I took my two young grandchildren swimming last week, expecting the customary free admission for under-16s and "senior citizens" at the local pool in Surrey. "Sorry," I was told. "You'll have to pay up like everyone else." It transpired they were making early implementation of the new Government's decision to scrap the scheme launched with such a fanfare by the former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell two years ago. Now it has been ditched as part of the £73m worth of cuts to the sports budget, and I suspect it is one which has given the incoming sports minister, Hugh Robertson, sleepless nights. He admits the decision "gives me no pleasure" but says it is a necessary contribution to the overall economy – though the saving, some £5m, seems a drop in an Olympic-sized pool. The initiative, which the Government claims has not delivered value for money, was one of Labour's key Olympic legacies yet curiously there has not been a peep of protest from Jowell. Is this because she has growing hopes of a role with 2012 – which Robertson and Seb Coe are currently discussing – and doesn't wish to rock the boat politically?
Ring of truth
This week sees a milestone in boxing: 100 years since Jack Johnson became the first black world heavyweight champion. Subsequently no sport has created more drama, yet so rarely has it translated convincingly into theatre. Which is why I am delighted to recommend the most compelling play about boxing I have seen. It is called 'Sucker Punch', by Roy Williams, currently at London's Royal Court. You've heard of theatre in the round, well this is theatre in the ring, albeit a small one in which racial tensions explode like thunderous uppercuts. It has a brilliant cast with an outstanding contribution from 21-year-old Daniel Kaluuya as the reformed tearaway who gets to fight for a world title against his old pal from the mean streets and ends up heading back to them. Kaluuya, a product of London youth theatre, is a fight fan but has never laced on a glove. "My mum wouldn't let me box," he said. But the way he has got into the physique and psyche of a fighter is grippingly real. He was trained for three months by ex-boxer Errol Christie, and the final fight scenes with Anthony Welsh are so exactingly, and excitingly, choreographed you'll never want to watch 'Rocky' again. "I don't mind getting hit in the head for what I do," Kaluuya tells us, "but not every night!" I hope 'Sucker Punch' makes the West End as it deserves a bigger stage – and a bigger ring.
Spot on, Deirdre
If you fancy a flutter at 10-1 on England beating Germany on penalties this afternoon, here's the good news. Deirdre Angella, a top sports psychologist – she worked with bob skeleton gold medallist Amy Williams at the English Institute of Sport – reckons you might be on a winner. All England have to do is forget what's gone before. "From a psychological viewpoint the past has nothing to do with the future," she says. "Just as long as England's penalty-takers are not focused on other things, such as what might happen if they don't score. It's here and now. All they have to remember is that this is just about kicking a ball." If only...