Inside Lines: Jonny puts the boot in on rugby spoilsports

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson is again delivering a kick at a vital moment. This time his boot is not applied to the ball, but to the backsides of a local council's planning department who have blocked a move by his boyhood rugby club, Farnham, in Surrey, to develop much-needed new facilities. Farnham, where Wilko honed the kicking skills that eventually led to England's World Cup glory, have outgrown their ground, not least because of the number of kids in the area who have been inspired to take up the game post-Sydney. They have found a new venue, and a new partner, David Lloyd Leisure, who would underwrite the move and provide indoor tennis facilities - at no cost to the ratepayer. But the local planning committee oppose the relocation because of the leisure-centre involvement, and Farnham cannot afford to go it alone. The matter has been referred to a full meeting of Waverley Council in Godalming tomorrow, where there will be a bit of a scrum, with hundreds of kids in Farnham club kit waving banners. And enter Wilko with a letter declaring his personal support. "The move would create the opportunity for a greater number of local children to learn to play rugby and have the same chance as I did," he says. "It is the only realistic and available site and would add to the town's existing facilities, that are clearly inadequate." A club spokesman, John Fairley, says: "It is marvellous how national and local politicians were so quick to jump on the bandwagon to celebrate England's World Cup victory, but when it comes to providing future generations with proper facilities, they back off." If Wilko's last-minute effort fails this time the ball will come to rest in the office of Deputy PM John Prescott, alongside Brighton's plea for a new ground. Oh dear!

No Dutch auction when Ali met Liston

It will be exactly 40 years ago on Wednesday that Cassius Clay changed his name - and the face of boxing, by snatching the world heavyweight title from the ogre Sonny Liston. We're talking the real heavyweight title and the real Sonny Liston, not the laughable WBF version and the "Dutch Sonny Liston", one Richel Hersisia, whom Audley Harrison meets at Wembley on 20 March. Shamelessly, the BBC are plugging the affair as Harrison's "first world title fight" when we all know it isn't worth the cardboard belt its initials are written on. Now I happen to believe that the Olympic champion can win a genuine world title, but first we need to see what happens when he encounters an opponent who actually hits him back. Meanwhile, you have to admire his nerve. He has invited the British press to watch him work out this week - but his chosen training camp happens to be up a mountain in California. Interesting to see how many papers think it worth the air fare. After all, who does he think he is? Muhammad Ali? Or the English Sonny Liston?

Key government sports job goes to Asian

Our story last week about the lack of ethnic minorities in sports administration has stirred a hornets' nest. UK Athletics respond that of their 105 employees, 10 are black or Asian, including talent identification manager Paula Dunn. However, they concede that none hold top executive positions, the whole point of the argument. Richard Caborn also disputes ex-karate king Geoff Thompson's belief that "things have gone quiet" on the subject in the present sports ministry. So it is good to learn that when former 2006 World Cup campaign leader Alec McGivan leaves his short-lived post as senior sports adviser to the ministry it is set to be filled by a quietly capable Asian, Paul Bolt, who also heads up their 2012 Olympic bid unit and at least knows about sports other than football.

News that Crystal Palace is to be given a new lease of life will provide an upbeat talking point for the London 2012 bid leader, Barbara Cassani, and her chief henchman, Keith Mills, as they mingle with IOC and National Olympic Committee members in Athens this week.

A rescue package put together by Mayor Ken Livingstone will see the pool, due to close this weekend, kept open and the track relaid for this summer's athletics Grand Prix. Whether this means a reprieve or just a stay of execution remains unclear. Livingstone promises a new arena eventually will be built alongside the present site, but does not specify how big or what for. However, the London bidders will be able to indicate to any IOC sceptics that the city now means business in terms of sporting infrastructure. Official lobbying is off-limits, but Mills reckons "an awful lot of Greek coffees" will be consumed in the lounges of the Athens InterContinental as the London team discreetly court support before the initial elimination process in May.

The Englishman enlisted as the Paris bid's international communications adviser tells us he is being accused by some folk back home of something tantamount to treason.

PR expert Jon Tibbs, 43, a former Exeter schoolteacher who worked on the successful Athens and Beijing Olympic campaigns, insists he is simply a hired gun: "In football a manager doesn't always get to manage the team he supports." He landed the plum Paris role after inconclusive talks with London, but promises that should Paris win he will be well placed to see that his homeland gets a share of the spoils; he is also an adviser to the UK Trade and Investment unit, and says he will do his best to foster British commercial interests.

Exit Lines

Are you mad? The question Britain's new World Cup bob skeleton champion Dr Kristan Bromley says he is most often asked... I would rather Greece won no gold medals in Athens than have an athlete taking drugs. Greek sports minister Georgios Lianis on the doping allegations that have embraced sprinters from the host country... I want to see players leave the tables with dolly birds on their arms before driving off in their Ferraris. Promoter Barry Hearn reveals plans to sex up snooker.