Hoey tipped for Cabinet role

Alan Hubbard says the Wembley farce may give sport louder voice
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The Independent Online
A SEAT in the Cabinet is on the cards for the Sports Minister, Kate Hoey, as the Government attempts to salvage something positive from the wreckage of the Wembley fiasco. Embarrassed by an episode that has made Britain the laughing stock of international sport, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is being urged by advisers to upgrade Hoey's present junior ministerial role in the next reshuffle.

The disappointing performance of Hoey's boss, Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in the Wembley affair - he has been savaged in parliament by his Conservative opposite number, Peter Ainsworth, and widely criticised by leading sports administrators - has underlined the need to have a Cabinet voice which speaks up for sport. Smith is a nice man but his naivety in sports matters has been brutally exposed. He has always been more comfortable with grand opera than Grandstand and found himself out of his depth in the shark-infested waters of sport. Some sports leaders are particularly angry that Smith now says it is impossible to buoild a stadium to accomodate satisfactorily football and athletics. "In that case we must be the only country which can't," said one. "Perhaps he should visit the Olympic stadium in Rome to see how it is done."

Smith faces a further roasting next month when a parliamentary select committee conducts an inquiry into the five-year farce which has culminated with athletics, Britain's most successful sport, being booted out despite an original brief which made the grant conditional on both athletics and a prospective Olympics being incorporated into the pounds 475m project. The former Sports Minister Tony Banks and Sport England chiefs Derek Casey and Trevor Brooking, all involved in the original negotiations, also face censure.

Smith is unlikely to be jettisoned but I believe he will be told to stick to fine arts and Figaro and relieved of his sports overlordship, with the increasingly impressive Hoey given full ministerial responsibility and Cabinet status. This would bring Britain into line with most other major sports-playing nations, from France to Australia. Opposition leader William Hague, prompted by his Olympian aide Sebastian Coe, has already decided to give sport Cabinet ranking should the Tories be returned to office. "I sit at a distance open-mouthed at the incompetence of it all," says Coe. "It has been shambolic."

Indeed it has, but worse may follow if, as is widely believed in sport, hopes of staging the world athletics championships in 2005 are dashed. Plans to convert Twickenham are unlikely to be confirmed - if at all - before the bid deadline next month.

With any Olympic bid also wrecked and the prospects of hosting the 2006 World Cup fading, Wembley could end up with three own goals in its net.

Inside Lines, page 23