Moynihan: it's time to rise above politics

Knuckles rapped over election 'interference' but new leader consigns saga to water under bridge
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A telephone call from the Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell, to the new British Olympic Association chairman, Lord Colin Moynihan, offering her "warm support" to the Conservative peer may have cemented the recently fractured relationship between sport and the Government. For the sake of 2012 and all that, it needs to be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Jowell pointed out that the close co-operation between Government, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and the BOA was a key factor in winning the Games. "It was a very good conversation," said Moynihan, whose election by a 28-15 majority over his fellow former Olympian David Hemery brought to an end one of the most unseemly episodes in the history of sports politics. "It is my intention to work constructively and effectively with the Government and their agencies. I have no intention of being at loggerheads with any ministry."

It is understood that Jowell, like the Prime Minister, was less than pleased about what appear to have been undercover attempts by minions associated with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to put pressure on BOA members not to vote for Moynihan, and it is believed some knuckles have already been rapped.

Says Moynihan: "We are all very much aware of what was happening, but the challenge we have now is above party politics. One of the fierce legacies of the BOA is that it treasures its independent voice. It did in 1980 [when rowing cox Moynihan was among those who refused to boycott the Moscow Games] and it it has done so again. I intend to uphold the value of that independence. Now as far as I am concerned the matter is closed."

Perhaps not quite. So far there has been no official rebuttal from DCMS to the charges of alleged interference first reported in this newspaper, and when they met on Monday Tony Blair asked the outgoing chairman, Craig Reedie, what was going on. "I was hoping you would tell me," replied Reedie.

When Parliament resumes, tomorrow, the Shadow Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, says he will be putting down a number of written questions about it. He says: "The independence of the BOA has to be sacrosanct. I want to ask whether the DCMS, or any of their employees - and that includes people in the quangos - had any conversations whatsoever about candidates in the election, and who authorised such activity."

Sue Campbell, the UK Sport chair, is said to have been in "in hot water" over reports that she gave advice to the former Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew about whether to stand, though she insists it was Goodhew who first approached her. DCMS officials are also alleged to have contacted a number of national governing bodies, three of whom have confirmed to The Independent on Sunday that they did receive such calls, warning them against making a choice which might be deemed "political".

Moynihan says he believes this has gone on but now sees it as water under the bridge. He claims to have a good rapport with the Prime Minister, and praised his "gold medal" performance in Singapore. On Monday, Blair told Reedie he has always found Lord Coe "a delight to deal with", and there is no reason why he should not find Moynihan similarly co-operative.

Why New Labour should have seen red over what they perceived as a thick blue line in an Olympic Board alliance between Coe and Moynihan, firm friends and former Olympic medallists, is hard to fathom. Tories the pair may be, but they have now given up active politics and these days might be regarded as somewhat to the left of Blair himself. As well as his Olympic rowing exploits Moynihan, 50, is an Oxford boxing Blue and, like Coe, a former steward of the British Boxing Board of Control. Both love a good fight.

With Jowell representing the Government and Livingstone (supposedly Labour) as the other board members, the political balance seems about right. Only the freakiest of controllers would think otherwise.

Another result of Moynihan's election will be that the Government have to give closer scrutiny to the indepen-dent review of sport in this country he compiled with a fellow former sports minister, Kate Hoey, and other sports luminaries (including Goodhew). It is too easy for them to dismiss it as the loaded agenda of a former Tory sports minister and another disaffected because she was removed from office by Blair. They are wrong. It is a shrewd appraisal of the state of sport and what should be done about it: something that should have been ordered by successive governments long before now rather than relying on a plethora of surveys undertaken by costly consultants at the behest of the quangos and at taxpayers' expense.

The new balance of power between the BOA and UK Sport will see the Olympic body having a much greater say in all aspects of sport, especially the distribution of Lottery money. This, says Moynihan, is not negotiable.

With the former Olympic cox at the helm there is now a clear strategy to steer British sport towards 2012. His political muscle has equipped him to repel unwanted boarders and ensure that the governing bodies play a crucial role. Reedie raised the money during his 13-year tenure; Moynihan, in the words of his report, will raise the bar.