Message is clear: sport doesn't count

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The Independent Online

Lord Coe's withering reaction to the Picketts Lock fiasco, and the government's pathetic part in it, would have carried a lot more weight if he was not a member of the Tory party which so shamelessly washed its hands of any obligation to the nation's sporting youth.

You may also say that the current sports minister Richard Caborn's clumsy suggestion to officials of the International Association of Athletics Federations that they should spend some junketing time in London before heading off to Sheffield for a relocated World Athletics Championships, represents a new low in the performance of a British sports minister. It was certainly a troubling reminder that in his first days in office Mr Caborn so abysmally failed an extremely basic sports quiz thrown at him by a radio interviewer.

But the worst ever sports minister? It is a lot to say of a man who has been in the job for just a few months, and with the memory of Tony Banks and his misguided World Cup campaign still rather too vivid in the memory.

Colin, now Lord, Moynihan also lingers grimly in the mind for his lecturing of football at the behest of Mrs Thatcher. Hooliganism was football's problem, he yelled to a gathering of sportswriters, players and managers. For what seemed like several hours.

The point is that sports ministers are rarely more than messengers of the Government and now, with Wembley mouldering away and Picketts Lock another story of low commitment, and competence, we know what the message is. It is that sport really does not count except as as a means of cheap, reflected glory.

No one seems to have a sharper hold on this reality than Caborn's predecessor, Kate Hoey. Recently she produced a hard-hitting series of television reports on Britain's failure to properly compete with rival nations like France, where Olympic sized-swimming pools dot the land and a stadium as superb as the Stade de France is thrown up in the time it took the Wembley planners to rustle up a swiftly rejected blueprint.

Now she is advising the Premiership to clean up its act in a campaign, marked by slur and misinformation, against the legitimate claims of the Professional Footballers' Association.

The cynical will say Ms Hoey is fuelled by the angst which has come with the loss of her job. Others, myself included, would say she did not lose a job but gained an insight into an assignment which seems destined never to be more than a bad, insulting joke.

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