Mohamed plays the ladies' man

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The Independent Online

Women's professional football may be three years away, but Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed is likely to become the first to put a British ladies' team on a payroll. His Fulham Ladies FC are set to become professional even before the Football Association's plans for a full-time league in 2003.Exploratory talks have taken place with the Professional Footballers' Association, who open their annual dinner to women for the first time this year and who promise membership if the girls do go pro. According to a Fulham spokesperson, much will depend on the financial viability of such a move, but Al Fayed is known to be "all for it". He is a keen follower of women's football, cheerleading when Fulham Ladies play in the Greater London League on Sundays. He also attended the women's World Cup in the USA last year, and hasalready ploughed a considerable sum into the team. Unlike some other teams attached to leading male clubs they do not have to pay for the right to use the club name. Fulham may not be among the leading ladies at the moment - they were beaten 7-0 byArsenal in the cup quarter-finals - but they have some exciting prospects, including an Indian international, Permi Jhooti. Meantime the women's game has some catching up to do with rugby union, where Lottery funding has enabled many of the England women's team to give up or cut back on their day jobs. Next weekend, like the England men, they go for the Grand Slam against the Scots - and they have been promised an inaugural run-out at Twickenham in a Six Nations curtain-raiser next season.

Extra time for Brooking

Storm clouds are gathering over Sport England, thegovernment-funded quango led by Trevor Brooking which has a staff of 400 and the main responsibility for distributing Lottery funding to sport. While Culture Secretary Chris Smith and Sports Minister Kate Hoey are happy enough with Brooking's role as a crusading chairman - indeed his contract has been extended until after the Commonwealth Games in 2002 - they are less enchanted at certain aspects of internal administration. One highly respected member of Sport England, citing a lack of consultation with paid officials and major policy disagreements, told Hoey he wanted to resign, but was talked out of it. Smith and Hoeyhave received complaints about unwieldy bureaucracy and unjustified delays in obtaining grants. When Hoey enquired how the Lottery distribution system worked she apparently remarked: "It sounds like a bit of a dog's breakfast." Things are much improved since senior vice-chairman Des Wilson took personal charge of the Lottery programme. Another welcome move is an attempt to make things more proactive. Last week the Amateur Boxing Association were the first governing body to be called in to discuss their requirements. But Smith and Hoey would like a shake-up, and it is probable that the governing bodies will be given greater responsibility in dispersing the Lottery handouts.

The Lock is picked at last

Pickett's Lock, Enfield, may not have the cachet of Wembley or even Crystal Palace but beggars cannot be choosers and at least British athletics will be relieved that at last it has a home in which to rest its weary seat. One hopes that promises will be fulfilled and that a new national home for athletics really does rise in London's Lea Valley in time for the 2005 World Championships. After the run-around his sport has been given, Dave Moorcroft, the UK Athletics chief, deserves nothing less.

Further flights of fancy

A report that England will get only three votes and face a first- round KO in the fight for the 2006 World Cup - allegedly the findings of a secret poll among Fifa executives - is not causing undue alarm at campaign HQ. Indeed, hopes are still flying high, literally. Approval is being sought to utilise the Queen's Flight - RAF 32 Squadron - to ferry around more delegates in the coming weeks.

Positively one for the future

One of the reasons for the postponement of this week's scheduled announcement of the government's long-awaited sports strategy is that it did not want to take the shine off a new drugs initiative to be revealed tomorrow. The England football coach, Kevin Keegan, and Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam are among those attending the launch at a South London school for a new initiative aimed at tackling youth crime and drugs through sport. The Cabinet Office, Sport England and the Youth Justice Board have all pledged substantial funding. The financial support will help set up local anti-drugs projects in areas where young people are at risk. All highly commendable, though the choice of title for the initiative seems unfortunate. It is called Positive Futures.

Rover as good as gold

It may be a matter of Rover and out, but the car company's commitment to Britain's Olympians remains in top gear. Rover are "gold club" sponsors of the British Olympic Association and their demise won't affect the Games plans. The contract is signed, sealed, and runs through to Sydney. "The money's in the bank," says a BOA spokesman, with just a hint of relief.

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