Girl talk in Hackney, but not for men's ears

Inside Lines
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The Independent Online

The sports minister, Richard Caborn, has been putting himself about big-time in an attempt to win friends and influence a sceptical sporting fraternity. He'll go almost anywhere for a free handshake. But there is one significant event taking place this week at which he is distinctly unwelcome. Indeed, he would be turned away at the door. So would Trevor Brooking, the chairman of Sport England, the government-funded body which happens to be organising it. The Women Only Sports Conference on Wednesday is strictly an all-female affair, so much so that not only are all the participants and speakers women, but only female reporters and photograpers will be allowed in to cover the meeting. Sounds like it should be taking place in Iran, but actually it's Hackney. What on earth can they be doing or discussing in the East London borough's Space Centre that isn't fit for male eyes or ears? Leaving aside the fact that it almost certainly contravenes the Sexual Discrimination Act, what happens if a media outlet doesn't have female operatives available? After all, they could have more pressing engagements, like covering a men's football or rugby match (and can you imagine the outcry if they were barred from doing so?). The former Olympic javelin champion Tessa Sanderson, a vice-president of the equal opportunties-promoting Sport England, will give the opening address and Margaret Talbot, the chief executive of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, is the principal speaker. Knowing the progressive Professor Talbot, one imagines that in an era when women thankfully have leapt almost every barrier in sport, she'll consider this exclusion of men distinctly uncool. Come on ladies, play the game.

Board to call time on punching publican

Audley Harrison may have hit the jackpot with his £1m TV deal but his next scheduled roll-over opponent, Greg Wedlake, a 32-year-old former pub landlord, is facing an early KO. Not from Harrison himself, nor his fretting BBC paymasters, but the BBB of C. The British Boxing Board of Control, whose stewards include the ex-heavyweight star Billy Walker and the Labour peer and former Army boxing champion Tom Pendry, are distinctly unhappy about the match. They will accept an anticipated recommendation from their Western Area Council that Wedlake, who comes from Minehead, is not a suitable opponent for the 30-year-old Olympic super-heavyweight champion. The bout is due to take place at Wembley on 20 April, but the council have called an emergency meeting for tomorrow night to discuss Wedlake's dubious credentials. Although he is unbeaten in six contests he has fought only once in the last four years, when he was floored twice by a 20-stone Welshman. While the BBC may have naïvely endorsed the pairing, the Boxing Board are unlikely to do so, leaving Harrison seeking a fresh foe for his fourth paid engagement in 18 months.

Harding set for another big bash

Still on the fisticuffs front, just about, a tasty little encounter takes place in Los Angeles on Wednesday. It features the former ice skater Tonya Harding against Paula Jones, best remembered for being the first gal to blow the whistle on Bill Clinton, alleging "unwelcome sexual advances". Hard-up Harding, of course, was implicated in the bungled plot hatched by her ex-husband to disable Olympic rival Nancy Kerrigan eight years ago. Her original opponent for the three-rounds televised "celebrity bout" was one Amy Fisher, otherwise known as Long Island Lolita, jailed for shooting her boyfriend's wife. But her parole officer would not let her box. As Don King would say, and often has: Only in America.

Any slim hopes that Alain Baxter may have of clinging on to Britain's first-ever Olympic skiing medal will surely disappear into the thin air of Switzerland this week. All the indications from International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne are that while he will receive a sympathetic hearing there will be no compassion.

As an IOC source pointed out yesterday, it could create too much of a precedent to let him keep his bronze medal. Andrea Raducan, the young Romanian gymnast who was cruelly stripped of Olympic gold in almost identical circumstances, would be first in the queue to have the decision rescinded. It hasn't helped, either, that in recent years "bleating Brits" have alienated sports authorities by consistently contesting drugs cases. "In any case," said the source, "if Baxter needed medication why did he not consult the British team doctor? Isn't that what he's there for?"

The Blazers are revolting. Those amateurs who dig the grass roots of field hockey are up in arms at the professionals who are in charge of the hapless sport's administation.

So stand by for squalls at the June agm of the English Hockey Association, whose finances are in such a mess that Lottery funders Sport England have sent an emissary to conduct an audit at the Milton Keynes HQ. With losses of £108,000 in 2000 expected to escalate to half a million, the threat of redundancies and closure of five regional coaching centres, not to mention a hugely disappointing World Cup, the knives are out. "The amateurs are pissed off with the professionals, who've cocked things up," says one unpaid official.

Exit Lines

They are robbing old age pensioners who buy TV licences. Boxing manager Frank Maloney on the BBC's costly provision of easy pay-days for Audley Harrison... I am a Fifa vice-president, but even if I was God I would have nothing to say to you. Trinidad's Jack Warner refusing to discuss his alliance with beleaguered Fifa president Sepp Blatter... Fash the Cash, Fash the Bash. I've been called the lot. I just thank God I wasn't named Hunt. John Fashanu plays the name game... Being normal is pretty boring. Former gymnast Nadia Comenici on why she still enjoys her celebrity status.