Build a stadium? First, rebuild the future

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The Independent Online

For a country that doesn't even have a major athletics stadium to stay away from, our attitude to Edmonton's staging of the World Championships over the past week or so confirms that whatever other qualities we are short of in sport, insufferable arrogance is not one of them. We get the gall medal every time.

For a country that doesn't even have a major athletics stadium to stay away from, our attitude to Edmonton's staging of the World Championships over the past week or so confirms that whatever other qualities we are short of in sport, insufferable arrogance is not one of them. We get the gall medal every time.

First of all, as if there wasn't enough to occupy their penetrating vision in the middle of the arena, some media minds have been devoting their talents to rubbishing the ability of the city of Edmonton to keep them amused. "Deadmonton" is the description with which they've saddled the place. Any more write-ups about how boring it is and Wimbledon FC will want to move there.

Secondly, pausing only to decry the efforts of Canada's athletes to shine on their home ground, the critics have then proceeded to denounce the number of empty seats that have been gaping at us from the Commonwealth Stadium.

Since those who seek to host these events are not populations but preening politicians and sports administrators, it is hardly fair to berate the good citizens of Edmonton for not storming the gates. At 700,000, the city is hardly the biggest catchment area in the sporting world and neither has it displayed any passion for turning up en masse to athletic events.

However, unlike us they do have a stadium worthy of the event and they did sell 55,000 tickets for the opening ceremony. That figure should make us cringe because it is more than the capacity of England's three main athletics arenas at Sheffield, Crystal Palace and Gateshead put together. Edmonton also expects to make a profit, but whether or not they do, from where does any Briton find the entitlement to attack another country's accomplishments in sport or their ability to stage a big event? Despite the strength of our sporting history and traditions, the number of people packed into these isles and the benefit of the most successful national lottery in the world, we are the champion under-achievers on the international sporting scene and this distressing fact should be the main object of our carping.

Despite a few successes – and who could fail to warm to Dean Macey's gutsy offerings in the decathlon? – the sport needs more support from a government yet to show any genuine awareness of the problem. The Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, has been in Edmonton over the past week but if he has noticed glaring deficiencies like the dearth of middle- and long-distance runners wearing a British vest he hasn't said. It has been left to the former heroes Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett to condemn the failure of the structure of British athletics and accuse the nation of being no longer serious about sport. Caborn appears more concerned with the staging of the 2005 World Championships and has reassured the IAAF that the Government are still intent on honouring their commitment to host it.

He can't give any details about the venue, of course, because we haven't got one, but he has promised to let them know by the end of October where it will be built. It is difficult to understand why we are even contemplating staging such an event in just four years' time when it is bound to put our already bewildering stadium plans under more severe pressure and further expose our lack of any long-term sporting strategy.

Having singed their image on the costly and abortive attempt to win the 2006 World Cup, the Government seem hell-bent on proving they can handle a big showpiece event, but they've backed themselves into a very tight corner.

In the time-scale available they can either proceed with the £80m athletics stadium at Picketts Lock in east London or make another attempt to build an all- purpose arena at Wembley. Either move could prove a disaster. If Wembley is to be rebuilt it must be as a dedicated football-rugby ground to be ready as quickly as possible. Picketts Lock is very expensive and not very conveniently placed. Another site in England could be far more suitable but the IAAF insist the 2005 championships be held in London or they will look to another country.

We should tell them to do just that. Only someone with a perverse sense of hospitality would want to condemn thousands of sporting visitors to two weeks wallowing around the London transport system. Besides, how can we allow the IAAF to dictate where we build a new headquarters for our athletics future?

The priorities are clear. Britain urgently needs a national football stadium and the entire country requires an athletics complex with a 40,000-seater arena and all the ancillary facilities for it to become the centrepiece of a concerted attempt to rebuild our athletics structure.

What our minister should be doing is unlocking some of the billions of Lottery proceeds being kept under lock and key at the Treasury. We have 10 million young people between the ages of seven and 21. Sport must be allowed more access to them and they to sport. Once we forget the window-dressing, which 2005 undoubtedly is, and concentrate on that basic fact, we can truly say that we have embarked on a meaningful attempt to recover our sporting pride.

Abject lack of objectivity

Shame that those former athletes occupying the BBC pundits' chairs in Edmonton haven't been on duty for cricket's England-Australia Test series. We still wouldn't have won the Ashes but we would have thought we had.

I'm all for being enthusiastic about our side but I think we deserve a touch of objectivity plus a more searching and forthright examination when things go wrong. Michael Johnson's riveting appearances served only to underline their shortcomings in this direction. By all means let the BBC honour and cherish our past stars but to add a little sharpness there should be a sprinkling of those born and bred to the job.

Perhaps all those late nights are making me crotchety or it may be the extra strain that Brendan Foster's voice puts on my attempt to keep awake at two in the morning. And is it my imagination or have the Beeb mastered cloning? Because it is quite remarkable how the commentators sound like David Coleman.

To their credit, the Corporation is making sure we don't miss a second of the action whether we stay up or not. If only we could wring out our washing as thoroughly as the BBC squeezes every last drop out of a big sporting event, we could do away with spin dryers.

The mentor and the minefield

Iestyn Harris's arrival on Friday to sign for Cardiff RFC and Wales completes a move across the rugby codes that promises to be as fascinating as any. They've asked my colleague Jonathan Davies to act as his guide and mentor through the transition period and they couldn't make a more appropriate choice. Davies hails from the time when the outside-half factory was situated in west Wales not Lancashire and made the reverse journey to Widnes in January 1989. The difference between fuss and recriminations then and now shows how accustomed we've become to such moves.

I accompanied Jonathan's journey north 12 years ago and I've never experienced such a prolonged and bitter hullabaloo. Harris's transfer of allegiances was painless and sedate in comparison.

When Davies became the first league player to be transferred back to union in 1996 again there was a furore. There was also a lot of resentment. He had trouble in getting his new colleagues at Cardiff to pass him the ball.

Harris won't have that problem but his team-mates might not know where to find him, because no one yet knows what position will be best suited to him.

Since he has two masters to serve – Cardiff's new coach Rudy Joubert and Graham Henry of Wales – Harris might take time to settle into a new role. Whereas he might find it easier to adjust off the field than Jonathan, he won't find the change of on-field life any smoother than a century of code-crossers.

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