Judging by the flags and bunting everywhere, the whole country is deep in the thralls of World Cup fever – except in a curmudgeonly corner of Westminster City Council.
For the last four World Cups, Bar Italia, a popular eaterie in the heart of London's Soho, has been festooned with Italian flags together with a banner stretching across Frith Street towards Ronnie Scott's famous jazz joint with a banner proclaiming "Forza Azzuri" and "Good Luck Italy". But last week, just a few hours after it had been put up, planning enforcement officers from the council ordered owner Tony Polledri to take it down or face legal action. Whether it was because of planning permission or that old standby, "elf 'n' safety", wasn't quite clear, but Signor Polledri, whose family have run the restaurant for over 60 years, made it absolutely clear he wasn't going to comply. Instead he e-mailed London mayor Boris Johnson pointing out that an Italian flag and banner have been a World Cup tradition "in what is the last remaining piece of Italy in Soho". He vows: "They can do what they like. The banner stays until after the last kick of the World Cup." As yet he hasn't heard anything more from the council jobsworths. Whether Boris had a word we don't know, but here's one for them anyway: "guastafeste". That's the Italian for killjoys.
Surbiton High flyers
Spelbound, the amazing gymnastics group who brought sport to the footlights by winning 'Britain's Got Talent', have given a decent percentage of their £100,000 prize money towards refurbishing the Surrey gymnasium where they have been schooled. But it was back to school for real for three of them, Katie Axten, Abigail Ralph and Amy Mackenzie, who all had examinations last week at Surbiton High, whose Gifted and Talented programme has produced not only the spellbinding trio but nine GB gymnasts and 14 national skiiers, including Chemmy Alcott. "We feel it essential we nurture talent and celebrate sporting achievement," says principal Ann Haydon. If only all schools thought that way.
Robertson shows mettle
Having secured sport a £50 million-a-year boost from the Lottery by 2012 to help deliver a mass participation legacy from the Olympics, new sports minister Hugh Robertson is also keeping his pre-election promise to cut the expensive quangos down to size, with UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sports Trust brought together under one roof and synergised by the end of the year. "There will be no more squabbling over territory. We are going to get this cracked," he says. The departure of UK Sport's chief executive John Steele to the Rugby Football Union may inadvertently help facilitate such a "merger". While Robertson has no say over the appointment of a successor, doubtless he will be keeping a keen political eye on the list of applicants. The loss of Steele is a blow to UK Sport but in the former Northampton Saints player, coach and executive director, the RFU have gained one of sport's most able and popular administrators.
New balls, please
Adam Booth, manager of David Haye, quaintly reckons the Hayemaker will be taking a risk should he fight timid but big-punching Audley Harrison who, he says, "may find his bollocks and David's chin at the same time".