Inside Lines: Probe puts pressure on 'too nice' Moorcroft

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The Independent Online

A new national tennis centre in predictably snob-hill suburbia at Roehampton, comfortably close to Wimbledon, is to be built by the Lawn Tennis Association, at a cost of some £40m. By coincidence that is roughly the sum that is still owed by the Government to UK Athletics as compensation for the loss of the 2005 World Championships. This promissory note to help the sport build its own national centre will not be honoured in full - if it ever is - until a formal inquiry into the state of the sport has been completed around next spring. This is being conducted on behalf of Sport England and UK Sport by Sir Andrew Foster, the former controller of the Audit Commission, who says he will be asking "probing questions" about the way athletics is run, in all senses of the word. Fair enough. UK Athletics is overstaffed and the sport is riven by fragmented government. But a reference to "under-achievement" seems invidious when there are several other sports which consistently achieve far less. And tennis tops that list. So when will a Foster figure turn the spotlight on Barons Court? "Er, don't know," is the response of Sport England's chief executive Roger Draper, although when pressed he does confirm, albeit with some reluctance, that tennis is worthy of such rigorous investigation. We can understand Draper's embarrassment. After all, he came to Sport England from the LTA, where he had been in charge of development. Meanwhile, the probe into athletics may prove uncomfortable for the sport's genial chief executive, Dave Moorcroft, who, say insiders, is "far too nice". Sir Andrew's team may conclude that what athletics really needs is a Bill Sweetenham figure, the no-nonsense Australian who revels in the role of swimming's Mister Nasty - and is getting results.

Why Chataway picks Paula as front runner

Half the 50 personalities who have collected the BBC's annual award since its inception in 1954 have been Olympians - 26, in fact, if you include Lennox Lewis, who boxed for Canada in Seoul. So it's evens one of them will be named as the pick of the half-centurions in the ceremony which precedes tonight's certain coronation of Jonny Wilkinson for 2003. But who? Steve Redgrave seems favourite, but the man who was the first of all, Chris Chataway, believes there could be a surprise. Chata-way, 72 and still running, believes Paula Radcliffe, last year's winner, is worthy of the overall nomination. She is, he says, the modern athlete he most admires. "She has a good claim to being the best middle- and long-distance runner we've ever had. Very few athletes have managed success so consistently over that range. But she did it all in one season. She brings such intelligence and determination to her running. A magnificent professional." Praise, indeed, from one of the last of the great Corinthians.

Nobby's boy is game for a laugh

Now here's a funny thing. Guess what Nobby Stiles' son does for a living? He's a stand-up comedian. Not many people know that, unless they happen to be habitués of the sports-dinner circuit, where John Stiles is a popular impressionist and raconteur. On Thursday he's playing it for laughs at the Winter Gardens, Cleethorpes, where local boxing promoter Joe Frater holds a Sportsmen's Evening. Stiles Jnr first worked in showbiz as warm-up man for the Spice Girls. No doubt he'll have some tales to tell. Among the boxing celebs present will be Ken Buchanan and Brendan Ingle, together with former British heavyweight champion Gary Mason, now 20st and running his own security organisation. "You might call me a visible deterrent." Just like John Stiles' old man used to be, eh?

"Win or lose, drink your booze" has long been a popular sporting adage. Alcohol advertising and sponsorship has been considered acceptable while ciggies have been stubbed out with fast foods and chocolate becoming a no-no.

But how long will it be before the Government calls time on the brewery backing of sport? The concern led to a lively debate in London last week involving among others Trevor Brooking, Sebastian Coe and Jeremy Guscott, organised by the watchdog body, the Portman Group. The conclusion? Drink up and be merry - in moderation. Brooking pointed out that alcohol represents 10 per cent of sports sponsorship and is worth around £50m - some £13m more than contributed by the Exchequer. He called for "a healthy and balanced attitude to drinking" by supporters and players and stricter control of advertising by the industry who should be promoting "sensible drinking" in connection with sport. That's the spirit, Trev.

The Sports Minister's spokesman, Phil Townsend, was keeping rather more than his usual watching brief at yesterday's Old Trafford derby. This week he is likely to be named as the club's new director of communications.

Mancunian Townsend, 34, considered as one of Whitehall's most able spinners, will be a big loss to Richard Caborn. Apart from the six-figure salary, the Government's recall of Caborn from the Rugby World Cup surely cemented his decision. Incidentally Labour MP Derek Wyatt says that contrary to stories put about by Parliamentary colleagues he would have voted for the Foundation Hospitals Bill. So why was he allowed to stay on in Sydney and not Caborn? Odd, isn't it?

Exit Lines

If I'd had the money Wayne Rooney has at the age of 18 I would never have achieved what I did. Sir Steven Redgrave believes in the 'hungry fighter' syndrome... When a manager rests one of his ordinary players, who earns £40,000 a week, because he's played two games in six days, I laugh my cock off. Boxer Ricky Hatton reckons some footballers have it too easy... Even the odd red card is all right. I want my team to be horrible. Millwall's Dennis Wise is still menacing as a manager