Inside Lines: It's all gong-ho for 2012 but Coe warns of hurdles ahead


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The Independent Online

Only one Olympian in the New Year's Honours – and no sporting MBE has been more deserved than than that awarded to Sarah Stevenson, the tigress of the taekwondo mat who courageously won her second world championship in such a personally traumatic year. But you can bet that this time next year there'll be gongs galore for those who help make 2012 the rip-roaring success it seems destined to be.

Which will be something of a dilemma to the person responsible for dishing them out.

As well as heading up the Games' organisation, Lord Coe also chairs the Sports Honours Committee, which sifts nominations and recommends recipients to Downing Street.

Not that he'll be awarding anything to himself, of course – anyway, what can you give a man who has everything, from a peerage downwards? But there'll certainly be no argument if a knighthood wings it way to his anchor man, Paul Deighton, as one already has to John Armitt, chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Hiring the City financier as Locog's chief executive was, says Coe, "the best move I have ever made." He adds: "We would not be where we are today without him."

And where are we? Certainly well ahead of any previous Olympics at this stage of the Games. Though, as 2012 dawns, Coe warns there is no room for complacency. Always a last lap specialist, Coe is entering the home straight and recognises it has now become a hurdles event because of the toxic economy.

"At the moment we are bang on target but these next seven months are going to be tough. The management of the project needs to be right but we are delivering the Games at a time when many people have had a battering. We have a responsibility to provide something that lifts the spirit of the nation. If we achieve that I'll be happy." He won't be alone.

Sweet and sour FA

As exclusively predicted in this column, the FA have appointed ex-Millwall chair Heather Rabbatts, the Jamaican-born boundary-breaking barrister and all-round powerhouse, as one of their two new independent directors. A welcome move, though pity they put only one foot through the glass ceiling of their Wembley eyrie.

Former Chelsea and Celtic star Paul Elliott, who was shortlisted with her for one of the two vacant seats on the board, was rejected despite impeccable credentials. As one of the game's leading black personalities his record in helping combat racism through the Kick It Out campaign surely would have been invaluable in current circumstances.

Plastic surgery required

There is Government concern at the number of "Plastic Brits", athletes brought in from abroad and fast-tracked for citizenship in a blatant attempt to boost Team GB's 2012 medal haul. Not that Britain is alone in importing sport's carpetbaggers.

The Gulf States are full of Africans hired to run under a different flag, Ethiopians compete for Turkey and Australia has a host of "immigrants" from the old Soviet bloc. Brazil's boxing team in the last world championships had a suspiciously Cuban flavour about it.

But this frenetic win-at-all-costs mentality is contrary to the Olympic spirit and will not assist Britain's dwindling popularity in world sport.

Prawn in the game

Tyson Fury, boxing's travelling man, has moved house to Morecambe and says he wants to fight at the Globe Arena, the ground of the local League Two club.

However the gypsy giant hardly endears himself to supporters by boasting that he can do a better job at entertaining them. "The football team isn't very good, so I'm the only celebrity in town," he claims.

Fans of the club known as The Shrimps may remind him of the words of one of his British heavyweight champion predecessors from just down the road in Blackpool, Brian London. "Us boxers, he once memorably said, "are just prawns in the game."