Inside Lines: From Russia with no love lost over gay Games view


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Following my piece in The Independent last weekend on Russia's anti-gay laws brought in for next year's Winter Olympics ("For Sochi the future is gay whether Putin likes it or not") comes an astonishing missive from a Russian source – hopefully unofficial – suggesting that their Foreign Ministry has permanently banned me from entry into the country.

I am described as a "Pathological Russophobe" and listed as such in a pictorial rogues' gallery alongside Boy George, Stephen Fry, Peter Tatchell and a host of international luminaries. Well, sorry to disappoint you, tovarich, but I actually love Russia. I have enjoyed visiting several times, even though before the Moscow Olympics they tried to confiscate a sports magazine in which I interviewed Sebastian Coe as "bourgeois propaganda" and bugged our rooms.

I have always found Russian sportsfolk helpful and hospitable, and oppose any proposed boycott over Sochi as fiercely as I did over those Summer Games 33 years ago. Mind you, now I might think twice before accepting any invitation to a cup of Earl Grey at Mayfair's Millennium Hotel with one of their diplomats.

Skulduggery on ice

Gay blades may be the least of Russia's Winter Games worries in view of the latest sports scandal, in which a prospective American Olympian short-track speed skater, a bronze medallist in Vancouver, has been banned for two years by the International Skating Union for sabotaging the skates of a rival.

Simon Cho claimed he had been pressured by his coach, Jae Su Chun, who was also suspended, into tampering with the skates of Canada's Olivier Jean during the 2011 World Team Championships. Those who follow the sport say it is not the first time that attempts have been made to blunt or bend the blades of rivals in both speed and figure skating. And in the past it has even been known for itching powder to be put into the costumes of other competitors in the dressing room.

Might this have led to St Vitus Dancing on Ice?

IOC to play safe

Tokyo 1964 was the last Olympic Games untainted by drugs, politics or other assorted scandals. Should they return to the Japanese capital in 2020, as looks probable, it is unlikely such purity will prevail.

Tokyo is 4-9 with bookmakers William Hill to get the nod ahead of Istanbul (3-1) and Madrid (9-2) when the International Olympic Committee votes next Saturday at their session in Buenos Aires. Tokyo appears to be the safest option at a time of global economic and political turbulence, though Istanbul offers an intriguing alternative as the first host city to straddle two continents and Madrid's third successive bid has gathered momentum.

The IOC's renowned conservatism should also see wrestling retain its Olympic berth over squash or baseball/softball, and the staid German lawyer Thomas Bach succeed Jacques Rogge as president. Pity. Squash's inclusion is overdue, and Singapore's progressive Ng Ser Miang or Ukrainian Olympic legend Sergey Bubka would give the old boys' club the shake-up it needs.

Memories of Morgan

In a week when England cricketers urinated on The KIA Oval pitch and Ben Johnson was here to remind us how sport has become so utterly despoiled by drugs, it was good to recall, though with sadness, some of the real goodness in the game.

Cliff Morgan, the Welsh rugby legend who died on Thursday, was high among the kindest, most talented and genuine of those I have encountered in sport. He was as marvellous a raconteur as he was a rugby player. One story he loved to tell involved his great pal Richard Burton, who, when Cliff asked him about his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor, responded: "Legs like a Welsh pit pony but magnificent breasts."

Burton also told him he would rather have played rugby for Wales than play Hamlet.

Taylor a good bet

What are the chances the Professional Footballers Association chief, Gordon Taylor, will keep his job following revelations about his gambling habits? Odds on, say the bookies.