Inside Lines: Why Olympic bid must find a Wembley way

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The Independent Online

Although the Prime Minister has promised to keep the Government at arm's length from London's Olympic bid for 2012 it is believed that pressure is being put on those orchestrating the bid to make greater use of the new Wembley Stadium which the constructors say will "take the breath away". London's initial bid document will be presented to the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday, together with those from eight other cities, including Paris and New York, but the £757m Wembley complex is thought to be earmarked only for part of the football tournament. Several ministers - including Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell - are known to want Wembley to play a more prestigious role, including hosting the opening and closing ceremonies. "It seems crazy that by 2012 the finest stadium in the world will be up and running yet there are no plans for it to play a significant role," one Government source told us. Final details to the bid document were made by the board of London 2012 last week. It is thought some directors argued in favour of using Wembley for ceremonial purposes but were overruled by American chairman Barbara Cassani and senior executives. Instead the document will stick to staging the bulk of the 28 Olympic events, including athletics and the two ceremonies, in east London, where a new de-mountable stadium is planned as part of mayor Ken Livingstone's regeneration blueprint. It is hoped this later could be sold off to a football club, such as West Ham or Tottenham. Yet when the IOC inspection team visits London in search of weapons of mass construction before the July 2005 vote to decide the Olympic city is taken in Singapore they may express surprise that the 90,000-seater Wembley will not feature more prominently.

The importance of being athlete-friendly

London's Olympic bidders believe they have come up with a Games plan that will put the city ahead of its 2012 rivals. The official bid will be presented to the IOC on Wednesday, with a lavish launch at the Royal Opera House two days later. But it is a decision to make the Games "athlete friendly" that London believes will prove a winner with the IOC. An athletes' advisory board has been set up under the chairmanship of Sir Steve Redgrave (right), who says: "We shall be consulting with more competitors about how best to run the Games than any other bidding city. We want these Games to be the most athlete-friendly ever, which will be a big selling point to the IOC." But what may raise IOC eyebrows is the absence of ethnic minority representation, for all 20 listed as advisers are white. But the bid sports director, Debbie Jevans, says others, such as Colin Jackson and Daley Thompson, will also be asked their views: "This is not about the colour of skin but getting to know what those in the Games' sports need to help make it a better, stronger bid."

Wanted: a kindly word from a sponsor

At a time when the major leaguers seem able to pluck millions from the Lottery or the Exchequer to keep them in the style to which they have grown accustomed, it seems ironic that one of sport's most worthy schemes could go to the wall. The Panathlon Challenge, which involves over 100 inner-city schools in a multi-sports "mini Olympics" has lost its £1.5m sponsorship, Royal & Sun Alliance withdrawing after seven years because of financial cutbacks. The admirable grass-roots programme - which recently won the Sportsmatch Award for work with special schools and disabled young people for the fourth time in five years - is thus in desperate need of a new sponsor. "We keep getting brownie points but we can't spend them," says the Panathlon's Ashley Iceton. "We need cold, hard cash." Prince Edward is among its most ardent supporters. "A great way of encouraging young people into sport," he says. "It encompasses competive spirit, leadership skills and fair play." Which is exactly why it is worth commercial - and government - backing.

Verroken set to stay on the drugs trail

How frustrating it must be for British sport's drugs-buster-in-chief Michele Verroken to be sidelined at home on "gardening leave" while the latest "illegal substance" saga involving Greg Rusedski unfolds. It was Verroken, as director of UK Sport's anti-doping unit, who first highlighted the dangers of nandrolone. Now she is embarrassingly left tending the snowdrops at a time when her expertise is most needed. Whatever the outcome of the situation - and some hard questions will be asked of chairman Sue Campbell when the UK Sports Council members, who claim to have been left in the dark, meet on 29 January - Verroken is likely to keep chasing the drugs cheats. Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, is keen to have her on board.

So whose bright idea was it at Sky to recruit Vinnie Jones as guest pundit for last weekend's Watford-Chelsea FA Cup screening? Several viewers have complained to us that the presence of the recently-convicted air rager was highly inappropriate, even offensive.

"Outrageous," says one. "Have they no shame? What sort of role model is he?" A good question, which no one at Sky seems keen to answer. Perhaps they considered his contribution part of the 80-hours community service he was ordered to do after a terrifying assault on a fellow passenger. Mind you, after his suggestion that he could have the entire Virgin crew bumped off for £3,000 perhaps violent Vinnie had made Richard Keys and co an offer they couldn't refuse. Sky's embrace contrasts with that of the editor of Shooting Times, Robert Gray, who has ditched the magazine's prize of a day's shooting with Jones following the conviction. "We cannot condone such behaviour," he says. Neither should Sky.

Still with Sky, on a somewhat lighter note, we hear that their cricket pundit David Lloyd was surprised to receive a call from BBC Radio Wales last week and asked: "What about this Greg Rusedski business, then?"

"I think you've got the wrong man," he replied. And of course they had, confusing him with the other David Lloyd, he of the rackets game. Not for the first time, either. Not so long ago he was invited to their Belfast studio to find himself being grilled about the reasons why Britain has failed to produce a Wimbledon champion. That must have stumped "Bumble", who as the former England cricket coach once had his hands full trying to produce winners at his own ball game, let alone struggling to pronounce nandrolone.

Exit Lines

He is a natural killer in a car. Frank Williams believes Juan Pablo Montoya is driven by the desire to be a winner... Don't worry, you'll still see me tomorrow and for a long time yet. Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri seems confident he is not about to lose out in a game of Russian roulette. The claim that football was a much nicer world 20 years ago is sentimental crap. There was just as much sleaze in 1983. Agent Jon Holmes clearly doesn't yearn for the good old days.