Inside Lines: Cassani needs to woo the culture vultures

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The Independent Online

Culture is not a commodity easily associated with sport these days (sub-culture may be nearer the mark) but it is something Barbara Cassani must now encompass in her vocabulary as she begins her countrywide campaign to win the hearts and minds of the British public as well as the vital votes of the denizens of the International Olympic Committee. For culture is the new Olympic buzzword, as any recent visitor to Athens will testify. Next year's Olympic citadel is awash with cultural happenings - art and architectural exhibitions, plays, operas, festivals of music and dance. Welcome to the £75m extravaganza known as Cultural Olympiad, which runs right up to the start of the real thing next August. So impressed are the IOC with its uplifting effect on the Olympic movement, that they have decided every future Games should have one. So if Cassani wants to collect a few Brownie points she should start wooing the nation's culture vultures now. The Greeks, as you might expect, have pitched themselves into it big-time, even recruiting their former heads of national TV to run the show. Evgenios Giannakopoulos, the dynamic Greek Greg Dyke, has assembled a breathtaking array of events, including the world's biggest contemporary art exhibition, and the Olympiad is donating £5m to a Unicef immunisation programme. Similar proposals in the final draft of London's submission would certainly boost the bid's prospects. So perhaps someone like Lord Melvyn Bragg might be as much an asset to the bid committee as Lord Seb Coe. London should have no problem in putting together a fabulous cultural show. However it might have to go some to out-culture the Greeks, who rightly believe the Olympiad's pièce de résistance should be the return of their Marbles.

Bruno back in the ring on night of nostalgia

The last time Frank Bruno stood in the ring at London's York Hall it was in a state of shrunken bewilderment, which we assumed was due observing the unseemly carry-on between Audley Harrison and Herbie Hide. Subsequent events indicated that there was more to Big Frank's folorn appearance , so it is heartening to see that he returns there tomorrow night looking more like his old self after a month-long his treatment for depression. Bruno leads the England team out in their amateur international against the United States, with former foe Tim Witherspoon carrying the American flag, a gesture which shows that the boxing apartheid between amateurs and pros is virtually over. An evocative occasion will bring back memories of the night "Blond Bomber" Billy Walker et al spanked the Yanks 10-0 in 1961, an event shown live on BBC TV. Tomorrow's match will be recorded "for a future date," another indication that the Beeb's renewed glove affair with boxing is cooling fast.

Enter Walker on cue, with Olympics in mind

Sir Rodney Walker's quick return to the colours as the new chairman of World Snooker - a move first mooted in this column - means the sport will have a heavyweight champion in its corner when it comes out fighting for life-sustaining sponsorship once cigarettes are finally stubbed out by 2005. Walker, well-connected former head of UK Sport, the Rugby League, and a host of other bodies, begins work tomorrow, a priority being to find suitable replacements for the baccy backers. He admits it will be difficult but says: "Snooker's big advantage is that it is second only to football in TV exposure, so I am quite hopeful." In his time as Commonwealth Games chairman, Walker was keen to include snooker in the Manchester event, and is likely to push for Olympic status.

How much longer will UK Sport, much in the news of late as sport's drugs busters, keep their Government-funded role ? There is growing speculation the anti-doping programme will soon be handed over to an independent agency, a move that, I'm told, will be "firmly resisted" by some senior officials at UK Sport, who believe Michele Verroken's unit are doing a first rate job.

However, new chairman Sue Campbell confirms that the future of the drugs unit is now being reviewed. The British Olympic Association have made it clear that they favour an independent authority, as they feel there is a conflict of interests, in that a body funding élite sport via the Lottery could be compromised by involvement in doping control. Interestingly sports minister Richard Caborn lunched last week with Dick Pound head of the World Anti-Doping Authority, whose advice in setting up an independent body may prove crucial.

Should Michael Howard ever cross the Number 10 threshhold, would it be a giant step for sporting kind? One who believes so is his friend Lord Colin Moynihan, the shadow sports minister.

"He is genuinely passionate about sport," says Lord Moynihan. "Not is he only a committed Liverpool supporter and horse racing fan, but he plays tennis every week and is no mean table tennis player, seeing me off on more than one occasion. As Shadow Chancellor he has been a strong supporter of both Seb Coe and myself to stop the Government pocketing the tax from the proposed Olympic Lottery Fund. He would be the best PM sport could have." Should tennis-playing Tony Blair dispute this, perhaps they might settle it over five sets.

Exit Lines

Young girls look up to people like Beyoncé and J-Lo. They don't think going out and getting sweaty is very glamorous. Athlete Jade Johnson believes role- model sportswomen must try to appear more feminine... The director told me he didn't want me to take acting lessons, just be myself. I'm playing a bent policeman. Footballer Neil Ruddock on his upcoming screen debut... Who knows what's going to happen? I pray. God's the only one who can help me. Dwain Chamberspondering his Olympic chances before his positive dope test was revealed