Sport England, the organisation who not so long ago were lambasted as "slack, slovenly and supine" by MP Gerald Kaufman over their role in the Wembley débâcle, seem to have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and started all over again, suddenly flexing muscles most thought they never had.
In part this is due to Patrick Carter, the hit man hired by the Government to fire the bullets - and more than half the staff. But his get-tough policies are largely being implemented by the young man riding shotgun, 33-year-old Roger Draper, the quango's chief executive.
Wigan-born Draper formally took over in March, having effectively been doing the job since David Moffett, the big-ideas Aussie who was to be Sport England's saviour, legged it to the Welsh Rugby Union almost two years ago. He is a plausible figure with a strong sporting background as a rugby league and tennis international who was formerly director of development at the Lawn Tennis Association.
"There's a new plan and purpose in what we are trying to achieve," he says. "Now we feel we've come out of the grubby period and sorted Sport England out, there's the wider job of sorting out sport generally." All of which, plus his dashing looks, ought to make sport's youngest senior administrator also one of the most popular. Not so. At least, not yet.
In getting Sport England back on course Draper has upset many in sport, not only the 350 who lost their jobs in the restructuring (£7.2m was earmarked by the Government for redundancies) but also those sports organisations who have been ordered to get their houses, and their books, in order, or face the financial consequences. Sport England are sport's principal conduit for Lottery money, and he warns: "We are now saying to sports that don't come up to scratch that we are prepared to stop funding."
Only a couple of days ago, Draper told UK Athletics that they had until Christmas to sort out their internal problems or risk losing the £41m compensation promised for the loss of the World Championships. This aggressive posturing has led to a feeling in sport that Draper and his cashiers are throwing more weight around than they are money - and there could be big trouble ahead.
One of Sport England's least popular measures was to wield the axe over 41 projects which had been approved for Lottery funding, clawing back some £30m of commitments, and shortly afterwards lobbing a similar amount in the direction of more Government-friendly schemes. The watchdog publication Lottery Monitor reports an angry reaction from many of the community projects. Some have appealed or sought a judicial review, but there is the possibility of the sort of legal action being taken against Sport England which crippled GB Athletics.
Draper responds: "We have had to make some tough decisions, both internally in reducing the number of staff and with Lottery funding. With a lot of these projects it was clear that some of that Lottery money went to people who were good at filling in forms and not those who were actually committed to improving coaches and recruiting volunteers. The financial landscape has changed. When I came in to Sport England, we had £480m of commitments going out, but the Lottery revenues were going the other way. Four years ago, there was £300m coming in from the Lottery. This year, there is £160m.
"Yes, there may have been mistakes made, but we are quite happy to sit down and discuss all of these projects, because our job is to develop sport. We don't like cutting or deferring projects, but you can't spend money you haven't got.
"You have to remember that around £108m of projects have been supported. When the Lottery started it was like there was a slush fund for sport, and if a project overran, they simply said that they would go back for another million or so. Well, that won't happen any more."
Another hazardous hurdle facing Sport England is the escalating cost of the English Institute for Sport, of which they are the sole funders. To the Government's dismay, sports bodies seem reluctant to utilise it as a training base, and Draper says they are reviewing its future, along with that of other national sports centres.
Unlike certain of his predecessors, he does seem to have a gameplan. "Before we start turning the money taps back on we want to see growth and success. Sport impacts on so many people's lives, whether it's health, crime, watching or winning, but sport has got confused about what its role is. Some ministers and local government talk about social policy and social cohesion, which is fine, but we are Sport England, not Social Services England. Now we've got our own act together, the big job is getting sport together, singing with one voice and telling Government exactly why sport is important.
"The Arts Council have been doing that for years. But I have to say if I were in the Government, why would I fund this lot of squabbling tomcats? We've just done some research and found that sport is five times bigger than the music industry; three per cent of the workforce in this country now work in sport, which contributes £10bn a year to the economy. It's huge."
And it will be bigger still should London get the Olympics. "The bid should be a real rallying call, because sport has to pull together, and more importantly it puts sport right at the heart of the political agenda. Whatever happens, win or lose, the message has to be, 'Let's get serious about sport'. Our line on the Olympics has always been that there's no point in having a fantastic Games, and spending lots of money, if we are not going to win medals and inspire a nation of kids who are going to walk out to rotting facilities with no proper coaching. We have to convince the Government that we can't rely on just the Lottery to fund sport."
Since taking over, Draper has instituted a regular fitness regime at Sport England's Euston HQ. All members of staff have to do 30 minutes of PE every day. And, of course, he joins in, because clearly Roger's no dodger.Reuse content