Paradise regained in Milton Keynes?

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The Independent Online

So, Milton Keynes for the 2005 World Athletics Championships, eh?

So, Milton Keynes for the 2005 World Athletics Championships, eh? Actually, it's not as daft as it seems. The proposal, exclusively revealed on page one of this section, is a serious one, and the IAAF, still anxious to stage in Games in or reasonably close to London, might just go for it. Howard Wells, the new chairman of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, believes the London "satellite" town would be ideal venue for the championships, and is asking the Government to take a look at it as a far more viable alternative to Picketts Lock than non-starter Sheffield. As Pete Winkleman, who lives there, says, the new privately-funded stadium could be easily upgraded with a temporary track and permanent warm-up arena; they'd also build an athletes' village which could later be sold off for private housing and all for less than half the cost of Picketts Lock and with less travelling time for fans and officials. The IAAF bigwigs could wine and dine in London's West End, see the sights and the shows; do their shopping at Harrods without being chaperoned by a sports minister bearing gifts of Sheffield cutlery and be in their seats at Milton Keynes well within the hour, less time than it would have taken them to get to Picketts Lock. As the music entrepreneuer Winkleman argues, Milton Keynes is close enough to the capital for such a bid to be classed as a London one, and 70 per cent of the population are Londoners anyway. He still sees the new stadium as eventually housing pro football, with Wimbledon, he says, still in the frame. But if doomsday scenario for athletics is to be averted, there isn't a better cost-effective alternative. London (MK) for 2005 is certainly worth a try.

Out the cheats, Rogge urges Paula

The more you see and hear of the Olympic president Jacques Rogge, the more he impresses you as someone who is determined to be a man of the people, or rather, the athletes. Last week he sat down informally with the British runner Paula Radcliffe on his home territory in Bruges to have a conversation about drugs. You can't imagine his lofty predecessor listening so attentively to a competitor's concerns, and while there was nothing particularly revealing in his responses to the questions put by anti-drugs campaigner Radcliffe for BBC radio and television he did assure her there would be blitz on cheating athletes once the new foolproof test for EPO is in place, it is hoped next month. He also suggested that honest competitors should "out" those they believe use drugs. "There are too many cheats," he said. "There has to an effort by the clean athletes to point the finger at ones who aren't." Rogge also told Radcliffe that the new World Anti-Doping Agency would remain independent. She said later she was impressed. "I wanted to be re-assured that the IOC takes doping seriously. I was pleased he listened to what I had to say."

Good Evans! Brooking gets a handbagging

Trevor Brooking got a bit of a handbagging in appropriately enough, the Thatcher Room at Westminster last week. When he admitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry that there was only a gentlemen's "handshake" agreement over the return of £20 million should athletics not be a part of Wembley, he received the Edith Evans treatment from Gerald Kaufman. "A handshake?"quivered the committee chairman. "Disgraceful! You are the custodians of public money." Poor Trev looked as if he had been tackled from behind by Graham Le Saux but oddly the pair who should have been accountable to Kaufman's wrath, ex-minister Chris Smith and Sport England's former chief Derek Casey, weren't called. Why not?

The International Olympic Committee are rather touchy about anyone taking their initials in vain so there was must have been some concern in Lausanne when it was reported last week that the man who who runs the IOC in London was being held as a terrorism suspect. It turns out this is the Islamic Observation Centre.

These are sensitives times in sport, as witnessed by the World Boxing Council's decision to drop Australia's top fighter, super-middleweight Tony Mundine from their rankings after he was quoted as saying the United States were responsible for the present crisis. The boxer has since apologised, claiming he was misconstrued. And those who spotted being advertised on perimeter hoardings during Channel 4's coverage of the Milan derby last weekend need not be worried that Bin Laden has taken to the Beautiful Game to get his message across. Osama is an Italian company which makes pens.

The Government's purse strings on sports seem to be tightening to the point of strangulation. Not a penny more for new stadiums, insists Secretary of State Tessa Jowell while there is still no news on whether Tony Blair will agree to the extra £10 million for elite athletes requested in the Cunningham Review. And there may be more bad news. When Labour's Derek Wyatt asked in Parliament last week if the £250,000 grant to the Sports Aid Foundation is to be curtailed by Sport England he was told ominously by sports minister Richard Caborn that "future funding is under discussion". Why, we wonder? The Italian government has just given £67 million to Olympic sport. In Britain, it seems, we can take a running jump.

Exit Lines

I see enough of the buggers in my day job. Jockey Tony McCoy on why he has stables in his back garden, but no horses. Fat is one of the best forms of oxygen and helps stamina. Audley Harrison on not fighting the flab. Show me a man who loves football and nine times out of 10 you'll be pointing at a really bad shag. Julie Burchill on scoring. The bubble may be bursting. Ex-sports minister Kate Hoey gazing into her crystal ball before ITV's Premiership timing switch. Their only weakness so far has been their form. Bath flanker Nathan Thomas on opponents Swansea.