Inside Lines: Sink or swim? Sport needs a Bill of rights

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The Independent Online

So far two sports seem to have got it spot-on with their preparations for Athens. One is sailing, which also got it right in Sydney, and the other is swimming, which clearly didn't but has moved to effect changes swiftly and professionally. This is due in no small measure to the rotund Digger from Down Under who has jerked the sport's head back above the water. Big Bill Sweetenham was in splendidly splenetic form last week, giving the Government a message he said he knew they did not want to hear, that as far as facilities are concerned Britain is a Third World country. He says he was speaking only for swimming, but many other sports will echo his sentiments. Indeed, the sports minister himself holds up Sweetenham as a role model for all coaches and is keen to get him involved in an across-sports forum that would debate common issues and exchange ideas. Should Richard Caborn attend, he should be prepared to hear more home truths. "Yeah," says Sweetenham, "a forum's a good idea - but only if they implement the results." Some hope. When Sweetenham arrived three years ago he almost turned round and went back home to Mount Isa when he encountered what he describes as "a desert of facilities". Things may hardly have changed, but swimming is certainly glad he stayed to turn things around. His regime may be more Boot Camp than Butlins but it is getting results, and if it also gets couple of medals in Athens - there were none in Sydney - he reckons that will be about right. "But with the right facilities we could be up there with Australia and the USA." What sport needs is more Sweetenhams - how athletics, which seems to have gone soft-centred, could do with one right now as the Hutton-like inquiry into its future gets under way.

Minister's man set for Fergie furnace

A man from the ministry could turn out to be one of Manchester United's shrewdest signings. Phil Townsend, 34, moves from Whitehall to take up his new post as director of communications at Old Trafford this week. Frying pans and fires may seem an appropriate metaphor in the circumstances for someone who more than once had to pick up the pieces for gaffe-prone sports minister Richard Caborn and now finds himself pitched headlong into the Fergie furore. Mancunian Townsend, a lifelong United fan, reckons it is the job of his dreams but he is certainly going to need all his renowned unflappability. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where he did a first-rate job, will seem a millpond compared to the maelstrom now engulfing Old Trafford. More a straight bowler than a spinner, Townsend takes over from the ex-Financial Times man Paddy Harveson, who is heading off (with some relief we suspect) to brush up the image of Prince Charles.

Harrison offer ko'd by amateurs

Why is Audley Harrison, who is to fight for a world title - of sorts - at Wembley on 20 March, being spurned by his old amateur ringmasters? The Olympic super-heavyweight champion tells us he is prepared to give help and advice to those who may aspire to follow him in Athens, but no approach has been made. "Considering I'm Britain's first gold medallist for 32 years I'm surprised the ABA haven't been in contact. I think they should be utilising me to help motivate our young boxers as I've been there and done it. But that's their problem." Perhaps the problem is that Harrison has now hired ex-amateur trainer Kelvyn Travis, who recently overturned his dismissal by the ABA as a national coach.

British Olympic Association chairman Craig Reedie, a victim of delays on London's fragile transport system which caused him to miss a major sponsorship launch last week, describes a spat with Irish opposite number Pat Hickey as "a storm in a teacup".

It seems that not only do London's tubes need clearing before the Olympic bidding gets serious, but so does the air over the confusing Irish question. Hickey, an influential IOC member whose organisation claims to represent all-Ireland, is unhappy that Northern Ireland has been included in the London bid document without their consent. He is also apparently affronted that Windsor Park has been named as a potential football venue. London 2012 spokesman Mike Lee says that there has been "full consultation" with "the appropriate football authorities". We understand that when chairman Barbara Cassani met with Reedie and Hickey, the question of Windsor Park was not raised.

Networking has become an essential part of international sport these days, so it seems appropriate that the BOA's latest sponsorship should reflect the global marketplace.

Easynet, not to be confused with the EasyJet set - these are a Broadband commun-ications provider - join a fistful of backers, who include McDonald's, Rover and Cyprus Airways in providing vital support for British Olympic hopefuls for Athens and beyond. Vital because the BOA do not receive a penny of Govern-ment money. The company say the success of the England rugby team prompted them to get into sport, so when sponsorship is thin on the ground the BOA have done well to net the net.

insidelines@independent.co.uk

Exit Lines

It's got Dollaricity and Champology. The FA Cup also has Don King plugging it for the BBC... They're living in La-La Land. Seb Coe on Manchester United's attitude to random drugs testing... I'm like Mike Tyson, not stylish but blessed with a big hit. Elaine Pickup, Britain's arm-wrestling queen. This time I will do it for myself and country, not because of fear of punishment. Iraqi weightlifter Mohammed Abdul Monan, who competes in the Athens Olympics free of the shadow of Saddam's son Uday.

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