Inside Lines: How flying the flag gave London a leg-up
Sunday 29 August 2004
Usually the sight of Brits abroad draped in Union flags is bad news for British sport. More often than not they are worn as knee-length shorts beneath bulging bellies or draped around the sweaty shoulders of foul-mouthed lager-swillers. Not so in Athens, where the flying of the flag along the towpath, in the stadium, velodrome and even the boxing arena by Amir Khan's own barmy army from Bolton may have boosted immeasurably London's hopes of snatching the 2012 Games from hot favourites Paris.
Several leading International Olympic Committee figures tell us they have been deeply impressed with this, as well as the number of medals won by Britain. "It shows that Britain has a great passion for the Olympics," said one. "That is an important factor." Indeed it is. Paris have done themselves no favours by complaining that not enough French is being spoken in Athens, pointing out that theirs is the joint official language of the Games, alongside English. What's more, there's barely a tricolour to be seen.
Sebastian Coe, who reveals that London plan to stage an "Archery Ashes" at Lord's during the Saturday lunch interval of the England-Australia Test next summer, has a team of 20 here, checking out every aspect of Athens 2004, from waste-disposal management to ticketing and security. He says: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for London. We are being taken much more seriously than we were a month go. The Greeks have done marvellously, but we are now into the last lap of our own odyssey and I promise that we can do it even better than here or Sydney."
Big Ben can strike it lucky in Beijing too
The Olympics may be almost over, but the traditional post-Games event of bandwagon-jumping is already under way. There is an abundance of quango types here puffing out their chests and claiming Britain's successes could not have happened without the Lottery money they hand out. That's true, of course, but there's more to it than working Camelot's cash-dispensing machine. As sailing gold medallist Ben Ainslie points out, it is as much down to good team management and coaching. Some sports, such as sailing, eventing and cycling, have it, certain others don't.
Ainslie, a Tom Cruise lookalike who has built himself up to heavyweight in every sense ("We all think he's super-human," says his team-mate Shirley Robertson), is committed to assist New Zealand's America's Cup preparations for the next three years. He admits to an unusual superstition. Before every race he has to eat a Chinese meal. Not too many takeaways in Athens, but he found one near the team base in Glyfada. He should be all right in Beijing, though.
Law gets a little help from a learned Friend
Lawyers have had a track-and-field day here. There are almost as many m'learned friends as there are coaches, doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists. Every major nation has at least one, and Britain's has been living in the athletes' village. New Zealand-born Sara Friend, 33, was responsible for arguing the case in the Court of Arbitration to get Leslie Law's medal upgraded to gold and the team's to silver. But by encouraging the use of sport's legal eagles the IOC may have set a dangerous precedent. The referee's word is no longer law. So how long before a football World Cup final, or even an FA Cup final, is decided not by a whistle on the field but in the courtroom? Here comes the judgment.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Sports Minister Richard Caborn seem to have caught the Games spirit. Both will be returning for the Paralympics, and Jowell seems to have become such an aficionado that it will be no surprise if she pitches for the job of Olympics minister should London's 2012 bid be successful.
But she reveals she also has another new sporting passion. Football - not watching it, playing it. Jowell (pictured) scored two goals for Labour's Parliamentary women's team in a charity match against an England women's XI recently, although she had never kicked a ball before. The Labour ladies hope to play again, and Jowell is negotiating coaching sessions from Trevor Brooking. Good to see that there are no hard feelings because of Sir Trev's valedictory home truths about Government sports policy after his stint as Sport England chairman. This is believed to have delayed his knighthood, but Jowell assures us: "There was certainly no obstacle put in the way by my department. I have great admiration for Trevor."
Matthew Pinsent may have lost a seat, but could he gain a chair? The fact that he was surprisingly voted off the IOC as an athlete member - he was replaced by the Czech javelin-thrower Jan Zelezny - may be bad news for the London bid, but it could be good news for the British Olympic Association.
Should he decide not to go on to compete in Beijing, Pinsent would be in the frame to succeed chairman Craig Reedie, who is stepping down next year. The multi-medalled oarsman, already a BOA member, would be a popular choice and it would keep him in the cut and thrust of Olympolitics, which he enjoys. Shortly before the IOC election one name was tactfully withdrawn from the list of 32 athlete candidates: Konstantinos Kenteris.
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