Inside Lines: Angry football chiefs target minister after his 'home truths'
Sunday 24 April 2011
The same football cabal that did for Kate Hoey as Labour's sports minister 10 years ago apparently has it in for Tory incumbent Hugh Robertson.
It was the ear-blowing campaign orchestrated by some of the game's power-brokers which led to Hoey being replaced because the then Prime Minister Tony Blair was shamefully persuaded, via Burnley fan Alastair Campbell, that she was not "on message" with football's interests. Now it seems Robertson is being targeted – quite unjustly – for the same reason.
We hear prickly Premier League and FA bigwigs are less than enamoured that Robertson has delivered some timely home truths – principally that football needs to be governed better and is the worst run of all major sports in this country. He called governance arrangements around the FA "a disgrace" and says they are "stuck in a time warp".
His call for radical reform, with Government regulation as a last resort, clearly rattled the football hierarchy, and pressure is being put on his boss, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, to bring him to heel. The hope is that Robertson, 48, will be encouraged to stick to his guns, not least by a PM who claims to support plain speaking.
There are many – this column included – who believe he is doing a decent job and like Hoey, is right to minister to all sports, not just football.
Caborn on the ropes
By coincidence, one of Robertson's sports ministerial predecessors is also under political pressure. Not content with the downfall of the Amateur Boxing Association of England's chief executive Paul King after his abortive bid to unseat the powerful AIBA boss Dr C K Wu, the Swiss-based governing body now seem to be gunning for Richard Caborn, the ABAE president.
AIBA insiders say that only "regime change" is likely to appease Dr Wu, the Taiwanese architectural billionaire who designed Milton Keynes. Caborn and GB Boxing's chairman Derek Mapp are blamed by AIBA for Britain not having a franchise in Dr Wu's new baby, the pro-styled World Series Boxing. Both Caborn and Mapp rightly felt it was uneconomic with the Olympics looming.
Subsequently AIBA exhumed the rule that bars GB's highly regarded, pro-connected head coach Rob McCracken from tournaments under their jurisdiction, including the World Championships and Olympics. This bout could end up in court.
Finger-wagging for Hearn
Had Barry Hearn acted as he did in the ring at Manchester last week in his capacity as chairman of Leyton Orient FC, furiously haranguing the referee and calling him "a disgrace", surely he would have been up on an FA charge.
But boxing being boxing, the promoter of Amir Khan's victim Paul McCloskey can expect merely mild finger-wagging from the Board of Control despite showing more aggression than his fighter. Hearn considers his own finger-wagging in the face of the Puerto Rican arbiter Luis Pabon who, on doctor's orders, stopped the fight prematurely, totally justified.
Of more concern to the Board will be the shambolic build-up and aftermath of the three-tiered promotion. I understand the security company in charge of the MEN Arena want clarification from the Board as to exactly who should be allowed in the ring after the fight. On Saturday it was more crowded than a Tokyo tube station at rush hour, with hordes of Khan aides and acolytes.
Also worrying was Khan's low-key display against a pedestrian opponent, leaving us to wonder how much the unseemly pre-fight distractions – and making the weight – affected him. Yet despite the chaos, a near 17,000 sell-out and 70,000 pay-per-view hits on Primetime shows there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Blatter on the offensive
Sepp Blatter is embarking on a charm (some might say smarm) offensive to win the backing of a still resentful FA for his re-election as Fifa president. Having hired a Brit, former Sun sports editor turned broadcaster Brian Alexander, to run his publicity campaign he is also to write a regular column for the UK-based website insideworldfootball.biz – hoping to prove, no doubt, that the pen is mightier than the sward.
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