Inside Lines: 'Learn from Aussie errors' – Ian Thorpe's warning to GB sport


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The Independent Online

This is not the time to be greeting an Aussie with "G'day, sport", unless you fancy a thick ear. Alas, there are now many more bad days than g'days for Australian sport. Last weekend's Test Match debacle was indicative of the malaise that has struck down a sports-mad nation, causing it to lose both pride and the plot.

Over a dozen years Australia have gradually slid out of the sports super power league. Once right on top they are now well and truly Down Under. Olympic also-rans, savaged by the Lions and now struggling on an embarrassingly sticky wicket in the Ashes series. At the turn of the century, sport was Australia's advert to the rest of the world, riding high on the back of the Sydney Games in 2000, almost as glorious for them as London's was for Team GB. But in 2012, Australia suffered their worst Olympic performance, finishing tenth in the medal table with just seven golds, less than half the 16 they collected in Sydney. All compounded last week by Stuart O'Grady, a 2004 cycling gold medallist, confessing to using EPO before a Tour de France.

"We are on a bit of a downer at the moment," admits their greatest-ever swimmer, Ian Thorpe. "We set ourselves lofty heights but just being an Australian won't win you a medal any more."

Now the Thorpedo has an ominous warning for British sport, currently basking in the afterglow of 2012 at the Anniversary Games. "It could happen to you," he says, "especially if you get complacent and cut funding as we did."

In Australia, those cuts have led to their best coaches going abroad, not least to the UK. As Thorpe says: "Australia's is a predicament to which you should pay close attention if you do not want to find yourselves in a similar position in a decade's time."

Why ABA ban is a tragedy

Fights broke out at London's Victoria station one day last week while a large crowd stood by and watched. But it was quite legit.

Young boxers scrapped in a ring on the concourse to publicise a joint initiative by Network Rail and Sport England, who have invested £35,000 to assist London ABA with the training of coaches and teachers in clubs and schools. Among those enthusiastically swapping punches were kids aged from 10 upwards, a healthy indication of how booming boxing is enjoying a genuine legacy from the Games.

How ironic, then, that this weekend England's best schoolboy boxers have been prevented from competing in the European Championships in Dublin by a ban imposed on the ABA of England by the governing body, AIBA, over an alleged technical breach of regulations. It is a callous move which harms only those whose interests AIBA is supposed to nourish – the boxers. And one which its president, Dr C K Wu, who as we report today aspires to head the IOC, should be deeply ashamed.

Heavy sums for Hearn

It has been an expensive week for buoyant fight promoter Eddie Hearn. Not only has he forked out a seven-figure sum for the signature of the Olympic super-heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, but he has had to pay a fine, with costs, to the British Boxing Board of Control over his boxer Lee Purdy failing to make the weight for a recent world welterweight title bout in Atlantic City.

Apparently Purdy had tried to sweat off the weight in a sauna – strictly against the safety-conscious Board's regulations. Along with Hearn, Purdy himself, trainer Tony Sims – who is also Joshua's designated coach – and cornerman Darren Barker were also fined and "severely reprimanded".

Baseball bond left field

Sport moves in mysterious political ways. After Russia, Iran and the United States formed an unlikely alliance to keep under-threat wrestling on the Olympic programme, an historic baseball series between Cuba and the US has been orchestrated by Antonio Castro, surgeon son of the former leader Fidel, in an attempt to get the sport back in.