Triumph for the sporting lobby
Sunday 23 July 2000
After probing around for so long with its fingers vainly in the pie, sport has suddenly pulled out a plum. Well, at least a damson-sized one, which over the next three years should double the amount received from Treasury funding. Whether it will bear fruit remains to be seen, but on paper it is better than the traditional raspberry. The messagefinally seems to have got through to Downing Street that not only is sport socially important and commercially vital but it can be a vote-winner. That is due to sport itself presenting a united front and organising an effective lobby which has bent ears and banged tables. The Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey, her departmental boss Chris Smith, Trevor Brooking, chairman of Sport England, his opposite number at the Central Council of Physical Recreation, David Oxley, and Sir Rodney Walker, of UK Sport, together with the highly effective Sue Campbell, Hoey's special adviser on school sports, joined forces in a remarkable show of determination. They convinced the Prime Min
After probing around for so long with its fingers vainly in the pie, sport has suddenly pulled out a plum. Well, at least a damson-sized one, which over the next three years should double the amount received from Treasury funding. Whether it will bear fruit remains to be seen, but on paper it is better than the traditional raspberry. The messagefinally seems to have got through to Downing Street that not only is sport socially important and commercially vital but it can be a vote-winner. That is due to sport itself presenting a united front and organising an effective lobby which has bent ears and banged tables. The Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey, her departmental boss Chris Smith, Trevor Brooking, chairman of Sport England, his opposite number at the Central Council of Physical Recreation, David Oxley, and Sir Rodney Walker, of UK Sport, together with the highly effective Sue Campbell, Hoey's special adviser on school sports, joined forces in a remarkable show of determination. They convinced the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to tell the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, that it was time to put his hand in his pocket. I'm told this column's revelation that the Government's spending of a mere 67p per capita on sport was the lowest in Europe was part of the shaming process which has caused Brown to cough up. But even though he has doubled this investment it still leaves us as paupers of the European league. And before we overdo the mutual back-slapping we should wait until Tuesday, when we will learn exactly how much sport will get out of the half-billion pot which is also to be shared by arts and culture interests. Or where it will go. It certainly won't all go direct to Sport England or the other sports quangos for onward distribution. My understanding is that the Government will want to oversee how it is being spent and will insist that only those governing bodies with upwardly mobile administration will benefit. Hoey is adamant that she wants to sweep away sport's "overbearing bureaucracy". There is no doubt the bulk of the share-out, which to the department as a whole is £105m for this year, £155m for next and £255m for 2003-04, will go into school sports to pay for more facilities and out-of-hours organisers. About £4m is likely to be given to help set up the central administration of the new UK Sports Institute, and some will go to the Sportsmatch Scheme which pairs government funding with commercial sponsorship. Just shows what a little unity can do.
All Wells and good in the end
Sir Rodney Walker, the ebullient man-about-sport who runs rugby league and is chairman of Leicester City plc and Brands Hatch, was somewhat taken aback to read recently that the Minister for Sport fancied one of his jobs, chairman of UK Sport. So was Kate Hoey herself. "Absolutely not true," she says of the suggestion that she wishes to install herself as head of the Government-backed body and so take direct responsibility for the direction of sport, as happens in France. At a breakfast meeting she not only assured Sir Rodney this was not the case but asked how he felt about having his contract extended. A similar natter over the bacon and eggs proved not quite as digestible for UK Sport's former chief executive Howard Wells. After leaving UK Sport three years ago he took similar roles with the football clubs Watford and Ipswich, moving into the Premiership with both. He was also shortlisted for the FA chief executive's post. But now Wells and Ipswich have parted company, the split coming after a breakfast meeting with the club chairman, David Sheepshanks. No one is saying much,but a clash of two strong personalities seems the most plausible explanation. It also seems that Sheepshanks, who has ambitions to be a Tory MP, has time on his hands after failing to get the FA chairmanship and no longer being on the Football League management committee following Ipswich's elevation. So he may well follow the executive chairman-style leadership of Leeds' Peter Ridsdale. As for Wells, he is unlikely to be unemployed for long, with sport desperate for capable administrators and now with some cash to pay for them.
Spin doctoring on the tables
While the stone-rich lads of lawn tennis squirm over the latest balls-up, it is more a case of new balls, please, at the impoverished sister sport. Table tennis is undergoing a rather more uplifting experience. Like the bigger-balled game it has a French performance director, Michel Gadal, and under him there has been something of a resurgence. Last week 17-year-old Andrew Baggaley from Milton Keynes became the first English player to take a European Youth Championship medal in nine years when he reached thejunior boys' semi-final at the European Youth Championships in Bratislava. Recently the English Table Tennis Association controversially voted to adopt the new, larger 40mm ball, ditching the old 38mm one with immediate effect. It means there will be less spin (something most sports could do with), longer rallies, and the game will be more attractive to watch. Meantime the England squad are benefiting from practice sessions with China's newly elected Sports Personality of the Century, the appropriately named Deng Ya Ping, who is studying English at Nottingham University.
Pendry the political footballer
Tom Pendry, the former army boxing champion who punched his weight as Shadow Sports Minister but was twice rather brutally bypassed for the real job, has landed on his feet with possibly a more influential position than the Minister's role. On Tuesday he will be formally installed at Downing Street as the new chairman of the Football Foundation, a body which will have large amounts of money to distribute to the game from the grass-roots upwards. Pendry was in chipper mood at a bash for sports personalities and politicians last week, perhaps because the word at Westminster is that he is soon to be given a peerage. Lording it at last, Tom.
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