Inside Lines: Short-changed sport needs a Major force
The election was less than 24 hours away before any politician of note brought sport into play as a meaningful issue.
The election was less than 24 hours away before any politician of note brought sport into play as a meaningful issue. Up to then the five-letter word had not passed the campaigning lips of the Prime Minister, or either of the wannabes. It was left to a previous incumbent, Sir John Major, to suggest that not only did it matter, it could even be a vote-winner. His address to the CCPR Conference was masterful, but he has always demonstrated a grasp of sporting issues that few other politicos can match. Or most of the upper echelons of sport itself for that matter.
He is the only postwar PM who has shown a genuine passion for sport, and on Wednesday he presented a damning indictment of the way the Government have mistreated his baby - the National Lottery - in particular their short-changing of sport's share of the spoils. It is not, he said, Ali Baba's cave, and Gordon Brown should not be one of the 40 thieves. Phrases like "grand larceny", "shameful plundering", "the scandal of broken promises" and "sticking their sticky fingers into the tub" littered a speech designed to make Treasury ears burn, if only they had been listening.
He also called for a "Jamie Oliver figure" to lobby on sport's behalf. We might suggest it needs a John Major figure. We may not share his political views, but sport could do with his reasoning and rhetoric. Who better to head up the CCPR itself when Howard Wells steps down later this year? He would also ginger up tame quangos. However, we could not help noticing that Sir John made his excuses and left before lunch. Perhaps he had spotted that curry was on the menu.
Russia's big hit-man signs for Warren
After weeks of negotiations which, he said, made dealing with Don King a doddle, the promoter Frank Warren has finally got his man. All being well, Cuba's Mario Kindelan will be in Bolton on Saturday to face Amir Khan again. Yet Warren himself, who stages the charity evening, won't be at what is set to be Amir's farewell amateur fight. The twice-postponed date now clashes with a long-planned joint 18th and 21st birthday party for his sons. But at least he can watch on prime-time ITV1.
Here's another irony: after failing ever to do business with the 2000 Olympic champion, Audley Harrison, Warren has now signed the current one, the Russian Alexander Povetkin, 25, who is also a double world amateur champion. Povetkin is big, blond and can bang. "He wants to be fighting for the world title in two years," says Warren, who is sponsoring an annual scholarship at Haileybury School. He'd like other well-heeled sports folk to do the same around the country. The Wayne Rooney prize for modern bad languages comes to mind.
No change, but is Blair now a 2012 liability?
It seems as if the Government are doing the sensible thing and keeping Sports Minister Richard Caborn and Secretary of State Tessa Jowell in situ until the result of that other ballot in July, for the 2012 Olympics. But after that, win or lose, we can anticipate changes with, one hopes, a shift for sport away from the grey folk at DCMS into a ministry of its own or one staffed with people who actually know what makes it tick.
Meantime, after winning one election, will the chastened Tony Blair still try to be in Singapore to help London win another? Or will he now consider he is more of a liability? Interestingly, during a recent visit to the Middle East, one of their top Olympic figures remarked to me: "Blair would be as popular there as he is in Britain. They should send Charles and Camilla instead."
Will this week's inaugural Visa Paralympic World Cup, which takes place in Manchester from Thursday to Sunday, be the prelude to the day when sport's disabled athletes can actually compete regularly against the able-bodied, as well as alongside them?
One Manchester entrant, Oscar Pistorius, the South African schoolboy who runs on carbon-fibre blades below the knees, is already signed up for the 400 metres at the grand prix meet in Helsinki this summer. He has ambitions to take part in an Olympic Games, as has his compatriot Natalie du Toit, the one-legged swimmer who has already competed in an able-bodied final at the Commonwealth Games. Jon Ridgeon, of the World Cup promoters Fast Track, says: "There is no reason why a top-class Paralympic athlete should not compete in major events here. Indeed, Danny Crates [the one-armed runner] was in the Norwich Union Olympic Trials last summer, and if Oscar's times continue to improve there's every chance we could invite him to run in one of the UK Athletics events."
An SOS from the BOA. All living British Olympians, past and present, are wanted to help celebrate the association's centenary at a unique party on 21 May.
The big bash, at London's Royal Festival Hall is free to all who have taken part in a Games. Hundreds already have their tickets, but those who haven't should email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0208 871 2677, ext 207. The golden coxless four of Sydney (Redgrave, Pinsent, Cracknell and Foster) will be there, of course, but they will also be back in their old boat, albeit slightly lower in the water, at Henley on Wednesday, training for the National Lottery Legends Sprint against several of their Sydney 2000 rivals on the final day of the Rowing World Cup on 28 May.
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