Sheffield unlikely to do Blair's bidding

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The Independent Online

The fact that Kabul stands more chance of staging the 2005 World Athletics Championships is not the only reason why Sheffield is disinclined to enter the bidding after the humiliating retreat from Picketts Lock. My information is that the city that has been offered up as the preferred choice by the Government (whose plug-pulling has been consistently predicted by this column) is more embarrassed than excited by the prospect. Even though the angry men of the International Association of Athletics Federations say a bid from Sheffield would be considered alongside others, those in charge of the city's finances believe it would be a waste of time, and money. With good reason. Privately, the IAAF say that in the circs they would now prefer the championships to go "anywhere but Britain". One source even suggested that the British Government "should stick Sheffield up its arse". All of which will be deeply disappointing to the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, a Sheffield MP, whose eyebrow-raising promotion of his constituency city over London was also first revealed here last month. Caborn has been lumbered with the hopeless task of a damage-limitation exercise, but even Shane Warne couldn't spin them out of this. The blame lies squarely with Tony Blair, whose Government treat sport with curled-lip cynicism. Then there is Chris Smith (who overruled the then sports minister, Kate Hoey, and pulled athletics out of Wembley) and those members of Sport England who allowed themselves to be bullied by Ken Bates and his football cronies into scrapping the original blueprint for an all-embracing national stadium, which could have been up and running by now. Instead the championships seem to be headed for Sydney, as standby Berlin is cash-strapped. My IAAF source suggests we would be better off holding an egg-and-spoon race – except there's no egg left. It's on our faces.

Warren keeps Tyson at arm's length

Boxing promoter Frank Warren impishy suggests he might have "a nice drink" with Mike Tyson should they bump into each other in Copenhagen this week. "I might even take him down to the local lap-dancing club." He cannot be serious? And, of course, he isn't. The pair haven't spoken since their much-publicised London hotel-room spat before Tyson's Warren-staged bout against Lou Savarese in Glasgow last year. Warren accompanies his world super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe to Copenhagen where the Welshman meets American Will McIntyre on the Tyson-Brian Nielsen bill on Saturday. "Actually," admits Warren, "I don't want to be involved with him in any way. I'd rather not be in the same room. I just hope that Nielsen knocks seven colours of shit out of him. Not that I'm biased." Of course not, Frank. Meantime Warren awaits word from Naseem Hamed on his offer to promote a comeback fight for the "Pimpernel" Prince who has reportedly split with US mentors Home Box Office. Easy meat for Tyson, page 9

Banks: They should have called in the Palace

The former sports minister Tony Banks is not alone in wondering why Crystal Palace as not given the opportunity to replace Picketts Lock as the venue for 2005. The official explanation is that accommodation and transport links are inadequate. But was that really insurmountable?. Banks thinks not, and we agree. "My personal preference was always for Wembley," says Banks. "It should have been our Stade de France. But Crystal Palace also has the infrastructure and the tradition." Banks has no doubt who is to blame. Not himself, of course, nor the current ministers, "It was their predecessors... They weren't prepared to listen to advice."

Beleaguered Richard Caborn at least had some respite from the Picketts Lock-out débâcle as a spectator at yesterday's England-Greece match at Old Trafford. There's a further opportunity to deflect the ongoing opprobrium when he opens Britain's first Inclusive Fitness Initiative in Leicester.

Sport England have allocated £1.3 million of Lottery money, which will enable disabled sports- people to train alongside the able- bodied in 30 local authority health and fitness centres around the country. Britain's most successful Paralympian, Chris Holmes, who will be at Leicester's Saffron Lane Centre with Caborn, tells us: "This initiative has been needed to increase the profile of Paralympic sport and make it possible for everyone to enjoy the gym revolution." There's also good news for Stoke Mandeville, where the largest Lottery community grant this year, worth more than £5m, will help improve facilities for wheelchair athletes.

So we can't run a whelk stall, eh, Seb Coe? Well, maybe not. But we can run a world championships. Not the World Athletics Championships, mind you, but, the World Pea Throwing championships, which take place at the Lewes Arms in Sussex this afternoon. Not to be confused with the World Pea Shooting Championships held recently in Cambridgeshire, they are described by the organisers as "one of the most prestigious events of the year". Well, they are for Britain. The peas, all organic, are supplied by the Little Big Food Company and there's the usual tongue-in-cheek plea for Olympic recognition. Winter Olympics, actually, as the peas are frozen.

Exit Lines

World-class facilities will be ready, our athletes will be ready and our people will be ready. Tony Blair in a letter to the IAAF "welcoming the world athletics family to London in 2005"... They are a couple of old farts with a combined age of 103. It would be more like a WWF wrestling match. Joe Bugner Jnr, ridiculing the prospect of his 51-year-old father fighting Larry Holmes, 52...Roy Jones can kiss Bernard's ass. Boxing manager Lou Duva, indicating his new undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins will not be getting it on with the light-heavyweight champion.