Inside Lines: Tanni Grey-Thompson closes on top job in grass-roots sport


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The Independent Online

Baroness Sue Campbell officially retired as chair of UK Sport at the end of last month. We still await news of the appointment of her successor, and that of Richard Lewis at Sport England; he and Campbell have both been asked to hang on until later this month.

Interviews for the posts were held over a fortnight ago, and the popular supposition is that Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson would be installed at UK Sport with Nick Bitel, chief executive of the London Marathon, taking over at Sport England. But that may not be the case.

Recommendations by the interviewing panels are still being reviewed by Government ministers and mandarins, but expect a twist in the tale when the appointments are revealed later this week, with Grey-Thompson given the Sport England job because of her known empathy with sport's grass roots.

"I'm not sure if it's going to go in my favour or against me that I couldn't decide which box to tick," the pioneering Paralympian said before making her application. "I'd be flattered to get either post."

The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, who must endorse the appointments, and Hugh Robertson, the Sports Minister who is a big Grey-Thompson supporter, consider Sport England the key appointment because of the need to cement a 2012 legacy at participation level and oversee the Government's £150 million investment in school sports.

Also, Thompson's popular persona would raise the profile of an organisation whose future has been under threat. Bitel, already on the board, could become vice-chair, leaving yachting supremo Rod Carr, financier Mark Hanson and former England hockey chief Phillip Kimberley as contenders for Campbell's UK Sport chair.

Mettle of the Iron Lady

What of Sue Campbell herself? Surely the doyenne of administrators still has a substantial part to play in the future of British sport? Her spell in charge of UK Sport ends just short of a decade. In that time she has overseen an investment of £347m in Britain's sporting elite, culminating in the memorable successes of 2012.

I have not always agreed with her, particularly over UK Sport's "no compromise" attitude over funding only those who may be medal prospects. But I admire her sporting ideology, as well as her determination to promote women's sport and challenge what she views as the "physical illiteracy" of Britain's kids.

She still chairs the Youth Sport Trust, and it will be no surprise if her expertise is harnessed in some capacity by new British Olympic Association chairman Seb Coe, who is much more a fan of sport's Iron Lady than was his adversarial predecessor, Colin Moynihan. Later this month Coe will announce the BOA's strategic plan for Rio. Might that embrace some input from Campbell, who like Grey-Thompson sits as a left-leaning crossbencher in the House of Lords and similarly is a talent too good to be wasted on real politics?

Harrison set to bomb out

Just what is Audley Harrison's game? He just won't go away. OK, so he looked in decent nick at 41 when he beat a bunch of novices and has-beens to win the last Prizefighter tournament. This has emboldened Harrison to step into the ring on Amir Khan's 27 April Sheffield bill against potentially the best heavyweight America has unearthed in almost decade, Deotnay Wilder. The man known as The Bronze Bomber has knocked out all 27 of his opponents so far. The so-called A-Force apparently has joined the Air Force – as a kamikaze.

Harrison's bottle is as fragile as his jaw when the bombs are unleashed; will he again be wearing his kneepads? Yet should he some-how get lucky he will be in line for another world title shot. As we have said before, funny old game, fighting. As in funny peculiar.