Inside Lines: Beckham in pole position to make athletes feel special

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The Independent Online

Unwanted he may – or may not – be on the field for England by Fabio Capello, but there is no doubt that the oft-maligned David Beckham does his bit for his country off it. He was influential in securing London's bid for the 2012 Olympics, may well win a few votes from equally star-struck Fifa members when the 2018 World Cup destination is decided in December, and this weekend he is cheering on British competitors as the Special Olympics European Games open in Warsaw. What's special about these Games is that they cater for those with learning disabilities, which includes Down's Syndrome and autism, who are not eligible for the Paralympics. Having watched last year's UK event in Leicester I can testify it is the most understated event in the sporting calendar. Watched by Beckham and France's Zinedine Zidane, who like him is a Special Olympics global ambassador, around 1,500 athletes from 57 countries will compete in half a dozen sports, and for some just completing a lap of the track could be the highlight of their lives. "There are 1.2m people in this country with learning disabilities, so it is good they can be recognised through sport in this way," says the Special Olympics GB chair Lawrie McMenemy. Backed by the National Grid, Britain have a team of 48 who were given a send-off at No 10 by David Cameron, whose own son Ivan, a cerebral palsy sufferer, died last year aged six. He told them: "The whole country will be cheering you on." So we should be.

2012 fails dope test

It has not been the best of weeks for Lord Coe. Not only was he criticised by a London Assembly committee for what they termed a "flawed" legacy plan to reduce the 80,000-capacity Olympic Stadium to a 25,000-seater athletics arena, but he is said to be furious at the cock-up over the initial appointment of a known drugs cheat to a senior 2012 post. Sevdalin Marinov was due to start work tomorrow as the technical operations manager for weightlifting at the London Games. The 42-year-old Bulgarian, an Olympic 52kg champion in 1988, was hired despite testing positive for anabolic steroids in 1991. It was only when top brass at Locog learned of his drugs past last week that the offer was hastily rescinded. Coe, who was not made aware of the details of the appointment, is vehemently anti-drugs, so much so that he refuses to allow Linford Christie, who received a two-year ban for a positive test, to have any official role with 2012, much to the Olympic champ's displeasure.

Girl power at UK Sport

No glass ceiling at UK Sport, where the one-time netball international Liz Nicholl is set to step up from CEO to replace John Steele, now rugby's head honcho, as the chief executive. She beat a host of men to the post and will work alongside the chair, Baroness Sue Campbell, thus giving the body which distributes Olympic cash a firm female grip on the purse strings.