Commonwealth Games: Brown money at last: now for a blue-chip wrapping
Coaching critical to 2012 prospects, warns Coe
Sunday 26 March 2006
If he listened hard enough, Chancellor Gordon Brown might have heard the strains of "For he's a jolly good fellow" from 12,000 miles away as he wrote out the cheque which has put a smile on the face of British sport and may well put many more of its participants on the medal podium in 2012.
There was also a discernible chorus of "We're in the money" reverberating around the Commonwealth Games village where the UK's home nations were stacking their medals, thus providing a rewarding and well-timed response to the Chancellor's Budget statement.
Even the British Olympic Association chairman, Colin Moynihan, once a political adversary and latterly the Chancellor's chief antagonist as Brown seemed to stall over stumping up the requested additional cash, pumped the air as he surely did when winning a fight in his days as a bantamweight boxing Blue at Oxford. Appropriately enough, Moynihan's first port of call when he stepped off the plane from London on Thursday to be given the good news was the Games boxing arena. "We've won," he declared joyously. "At last sport has spoken with one voice and we've got the lot. Everything we asked for." Well, up to a point, Lord Moynihan.
There is certainly another £200 million to add to the £300m already in the pot, but a £100m top-up has to come from private- sector sponsorship, and it is not clear who will seek this - the Government, the BOA, or the Olympic sports themselves. It certainly won't be UK Sport, whose second-choice blueprint was accepted by the Treasury after a protracted game of ping-pong politics. They admit this is not their bag. Their task now is to distribute the money sensibly and ensure that those sports, such as gymnastics, which have been deprived since Athens now get a fair share.
Two sports, football and tennis, will miss out on the new money. But they can afford it. Should they need to bolster their own Olympic kitty, the Premier-ship and Wimbledon are not short of a few bob.
Getting backers is not easy, as Team England have discovered here, but Moynihan is unfazed by the sponsorship quest. "We'll get it," he vows. "If it comes to the crunch I believe that the Government will underwrite it, as I cannot imagine whoever is Chancellor after the next election standing up and admitting there has been a shortfall. In any case I believe there will be a spin-off in sponsorship from those blue-chip companies who will be the major multimillion-pound backers of the 2012 Games."
So, with Brown's cheque in the post, the money should start to filter through next month to what the BOA's Simon Clegg terms "the coalface" within a couple of weeks, and sport can begin to catch up on the days of lost preparation since London won the bid.
So, home and dry then? Not quite. There has been some fumbling over funding of late and there may be more to come until the system is fine-tuned. One would like to see a greater professional expertise in top-level sports administration, with people brought on board, and on to boards, such as Alan Pascoe, the former Commonwealth Games hurdling gold medallist who runs the promoters Fast Track and has a well-thumbed book of sponsorship contacts; Tanni Grey-Thompson, the most able disabled athlete in the business; and her namesake Geoff Thompson, the ex-karate champ who runs the Youth Charter for Sport and has been sidelined for too long because of his outspokeness.
British sport not only needs the Chancellor's new-found largesse, it also needs a shake-up at the top. And in its approach to coaching, according to Seb- astian Coe. He welcomed the Brown envelope but would like see some of the money used to hire élite coaches from overseas. "Coaching is critical to our ambit-ions for 2012," he said. "At the moment it is our greatest defic-iency, particularly in my sport. We must get back to the cutting edge of coaching, getting competitors out on the track and the road and not concentrating on having people taking blood from their fingers every three minutes."
The London 2012 leader also believes there are lessons to be learned from Melbourne. "They have done extremely well but this is not to say we will ape them. But I do see us using many aspects of Melbourne as a prototype. I like the way they have utilised the city itself and the river, not just the venues, which are magnificent. We want spectators and visitors to be part of the Games, as they have been here. Like Melbourne, we want to galvanise the community, to stage a Games that will change lives."
Melbourne has proved a timely fillip for British sport, but we should not get too carried away by sackloads of medals. These are only the Commonwealth Games, which is not to decry them but put them in perspective. They have neither the cachet nor content of an Olympics, though they have been a valuable staging post for Beijing 2008 and perhaps now beyond to 2012, where the prospective pickings suddenly seem much richer.
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