Knock-out blows for the capital

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The Independent Online
LAST night, for the second weekend in succession, a major boxing bout was held outside London amid the sounds and signs of success.

The choice of month might not have been the work of genius - we get Indian summers midway through October about as often as we are blessed with warm and attractive boxing promoters - but the venues appear to have been well selected.

Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno settled their business in front of a Cardiff crowd not as large as desired but, at 28,000, twice as many as will watch Lewis's next fight in Las Vegas. More importantly, they created an occasion that had even the hardest-bitten of American sports-writers volunteering their praise for the friendliness of the natives, and the atmosphere and organisation at the Arms Park.

They are still calculating the commercial outcome of last night's Benn- Eubank fight at Old Trafford but the organisers were hoping to break the record for an outdoor boxing event, convincing proof that the Lancashire zest for sport was no mere Olympic bid hype.

Although both Cardiff and Manchester are established sporting strongholds, the events may have been just as successful had they been held in Bristol, the Midlands, Yorkshire or the North-east. It is odd that no other sport has made such a concerted attempt to find out by breaking London's traditional grip on the big sporting occasions. They will be less hesitant in future.

Big fights have been held in the provinces before but mainly when local fighters were involved. This is the first time that London has been hit by a quick one-two with the cold shoulder.

We have to allow that it may all be part of the promotional skulduggery that dogs this sport. The more likely reason is that Londoners have been lax in supporting fights and, in common with other sports, boxing is questioning the capital's continuing suitability as a venue.

Only on Wednesday was it announced that the All-England badminton championships were leaving London for the first time in the event's 95-year history. Staged at Wembley Arena for the past 37 years, the oldest and best annual tournament in the sport will now take place at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.

Any threat that the Horse of the Year Show would follow suit after last year's flop was removed when the organisers of the 47-year-old event signed a new agreement with Wembley when the stadium company agreed to underwrite the show for the next seven years.

But for how much longer would Crystal Palace, with all its access and accommodation problems, retain its position as the top athletics venue in Britain if a more acceptable arena wereavailable elsewhere?

London's future as the main sporting centre would have been blighted more rapidly if Manchester's Olympic bid had succeeded. The planned 80,000-seater showpiece stadium would have become the sporting hub for the next century and the main home, no doubt, of the England football team.

When the Government finally get around to reshaping the structure of our sporting future perhaps the commendable intitiative John Major showed in supporting the Olympic bid will be allied to some of the proceeds of the forthcoming lottery and channelled into creating new facilities in the regions.

We should not allow the whim of the IOC to kill off the impetus that Manchester created. London may have become a clapped-out sporting capital but we are seeing plenty of evidence that the rest of the country has enthusiasm to spare.

I HAD to approach a number of friends and colleagues before receiving a correct answer to the question: Where are the Commonwealth Games being held next year?

A distressingly high proportion had forgotten the games still exist. They do, and I eventually discovered that the 1994 version will be held at Victoria, Vancouver Island, next August. That month also sees the European Championships, which will require many British athletes to make a painful choice.

Since the main Commonwealth event these days seems to be the race to leave it, one has to wonder whether the games will reach Kuala Lumpur where they are due in 1998. It will take an enormous amount of will to keep them alive and viable, but it might be worth it.

Called the 'Friendly Games' - largely, I suspect, because they have the impact of a friendly football match - the event has never really got over being hosted by Edinburgh in 1986, when the late Robert Maxwell's intervention turned it from a disaster into a farce.

Nevertheless, it is still a sporting occasion with a sound tradition and, moreover, it is our own. Why not bring it home and establish it in Britain permanently? At the very least it would pick up the impetus left behind by the Olympic bid and encourage the building of a worthy stadium.

All those red-coloured countries upon whom the sun never used to set and who still retain a soft spot for the motherland could make a quadrennial pilgrimage back here for a sporting jamboree.

And those rougher colonials who don't care for the Queen any more might find her appearance on large numbers of banknotes will jog their desire for a maternal embrace. The IOC has proved that the Games business is big business; maybe we should be in on it.

DENIS EVANS, secretary to the Welsh Rugby Union, was drummed out last week with the denouncement 'gross financial misconduct' ringing in his ears. Now he knows what it's like to be a rugby league exile.

He's got one advantage over the rest of the lads, however. He could still play rugby union if he wanted to.

DON KING, the high-haired and high-handed boxing promoter, has produced a few suggestions for the betterment of the sport, including the sensible idea that the scores should be displayed after each round. One that wasn't widely reported was his idea that fights which end in a draw should have an extra round to decide the winner. If that was a draw, presumably there would be another.

Perhaps Mr King hasn't realised that other sports already employ this method. They call it sudden death.