Minister manages to avoid misadventure

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The Independent Online

The Minister for Sport pulled down upon the white cord, and blue velvet curtains slid obediently back to reveal a brass plaque. Ipswich Town's new £2m Youth Academy was now officially open, and for the Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP – beleaguered by criticism since the Government's announcement earlier this month that it was not going ahead with building a stadium at Picketts Lock – a pleasant task had been successfully accomplished.

It would have been better for Caborn if his visit to Suffolk could have ended right there. But within seconds he found life becoming all tricky again as the beaming Ipswich chairman, David Sheepshanks, presented him with a club shirt embroidered with his name and invited him to display it to the gathered photographers. "Sheffield United are going to kill me for this," grimaced Caborn, whose constituency is within the city.

Back in the House, even more awkward matters were being discussed as a Parliamentary select committee began its consideration of the Picketts Lock débâcle, which effectively saw Britain renege on its promise to host the 2005 World Athletics Championships as it offered a late alternative – Sheffield – which was never faintly likely to be acceptable.

Yesterday the International Olympic Committee's president, Jaques Rogge, added his voice to the legion that have already decried Britain's volte face as undermining any potential future bid for the Games.

When asked to comment on Rogge's views, Caborn's face took on the set look it has assumed so often in recent days – "Picketts Lock... too costly... transport links... accommodation problems... one day they would all thank the Government for it..." He accepted that, in some eyes, Britain's reputation had been "tarnished", but maintained that any Olympic bid from within these shores would be judged on its own merits.

He was not worried, he maintained, adding that next year Britain would deliver "a very good event in the golden jubilee year", namely the Commonwealth Games.

Questioned on the comments made to the select committee that morning by Patrick Carter, the businessman whose feasibility report into Picketts Lock had confirmed the Government's course, Caborn became less defensive. He endorsed Carter's suggestions that it was not the Government's job to build stadiums, but to form policy, and that a new committee should be set up to review the way in which Britain set about hosting large sporting events.

"I've said on many occasions that we need to be looking at ways in which we can be strategy-led and not events-led," he commented. "We will be sitting down and discussing these matters with Patrick Carter."

Caborn was speaking after watching the Academy pitches being christened by a six-a-side involving players such as the captain Matt Holland and the midfielder Jim Magilton. Thankfully, no players were injured. So what with that, and the plaque not falling down, it was another successful day for the Minister.