The London Olympic bid leader, Barbara Cassani, has moved swiftly to counter the claims of parliamentarians made here last week that the city is lagging some way behind its rivals, from Paris to Havana. Her appointment on Friday of the Air Miles founder Keith Mills, 53, an East End boy and round-the-world clipper-sailing race winner who also dreamed up the Nectar reward-card scheme, to the crucial role of chief executive will go some way to appeasing her critics. But there are still some who consider her team high on business acumen but short on the nitty-gritty business of sport itself. Mills admits: "I don't claim to be an Olympic expert, but I bring different skills to the party." So, does it concern him that, similarly, none of those in key executive positions are versed in the black art of Olympic politics? "No, because we do have as vice-chairmen two people who have that experience, Seb Coe and Alan Pascoe. And there are a number of former and current Olympians on the board." One other key appointment remains, that of the £75,000-a-year sports director, someone who surely needs a sporting pedigree. Ex-adidas man John Boulter, the London Marathon organiser Dave Bedford and Bryan Stocks, who did the same job for the Manchester Commonwealth Games, must be front-runners. A multi-millionaire like Cassani, Mills will be taking the minimum end of the salary range offered, £150,000 a year, also like Cassani. "People working for the bid are in it for the heart, not the money," he says. There won't even be a bonus if London gets the Games - though we did point out he might feel entitled to award himself a million or so Nectar points. He should also have collected enough Air Miles to go round the world again, this time flying high.
Helping hand is not beyond our Ken
Say what you like about Ken Livingstone (now there's an offer you can't refuse), but London's Mayor really has got the sporting bit between his teeth despite his admission that he was a physical jerk at school. One of the architects of the London Olympic bid, Livingstone has sprinted quickly to make up for City Hall's false start when asked to support a prestigious modern pentathlon international in the capital next July. It is one of Britain's most successful sports (two Olympic golds and two world championships) yet a curt reply from a minion in Livingstone's "Culture Team" initially gave organisers the bum's rush when they sought a little help for what will be a rare opportunity to show how well London can handle a major event before the 2005 vote. But when we raised it with Livingstone during a recent interview, his eyebrows shot up. "I know nothing about this," he said. "I'll sort it." He has - and now the 72-competitor, 19-nation affair in Greenwich will not only have full mayoral backing, but a bit of dosh.
Women snookered as game reaches fag end
We non-smokers find it hard to sympathise with those sports such as motor racing, snooker and darts which have allowed themselves to become over-reliant on tobacco sponsorship. But it is sad to see any sport go to the wall, which is the apparent fate of women's snooker now that the game's governing body are withdrawing all funding because they are reaching the end of the tobacco road. The Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, has rejected even a short-term hand-out, but the five-time world champion Kelly Fisher reckons it is the Government's duty to help bale them out, claiming this would happen in most other countries. Surely she knows there is only one duty that interests the Treasury cashiers as far as ciggies are concerned.
York Hall, London's oldest boxing emporium, will have a full house on Wednesday 22 October. Sadly, Ernie Fossey, one of the sport's great characters, will not be in anyone's corner, but a host of fans and fight figures will be in his.
Fossey died last week at 73 after a long illness, and York Hall is an apt choice for his memorial service. It is a venue he knew well as a boxer, manager, trainer, matchmaker for promoter Frank Warren and cornerman in the Angelo Dundee league. It has been a desperately sad week for boxing, with Frank Bruno's breakdown and Fossey's death. A poignant one for Warren, too, who visited both in hospital. He recalls how Fossey was among the first at his own bedside after he had been shot. "There I was with tubes coming out of me and a 50-50 chance of survival when I hear Ernie saying, 'C'mon Frank, f***ing get up!' " Alas, it is an exhortation that Fossey's fighters will hear no more.
Sport is certainly bringing on the political spinners. Enter Mike Lee, 46, as the new global mouthpiece for London's 2012 Olympic bid.
His £100,000-a-year appoint-ment as communications director was well trailed but is still something of a coup for Barbara Cassani, as he has almost certainly taken a salary cut. Lee spent four years as a senior adviser to David Blunkett, but also knows sports politics from his current role as spokesman and policy adviser for Uefa and former role with the Premier League. Exit Mark Dolley, 35 - to Lausanne as right-hand man to another Brit, Giselle Davies, in the IOC communications team. Dolley, who has been working temporarily with the London bid, was once speech writer and strategist for Tom Pendry, then Labour's shadow sports minister.
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