It seems we have invented a new Olympic sport, called shooting yourself in the foot. How else can the extraordinary events of last week at UK Sport be interpreted? The trigger was pulled by newly ensconced chairman Sue Campbell, who fired both her popular and vastly experienced chief executive Richard Callicott and Michele Verroken, the anti-doping director who in the past 15 years has made the unit one of the most effective in the world. Did anyone stop to think of the harmful effect this might have on London's Olympic bid? "What the hell is going on over there?" was the reaction of one IOC member. Verroken was highly respected by both the IOC and IAAF, and her removal could be seen as pandering to those bully boys of the PFA and Jockey Club who resent her taking the sort of hard line that the world authorities demand. The dark mutterings at a London 2012 drinks party on Friday confirmed the suspicion that this ill-timed action may have done the bid no good at all. Verroken is officially on extended leave, but will not return. We are promised "high-calibre" replacements. They may prove difficult to find. Howard Wells, himself a former UK Sport chief executive and now chairman of the CCPR, sums up the strong feelings among many sports leaders. "I worked with Michele and we had our differences, but the one thing that has been admired in our sport is our drugs-testing programme. A jewel in the crown. Her integrity, knowledge and inscrutability have never been in doubt. I appreciate the need for strong leadership, but this has sent out all the wrong signals. I am frustrated by the lack of joined-up thinking at this vital time of an Olympic bid." Indeed. London's rivals must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Hoey and Moynihan gang up on funding
Recent events have seen the formation of a new alliance between two former sports ministers of different political hues which must be deeply worrying to the present one. Kate Hoey and Lord Moynihan share common concerns over a number of sporting issues, including the UK Sport situation. "Chaos," says Tory Moynihan; "shambolic," says Labour's Hoey. They are also joining forces next month to meet up with those sports bodies who have been omitted from the group of 20 priority sports funded on separate lists by Sport England and UK Sport. These include modern pentathlon, shooting, boxing, table tennis and all winter sports. "We both feel very strongly about these omissions," says Hoey, who claims that in the case of modern pentathlon and shooting, both hugely successful in medal terms, she has been told by Sport England that it was not they who wanted them excluded but UK Sport - who in turn insist it was the other way around. "There is a lot of buck-passing going on."
Time to scrap these spineless quangos?
UK Sport's next council meeting on 29 January should be an animated one, with the 14 members demanding to know why they were not consulted over the sackings. Lord Moynihan, who first hired Michele Verroken when he was sports minister, terms the situation "rank bad management". The lively shadow sports spokesman is calling for the establishment of a new, independent anti-doping agency, and the abolition of UK Sport, a body on whose media committee I once served but who now indulge, as do sibling Sport England, in an excessive amount cap-doffing in the direction of their government paymasters and big-league sport. Perhaps what is needed is a new agency, free of government financing and interference, funded directly by Lottery money.
Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, hotly denies rumours that drugs czarina Michele Verroken was relieved of her duties by UK Sport chairman Sue Campbell on his direct orders because she wanted an independent anti-doping agency, which, unlike his predecessor, he opposes.
"Completely untrue," he insisted to us last week. "This has nothing to do with me. We asked Sue to step in and modernise the organisation, as has happened at Sport England, making it fitter to address the problems of the 21st century. How she did it was up to her." However, he agreed that both Verroken and the body's axed chief executive, Richard Callicott, were doing "an excellent job". So why were they summarily shafted? "There are times when you have to move on. People make huge contributions, but when the time comes things have to be addressed differently. Sue has made her judgements." He added mysteriously: "When the full story eventually comes out, people may have a clearer picture."
Sue Campbell, the 54-year-old former netball international at the eye of the current storm, is no stranger to controversy.
In her other role as chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust she arranged a £9m deal with Cadbury's for a schools voucher scheme which has now been scrapped following strong public criticism and concerns by the Government, to whom she is a senior sports adviser, over obesity levels. Speaking from the United States, where she is holidaying over Christmas, Campbell declined to discuss the sackings, but was clearly upset at the furore. "I can understand the reaction and agree the timing was not ideal, but all I can say is that my decisions were not taken lightly and there are very good reasons for them."
No one is investigating the under-performance of the twats at Sport England. Promoter Frank Warren hits out at the quango's inquiries into 'under-achieving' sports and their lack of funding for amateur boxing... It sums up British sport. You achieve something fantastic and someone tries to make a joke if it. Clive Woodward attacks the choice of David Campese to present England with their award... You might as well come fourth or ninth. British swimming chief Bill Sweetenham finds little satisfaction in finishing second to Germany.