Inside Lines: Former chief aims volley at 'heartless' UK Sport Scrooges


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The Independent Online

Christmas spirit seemed to be in short supply at UK Sport last week. Among the bodies denied a slice of the £374 million handout towards Rio 2016 is British Volleyball, whose chairman, Richard Callicott, is spitting blood. "The phenomenal hard work and commitment of our athletes and coaches has been rewarded with the utter obliteration of our sport at elite level," he declares angrily. Now here's the irony. Callicott, as a former UK Sport chief executive himself, was originally responsible for distributing Lottery funding to sport when it was initiated by the then Prime Minister, John Major. His was a more sympathetic approach than the invidious "no compromise" philosophy augmented by the incumbent, Liz Nicholl, which leaves Callicott's sport, like basketball and handball, virtually without hope of getting to Rio despite their valued presence at London 2012 to boost ticket sales. Says Callicott: "It's heartless. Liz Nicholl says sports with limited or no funding can go back annually for the situation to be reviewed if they have made progress. That's like telling a Formula One team on the starting grid that they no longer have access to fuel but if they can catch up with the rest, they can rejoin the race. What do they do? Push the bloody car?" Another irony is that three days after being honoured by the BBC with the prestigious Helen Rollason award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity, Martine Wright, who lost both legs in the 7/7 terrorist bombings, learned that sitting volleyball, which helped rebuild her shattered life, has also lost all its funding. She says she feels particularly gutted because it will undermine the sport's role in rehabilitating injured servicemen and women. "As a new team, in just two-and-a-half years we performed to our expectations in London and were looking forward to continuing to make progress. It's disappointing but we are determined for the programme to carry on." I have never been a fan of UK Sport's uncompromising diktat, which surely helps promote the sort of win-at-all-costs mentality that contravenes the spirit of sport, rewarding the already-haves rather than the have-nots. British Volleyball's Christmas card, depicting Tiny Tim beseeching Scrooge: "But sir, zero won't be enough to fund a competitive programme," should be on UK Sport's doormat tomorrow.

Roger the dodger

Another former chief executive given short shrift by a successor is Roger Draper, once of Sport England and now the amply rewarded boss of the Lawn Tennis Association. He has been taken to task by the present Sport England incumbent, Jennie Price, who, in effectively placing the LTA on probation over their funding, declared Draper's plan "simply isn't strong enough to justify the four-year investment". Draper, once never shy of self-promotion, has yet to break cover to defend the LTA's failure to shake up the sport at grass-roots level or explain exactly what he has done to be worth a £200,000 bonus on top of his £440,000 salary, a package described as "unthinkable" by Baroness Billingham, chair of the All Parliamentary Tennis Group. She also calls the LTA "useless". According to the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, football remains the worst-administered sport, but tennis must be running a pretty close second. New balls, please.

A Storey to warm hearts

A fistful of knighthoods – plus at least one damehood – can be expected when a job lot of Olympian gongs are handed out in the New Year Honours. Bradley Wiggins, cycling's coach of the year Dave Brailsford, Mo Farah, Ben Ainslie and David Weir are believed to be likely to become Sirs. The dame? Probably cyclist Sarah Storey, now Britain's most prolific Paralympian. And while he seems to be the man who has everything, there could be something special for Lord Coe.