is the first real tangible proof that there is a cross-Government commitment to the importance of sport and physical education and a recognition that we are beginning to put right years of neglect, downgrading and marginalisation, particularly in schools.

"Maybe this has all come together at just the right time after some of the disappointments we have suffered at international level in sport recently and I hope I played my part in bringing together the various entities as a united lobby. Sport is almost more political than politics with all the intrigues and personality differences but here we had everyone speaking with one very clear voice.

"Trevor Brooking, as chair of Sport England, was really effective. He symbolised what I get in my mailbag every day, with people saying that whatever you do, the priority has to be to sort out sport in schools, and I believe we are now getting somewhere on this."

Last week also saw Hoey announce that the Government is to review the workings of Sport England, a body with which she has had some spats in the past. She is at pains to point out that this is simply part of a five-yearly review of all such organisations and that nothing sinister should be read into it, even though one of the review body's briefs is to examine "whether there is a continuing need for the services provided by Sport England".

Hoey comments: "Some of the things I said about Sport England needed saying and I hope have helped change some of the ways they work. It wasn't so much the bureaucracy but a sense of 'we know best'. Sometimes they didn't. The people who know best are those who are running the various sports and those who are doing it. We must also make sure that their administrative costs, which are quite high, are actually justifiable.

"Having said that I have a good working relationship with Trevor Brooking, whom I meet every month and I believe we will see a lot more changes there for the good of sport."

With that, Hoey was off to her next engagement, the Costcutter World Under-15 Cricket Challenge at Lord's. As she says, it takes all sports to make a minister.

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