Sport has a compelling reason for wanting Sir Richard Branson to win the franchise for the National Lottery when it comes up for grabs next year. A take-over by the Virgin boss could halt the falling sales of Lottery tickets which has threatened the future of funding not only for Britain's elite athletes but the majority of sports organisations currently receiving grants. Last week, the potentially bad news was broken to the chief executives and performance directors of all sports bodies by UK Sport, who handle the world-class performance funding. They anticipate that the amount of money they have to distribute annually, at present £18.6m, is likely to fall by almost a third before the 2004 Games in Athens. They are hoping the funding for Sydney will be unaffected but admit: "We may have to do a bit of juggling." Even more serious is the situation at Sport England, who have awarded some £317.78m to various levels of sport for 2000-01 but may have to slice more than £100m from that figure by 2004. Both organisations have made it clear that only the most successful competitors and sports will continue to be funded after Sydney. However, the situation could change if the saintly Sir Richard enters on his white charger and does a Sir Lancelot to Camelot. He promises that under his banner all Lottery proceeds would go to good causes and his flair for publicity would seem certain to give the competition fresh impetus and stem the fall in ticket sales. UK Sport point out that Camelot's income for 2001 and 2002 projects a five per cent drop. "Fewer people are buying tickets, which means that by the time Athens comes round we could be down to about £14m from 18m. We have told sports up front that as things stand it will be difficult to sustain awards at anywhere near the current levels and that after Sydney we will have to prioritise which sports continue to receive funding. Obviously, this will depend on the level of performance in the Games. Sadly, it is a fact of life. It is also the way lotteries tend to go but what we don't know is the impact any re-licensing of the Lottery may have on current levels of funding." Sport's governing bodies will find it ironic that the bad news comes hard on the heels of the government's new Sports Strategy, which gave them more control over how Lottery cash is distributed. Alas, the amount available for distribution seems to be dwindling fast. Sport thought it hit the jackpot when the Lottery came on line but now its number may be up, and it isn't a winning one. Unless Branson can do the business with a winning line.
Brent rebuff for Bates
Sorry to keep re-opening old war wounds, but that Battle of Wembley just won't go away. This week Brent Council are expected to announce, in advance of the 25 April deadline, that they will not give planning permission for the £475m project, citing dissatisfaction with safety, accessibility and the effect on the local environment. Not to mention the £30m requested for improvements to the area that Ken Bates and his cohorts are refusing to cough up. They will also point out the "serious concerns" of the Metropolitan Police about crowd safety. In a letter to the council the Met say that, while the design of the new stadium is "exciting and aesthetically pleasing", only major improvements in and around the area of Olympic Way would make it a safe exodus for fans. Brent say they cannot afford to pay for this, the Wembley people insist they won't and the government is keeping its hands in its pockets and looking the other way. "Things are not looking good," said a Brent spokesman, while denying that the council are being bloody-minded because Wembley has not turned out to be the Olympic city that Brent had hoped for. The likely upshot is an appeal to the Department of the Environment, and possibly a public inquiry, which could take up to a year. Meantime, rumours continue to circulate that if Brent do refuse planning permission and subsequently England do not get the 2006 World Cup, then Wembley could simply be tarted up rather than pulled down. Another fine mess...
Strewth, Bruce! No cobber clobber?
Whatever happened to good old Australian don't-give-a stuff-iness? The nation which traditionally likes to lay back rather than not stand on ceremonies, seems to be dressing up for the Olympiics. Or rather, making sure that those "in the public view" don't dress down. A missive to photographers who will be covering the Games requests a dress code which bans sleeveless shirts, cut-offs, gym or running shorts and insists on socks and shoes. Snappers toiling in the Sydney sun might well ask what's next. Shot-putters in top hat and tails?
Rugby bats for cricket
One of the great deficiencies of British sport is that it is unfailingly sectarian. However, a rare but welcome example of togetherness can be found in Hertfordshire, where amateur cricket and professional rugby are scrumming down together in a unique £100,000 sponsorship deal. Saracens rugby club's backing of the Hertfordshire Cricket League for the next three years is an historic piece of cross-fertilisation which, among other things, will substantially further the development of youth cricket in the area. The Saracens managing director, Tim Lawler, hopes it is an example other professional sports will follow. "We firmly believe we must be a sporting resource in the community," he says. "It is very easy to chat about the problems in sport. We felt we wanted to get out and do something."