Political meddling fails to oust Moynihan

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The Independent Online

Covert attempts by the Government to unseat Lord Colin Moynihan as chairman of the British Olympic Association have failed, with the former Conservative sports minister set to be returned unopposed at the association's annual meeting on 21 October.

Rumours surfaced during the Olympics of surreptitious approaches being made by factions close to the Government to a number of sports bodies to support the nomination of someone who might be more sympathetic to New Labour. Rod Carr, the chief executive of the Royal Yachting Association, was the Government's preferred choice as BOA chairman, but there has been no indication that the main architect of one of Britain's most successful Olympic sports will stand against Moynihan.

The names of another sailor, Sir Keith Mills, chief executive of the successful 2012 bid, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, an ardent Labour supporter, and ex-athlete entrepreneurs Alan Pascoe and Brendan Foster have also figured in the speculation, together with Olympic track legend David Hemery, currently Moynihan's vice-chairman.

But when nomination papers, which will be sent out this week, are returned, it is not expected there will be any bidders for Moynihan's post, giving him a clear run in charge until after the London Olympics. This will not please the Government, who were unhappy with Moynihan's election when Sir Craig Reedie stepped down three years ago and are even more so now that another Tory, Boris Johnson, has supplanted Ken Livingstone as London mayor. They are con-cerned at what is perceived as "the thick blue line" between Johnson and Tory peers Moynihan and Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 organising committee, in a four-strong Olympic board alliance which has only the Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, as a Government voice.

Hence the frantic behind-the-scenes lobbying, which will not be welcomed by sports leaders, as it again smacks of politicians meddling in an independent organisation – just as it did three years ago. Then the shadow sports minister, Hugh Robertson, sought a Parliamentary investigation into an apparent Govern-ment-backed bid to block Moynihan's election after the Olympic oarsman Sir Matthew Pinsent decided his future was with the BBC, not the BOA. It was alleged that Sue Campbell, the UK Sport chair and a Labour sympathiser, tried to enlist nominations for the former Olympic swimming champion Duncan Goodhew to oppose Moynihan. This was denied, but she did admit to giving Goodhew advice.

Moynihan said this week: "I really do hope this is not resurfacing. We are hearing these stories of pressure being applied on others to stand, but the autonomy of the BOA is all-important and it would be most regrettable if the Government are again trying to play politics with this before the elections."

The 52-year-old multimillionaire, who won an Olympic silver medal as a rowing cox, has professionalised the once blazer-bound BOA, controversially hiring Sir Clive Woodward as performance director and treading on a number of toes along the way, not least in Westminster. He plans more major strategic changes within thenext few months, but insists: "We are not in the business of playing party politics either within the BOA or on the 2012 Olympic Board."

It seems that any search for someone with the sporting clout and commercial nous to replace Moynihan has been frustrated. Carr would have been ideal for the Government's purposes. A brilliant administrator, he has orchestrated much of Britain's stunning success in Olympic sailing and was deputy chef de mission of Team GB at the 2000 Sydney Games. He is expected to retire from the RYA next year and is already established as a board member of the Government quango UK Sport. Such a move would have brought the two bodies, who have been in some conflict since Moynihan moved in, closer together.

"They [the Government] certainly have been pushing for him," the chairman of one Olympic sports body said of Carr. But there now seems to be strong support for Moynihan among the voting members of the BOA, and such is his power base among the national governing bodies that his re-election seems a formality.

The hurdling gold medallist Hemery, who stood against him three years ago, will not do so again, and instead will put himself forward for re-election as vice-president, together with canoeing's Albert Woods.

"The three of us have worked very well together and hopefully will continue to do so," says Moynihan. The feeling is that the present structure has worked well and the boat should not be rocked with 2012 approaching – even though the Government would have preferred to see a top sailing man at the helm.