Inside lines: Man of Steele ensures rugby's Twickers is no longer in a twist

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The Independent Online

John Steele has had an eventful baptism as the man charged with picking up the badly scuffed oval ball after Bloodgate, the scandal which got Twickers in a twist. But the new chief executive of the Rugby Football Union is as resolute as his name, and is determined to refurbish the game's image and ensure it flourishes at grass roots and internationally. Not least now that it has joined the Olympic family. Steele has been one of the prime movers and shakers in British sport since he swapped the rugby field for the chief executive's office at UK Sport in 2005. Then last summer, as we exclusively reported, he was made the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse to take over from Francis Baron as head honcho at Twickenham. The former Royal Artillery captain and England A fly-half, 46, who played and coached at Northampton, returns to rugby at a time when the profile of the sport has never been higher. He tells us: "This is probably the most exciting time ever for British sport. Rugby is always looking to extend it's boundaries and 2012 is a prime opportunity. OK, it's sevens and not 15s, but it's a foothold in the game for a lot of countries." While the RFU are not as dysfunctional as the body governing the round-ball game, there have been problems to sort out at Twickenham, where Steele is engaged in a comprehensive review of its entire workings. The Harlequins case, he says, was "regrettable and unacceptable", adding: "There is no place for that behaviour in any sport. Of course it damaged rugby's reputation. But it was a one-off, and a full investigation found no evidence that cheating was widespread and systemic either at international or domestic level. That said, we should always be vigilant and strive to uphold the sport's values." No area will escape scrutiny, including the management of the England team. But he insists Martin Johnson will be given time, and that rugby fans are not as impatient as those in football demanding the head of Fabio Capello. "They have been very patient and understand the need to develop sides," he says. Steele is clearly a man of some fortitude, having trekked up Everest and cycled across Vietnam and Cambodia raising money for anti-racism and cancer charities. He has himself beaten throat cancer. That oval ball seems to have landed in a safe pair of hands.

No balls at the Beeb

ITV are set to announce this week that an Ashes highlights package will be shown at 10pm every evening on ITV4, giving the series welcome free to air/terrestrial time. One wonders what regular BBC viewers here – and Down Under – will make of yet another sporting opportunity spurned by the national broadcaster, who screened a similar package from Australia in the 2006-07 series. The Beeb blame scheduling problems on BBC1 and 2, not the £500,000 cost. But what about their own channels 3 and 4? Curious that they found room for the similarly Sky-televised Ryder Cup highlights at short notice? Just not cricket?

Hague goes for green belt

London 2012 chief Lord Coe joked he was the warm-up act for his old judo sparring partner William Hague last week when the Foreign Secretary launched a new film called Going for Green showcasing how the 2012 Olympic Park will stage "the world's first sustainable Olympics". Coe wasn't kidding. Climate change was one of the film's themes and the 200 teeth-chattering international dignitaries must have wondered if Government cuts have extended to the heating in the FO's refrigerated Dunbar Court. Coe revealed he had to ask permission from Hague when offered the 2012 chair as he was then working as his aide-de-camp at Westminster. "William was happy enough until I told him I was also pinching his excellent PA." Figuratively speaking, of course.

2012 the spur for Harry

He may – or not – get the England job when the Football Association eventually say arrivederci to Signor Capello. But the word is that Tottenham's Harry Redknapp is a surefire bet to manage what is an increasingly likely all-England team in the 2012 Olympics.

insidelines@independent.co.uk

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