Pascoe can warm to hot seat as Cram goes cold

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Sport England, the body mainly responsible for distributing the Lottery millions, may have to look elsewhere for a new chairman later this year. The former athlete Steve Cram, widely tipped to take over from Trevor Brooking, is believed to have cold feet about a job which has been a kneeling cushion for a knighthood for previous incumbents, but has brought the ex-England and West Ham footballer little but grief. Brooking, who has unfairly borne the brunt of partliamentary critcism over Sport England's contribution to the Wembley cock-up, steps down after the Commonwealth Games in July. During his three-year term he has seen the importance of Sport England diminish under successive sports ministers and last year his long-serving chief executive, Derek Casey, became a victim of the political turmoil. Labour-supporting Geordie Cram is seen as the ideal replacement for Brooking but is said to be content with his lesser role as chairman of the English Sports Institute and has no great desire to succeed his fellow BBC pundit into sport's hot seat. This could open the door for the man many in sport are convinced is the decisive personality needed to shake up Sport England: Alan Pascoe, ex-Olympic hurdler who now runs Fast Track, the commercial arm of UK Athletics. He has the sporting pedigree and the business acumen, this month celebrating 25 years as Britain's most successful sports marketeer. Although he thinks he would be seen as "too abrasive" by some, insists he dislikes sitting around on committees and could not find the time for the three days a week the job demands, I believe his arm could be twisted.

Swimming gets the water torture

After publicly duffing up just about everyone concerned with those Twin Towers of sporting shame, Wembley and Picketts Lock, the parliamentary vigilantes of the Culture, Media and Sport select commitee have now dipped their inquisitive toes into the troubled waters of British swimming. Whether it is genuine concern for the absence of Olympic medals or the threatened closure of a pool close to the Manchester constituency of the committee chairman Gerald Kaufman should be revealed when their report is published on Tuesday week. As usual, there are certain to be some characteristically caustic observations from Kaufman, though one suspects he will not have fazed the equally in-your-face chief executive of British Swimming, David Sparkes, who gave evidence. Nor would he daunt Big Bill Sweetenham, one of the platoon of Aussie sergeant majors imported to knock Britain's sporting squaddies into shape. Swimming's no-nonsense performance director, who gave a written submission, reckons that had Ian Thorpe been born in Britain he would never have been seen in a swimming pool because of the system.

Sour charity makes Banbury cross

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, clearly has other things on his mind at the moment, but when he gets round to it, he might nudge the Treasury into sorting out the mess over rate relief which, as we have said before, is costing amateur sports clubs dearly. Fatally so in the case of Banbury Rugby Club, which went into receivership last week with debts of £120,000. Despite being registered as a charity, Banbury have been refused rate relief by the Cherwell District Council. It is a complicated matter but apart from having the whistle blown on one of the oldest and best equipped clubs in the land, it means hundreds of local kids are now denied the recreation facilities the club provided as part of their covenant. Shame.

What is it with Leeds United and the law? With the dust still to settle on the verdicts delivered by the jury at Hull Crown Court on Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, you would have thought the club and its fans would have had their fill of the justice system. But look who is coming to dinner later this month.

Guest of honour, if that's the word, at the regular supporters' club do will be the former rogue trader Nick Leeson, who no doubt will be able to regale them with the delights of incarceration in Singapore's Changi prison. There will also be a speech by crown prosecutor Peter Joliffe Brown during an evening compered by barrister David Taylor. Leeson is surely invited in his capacity as a football fan (he supports Manchester City) and not a financial adviser. But if pressed he might suggest that Woodgate is lucky simply to be weeding gardens as a punishment. In Singapore his offence would have incurred a lengthy jail term, and a flogging.

Salt Lake City's hopes of getting away with a scandal-free Winter Olympics next month, after all that has gone before, are skating on thin ice.

A row is brewing over Italy's world ice dance champions, Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, who were astonishingly down-marked into fourth place in the recent Grand Prix final in Canada. The Russian referee has now written to the judges concerned, apparently after pressure from Ottavio Cinquanta, the Italian president of the International Skating Union. It seems Signor Cinquanta is furious, believing there is a plot afoot to deprive Italy of a first-ever Olympic skating gold. Judges should take note. He is now known in the sport as Don Figureleone.

insidelines@independent.co.uk

Exit Lines

So my wife and I can make love in a different room every night. Flamboyant darts star Bobby George on why his £2.5m Essex mansion has 18 bedrooms... I said to him: "What will you do on Saturday afternoons, go to the supermarket and pick up tins of soup?" Bobby Robson urges Sir Alex Ferguson to change his mind over retiring... There are some bloody good balti places in Birmingham. Ron Atkinson on why the Midlands is a better national stadium option than Wembley... Crazy football, crazy Chelsea. Claudio Ranieri.

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