With exactly 500 days to go from tomorrow before the curtain goes up on the London Olympics, a new event has been added to the programme: the tug of war. Pulling in opposite directions, much to the embarrassment of the International Olympic Committee, are the organisers, Locog, led by Lord Coe, and the British Olympic Association, headed by fellow Tory peer and Olympic medallist Lord Moynihan.
This complicated and increasingly bitter wrangle concerns the divvying up of an anticipated £400 million surplus once the marketing revenue is counted. Locog reckon this should subsidise the loss-making Paralympics while the BOA argue that as the Government are committed to underwriting them, 60 per cent should go into a legacy pot for grass roots and facilities. The IOC have been asked to arbitrate but Moynihan has already passed the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). A legal punch-up between Olympic Board members is rather unseemly at this stage of the Games. While to the public it may seem a tiresome tiff, ominously it is the first major rift in what had seemed to be a smooth passage towards 2012.
Moynihan declines to discuss the issue, saying it is now sub judice, but he insists he remains on good terms with Coe and London mayor Boris Johnson (co-respondents in the case): "This is purely a commercial dispute and should not affect our relationship." Nor, he says, do the BOA need the money to plug the black hole in their own finances, over which eyebrows have been raised as high as some of the salaries paid to senior staff, not least Sir Clive Woodward's reputed £300,000 a year. At the heart of the matter is Moynihan's long-held desire to make the BOA the hub of British sport, rather than the Government agency UK Sport, as is the case with corresponding Olympic bodies in Italy and Germany. It could prove an expensive ambition.
Another reason why the BOA may be strapped for cash is their apparent determination to adhere to the admirable De Coubertin philosophy of taking part being more important than winning by sending even no-hopers to the Games. Costly team sports such as handball, volleyball and water polo have been given the nod without being in sniffing chance of a medal. Today in Lyon, GB's basketballers seek clearance from the international governing body, Fiba, whose secretary general, Patrick Baumann, says: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Team GB one of the powerhouses of world basketball." Not sure about that, but at least London deserves to see the great Luol Deng of Chicago Bulls grace the Olympic arena in a GB shirt.
Now here's a funny thing
Some funny things may be happening on the way to 2012 but surely none so hilarious as the new cod series on the Games run-in which begins on BBC4 tomorrow night. Twenty Twelve is a satirical skit on what may – or may not – be going on behind the scenes at Games HQ, with much merriment promised. It is along the lines of a smash-hit series on Aussie TV before the Sydney Olympics. Lord Coe was sufficiently unfazed by a script which features the organising committee as a secret front for drugs trafficking and sex slavery to have a cameo role. The fictitious press chief is depicted as something of a harridan, a character far removed, we hasten to add, from 2012's ever-bubbly and helpful Jackie Brock-Doyle.
Exactly 40 years ago last Monday we were privileged to be ringside at Madison Square Garden witnessing the first of Ali and Frazier's titanic trilogies. The $5 million fight changed the face and finances of world heavyweight boxing, for which Messrs Haye and Klitschko should be eternally grateful. Apart from the fantastic duel, our abiding memory is standing next to a trilby-hatted bloke in the gents before it began and being asked: "Who do you fancy, fella?" The enquirer was Frank Sinatra. We hacks were all advised to wear specially provided baseball caps and when we asked why, the wonderfully laconic Garden PR John Condon replied: "Well guys, there are thousands outside fighting to get in and if there's a riot the cops will know which heads to hit and which not to hit." Happy days.