Inside Lines: At last, sport takes a Major step forward

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The Independent Online

It's up, and they're running. At last. the main hub of the English Institute of Sport is open for business in Sheffield, and pretty good it looks, too. The facilities, which include an indoor running track, with 2,000-seater spectator accommodation, several superbly equipped sports halls catering for judo, weightlifting, basketball, netball and badminton, plus a boxing gym that houses Britain's only Olympic-sized ring ("described by the ABA head coach, Ian Irwin, as "a dream come true") are state-of-the-art - as you would expect at a cost of £23 million, mainly from Lottery funding. When Sport England's chief executive, Roger Draper, zealously declared: "Now there can be no excuse for not winning things," he may have been overstating it a bit, but you get the drift. With medical, sports science and rehabilitation units on tap, and Sheffield's Don Valley athletics and rugby stadium, Ponds Forge swimming arena and the sparkling new skating rink close by, it is just what the sports doctors ordered. But how well will it be used, and will it be be cost-effective? Several sports will argue that with funding dwindling, even disappearing, they won't be able to afford to send competitors there, or to the eight other regional centres that make up the EIS. Community and commercial use will be essential, but this must not be to the detriment of those élite performers for whom the idea of a sports institute was originally envisaged eight years ago by John Major. He wanted a one-stop British academy, like Australia's, but that was before New Labour got in, and devolution and regionalisation set in. Let's hope the concept works, despite the financial concerns and duplication of facilities in other centres. It has to, because sport needs it. It may be Richard Caborn's own patch but wouldn't it be nice if they forgot politics and gave Major a seat on the board?

Have a ball - but not ours, say Aussies

It transpires that not every Aussie politician was as grim-faced about England's victory as their sourpuss Prime Minister John Howard. Indeed, the New South Wales sports minister, Sandra Nori, has written a personal letter of congratulations to coach Clive Woodward, hoping all will enjoy tomorrow's victory parade in London, and thanking him, the team and English fans for making the final such a memorable occasion. "You have been a great ambassador for English rugby and as a former Manly resident, for our country too," she tells Woodward. She also has some supportive words for London's Olympic bid. Oh, and there's one other thing, "Please can we have our ball back?" She says that after Wilko's winning kick it disappeared into the crowd. "It may have been taken by an Aussie, equally a Pom. I implore whoever has the ball to do the right thing and return it so we can put it with other World Cup rugby memorabilia." Some hope.

Government still lack a sporting education

Unlike their Australian counterparts, our politicians apparently cannot be persuaded to give sport any sort of priority. You'd have thought the furore which followed the illogical recall of the sports minister before the World Cup final would have taught them a lesson. Obviously not, for Sue Campbell, the Government sports adviser who is the new head of UK Sport, barely had a chance to spear her first forkful of smoked salmon at Thursday's Sports Journalists Association lunch before she was summarily summoned to a meeting with Charles Clarke. Embarrassingly so, for Campbell had been booked in advance to present an award to Darren Campbell. Some people at Westminster never learn, even if they happen to be the Education Secretary.

Audley Harrison's next fight, in the Nevada outpost of Laughlin on Friday night, is against an opponent named Brian Nix. Not to be confused with the comic actor whose trousers were alway falling down in those theatrical farces. That was Brian Rix.

Yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a straight face as Harrison does his best to convince us that such excursions are a meaningful contribution to his world heavyweight title ambitions. Nix has "loser" written all over his record and even Harrison himself acknowledges: "I know the critics will say he's not a step up." The 33-year-old New Yorker (11 defeats in 29 bouts) has been ambitiously booked for Harrison's first 10-rounder. The BBC, the only channel where Harrison says he would meet ex-kick boxer Matt Skelton, show the fight on Saturday's Grandstand. Let's hope Nix's shorts stay up, even if he doesn't. It's no Laughlin matter.

The Football Association's new director of communications, Colin Gibson, who will be paid around £200,000 a year, fancied the job so much that he even turned down fifty grand a year more to do the same job for Chelsea.

Spinning is football's new wheel of fortune, as the ebullient "Gibbo", sports editor of the Daily Mail and formerly the Sunday Telegraph, has discovered. Ex-BBC newsman Paul Newman, the Sven lookalike whose axeing by the FA displeased the England manager, has also been interviewed by Chelsea while Manchester United need a new mouthpiece as Paddy Harveson is to speak and spin for Prince Charles. The job might well suit Fergie's friend, Alastair Campbell.

Exit Lines

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