Rugby tries harder and gets a conversion

Inside Lines
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More often than not it is the bad news which gets buried (especially if sport's spin doctors have anything to do with it) but here's a timely piece of good news which deserved more than the underplaying it received last week. Rugby union, currently investigating that embarrassing case of alleged racist abuse at Gloucester, is by far the sport with the best record of racial and community awareness, according to Geoff Thompson, who runs the Youth Charter for Sport. "Streets ahead of anyone," he declared after the announcement of the RFU's three-year, £750,000 initiative with Royal and SunAlliance to foster links with youngsters in five inner-city areas. This will include schools programmes, junior clubs and midnight leagues in places like Moss Side and Toxteth, which are Thompson's stamping grounds. "Rugby has set a challenge to every other sport," he says. The RFU are the only governing body to have gone into meaningful partnership with the community. Why don't football, athletics and the other major sports do the same?" Music to the ears of Twickers where, according to Thompson, the blazers are by no means as old fartish as sometimes painted. "A sport that was once perceived as white, middle-class and snobbish is now showing the way as far as social inclusion is concerned." The 6ft 6in Thompson should know. With his ethnic background (a black kid who survived the meaner streets of the Midlands and London) and sporting pedigree (five times a world karate champion), he and his under-valued organisation have become major players in our sporting society, and deserve more governmental backing.

East Enders struggle for fans in Whitehall

They certainly enjoy a good knees-up in London's East End, so you can be sure the party will go with a swing when more than 1,000 of the fight game fraternity gather to celebrate the MBE awarded to the ex-Olympic champion Terry Spinks, a long overdue honour. The boxing bash will be held at Bethnal Green's York Hall, where he won his first amateur title nearly 50 years ago and will coincide with a pub being named after him in West Ham and the publication of his biography. Among those invited will be two other famous fighting East Enders, John H Stracey and Charlie Magri, both of whom have been left in the honours wilderness despite being undisputed world champions at welterweight and flyweight respectively. Their former manager, Terry Lawless, says he is baffled that of the four world champions in his stable, Scot Jim Watt (lightweight) and West Indian Maurice Hope (light-middleweight) received gongs, but not the two East End boys. "With Terry made to wait so long it makes you wonder if the people in Whitehall are prejudiced against Cockneys." Too right, mate, would you Adam and Eve it?

More eye trouble for Sir 'Enery

The fact that he is currently wearing a black eye patch doesn't mean that Henry Cooper is doing a Frank Bruno and treading the panto boards as a pirate king. He always did have trouble with those cut-prone minces but though he's now suffering from double vision in one of them he doesn't reckon it was caused by boxing. Sir 'Enery, now 67, has been told it will clear up but that he may need glasses. It is 38 years since he dumped the then Cassius Clay on his pants but physically he remains in much better shape than his old foe, who will be 60 this week. "Doctors tell me I've got the healthiest brain they've ever seen for someone who was in my business."

Our suggestion last week that the athlete-turned-tycoon Alan Pascoe would make an ideal chairman of Sport England seems to have stirred things up at the quango's Euston headquarters, where new Australian chief executive David Moffett has just completed his first week in charge.

More so over at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where the final choice to succeed Trevor Brooking will eventually be made. We hear that while Pascoe's potential has been noted, an even more radical move could be afoot. The Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, is examining parliamentary legislation to see whether it might be possible to instal a politician as Sport England chairman. Namely herself. Having someone who is politically accountable at the top is not a bad idea (it works elsewhere in Europe), but surely the job needs a decent knowledge of sport, which, nice as she is, Jowell doesn't have. So why not build bridges with Kate Hoey, who does?

The Countryside Agency are currently publishing on their web site draft maps that will give greater access to ramblers, indicating where they have the "right to roam".

One of them suggests that a good place for a weekend stroll is at Bisley, in Surrey. Only drawback is that the recommended path takes you right behind the shooting butts at the famous venue for the nation's trigger-pullers. It is also where the Commonwealth Games shooting events will be held next July, but anyone risking a free close-up might be advised to take a bullet-proof vest. Strolling behind the butts sounds a bit iffy to us, though the Agency, who are inviting comments on the new draft maps, do list it as a danger zone. A walk on the wild side more like it.

Exit Lines

I haven't got big ears, I've just got a very small head. Gary Lineker ... Not a chance in hell. Decathlete Dean Macey when asked if he would contemplate a drinking session 36 hours before an event... Those feelings have been omnipresent since the day I joined. Aston Villa manager John Gregory on whether he thinks his job is threatened... He's just signed his own death warrant. Unfortunate reaction of American Charles Brewer to taunts from world champion Joe Calzaghe before their fight was postponed... He doth bestride the world like a Colossus. Darts commentator Sid Waddell on world champion Phil Taylor.