Slings and arrows of outrageous Archer

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The Independent Online
Lord Archer appeared on a news programme on Thursday to welcome, with more than a flush of euphoria, the announcement that pounds 40m of lottery profits are to be used to help 4,500 of our best sports people keep the wolves from the door while they concentrate on honing their skills for international competition. He hailed it as an important advance in our sporting interests because, he said, he hated to see us lose to "Germans and Frenchmen".

Suddenly, there was a chill to the happy moment. Are we now rattling running shoes instead of sabres? Are we mobilising an army? Is this a new form of National Service?

If I was a bright young hope pleased at the prospect of having my money worries eased while I sweated my socks off in an attempt to improve my worth, I would be alarmed at the suggestion that a harvest of glory fit to delight all the old xenophobes back home was demanded in return. It is one thing to make a genuine attempt to better the lot of our struggling performers but quite another to saddle them with the same unreasonable expectations we place on the lavishly paid members of our football, rugby and cricket teams.

Not that any of them should be ungrateful that lottery proceeds are at last being used for one of the purposes for which they were intended. It has taken two years for the golden flow of lottery money to be diverted from the pockets of architects towards the begging bowls of our athletes, and it will be three months before it actually reaches them, but we must rejoice that the Government have at last put into action what many of us have been agitating for since the first numbered ball rolled down the chute.

Whatever reasoning prompted them to insist that the lottery profits should be channelled only into capital projects - perhaps they felt the construction industry required a boost - the argument in favour of a direct investment into the flesh and blood of our sporting potential proved too strong to resist; although there has been a long and needless wait since they decided to act on individual sponsorship back in April.

Already, the British Athletic Federation have had to cancel several coaching sessions this winter which may hamper those preparing for the 1997 world championships. There are other snags to sort out before the scheme settles down to become the inspirational force it will surely be. The control of the flow of funds into the most deserving purses will not be easy, especially as the administration of sport at present under the auspices of the Sports Council is soon to be overtaken by the UK Sports Council under the Tesco chairman, Lord MacLaurin.

One of the main problems in the fair distribution of the cash will be the proposed means test which is being rightly questioned by the BAF. It is ironic that on the day the gates to the lottery funding were opened, Linford Christie and Colin Jackson, with several promising tracks stars in tow, left Britain for a month's sunshine training in Australia. Far from being subsidised, Christie and Jackson were paying for themselves and four of their younger companions.

It is ludicrous that the financial rewards they have gained from their own efforts should preclude them from being assisted by the lottery on their training expeditions. It is more ridiculous that Steve Redgrave, undoubtedly the sportsman of the year, should be contemplating offers to coach in Australia because his services have yet to be secured by his own country.

Perhaps it is too much to hope that the Government, having been so generous with our money, should match it with the appointment of a specific person to oversee its sensible and proper distribution. Lord Archer need not apply.

TO HELP football club man- agers withstand the stress of coping with their many problems, the League Managers' Association are to introduce a course for all would-be hot-seat occupants. Ill-prepared for the world of multi- million-pound transfers, untrained in the science of psychological motivation and innocent in the field of communicational eloquence, most recruits to management walk unprotected into an ambush.

The association hope that their one- or two-year course will equip all new managers with the skills essential to their calling and will come to be regarded by clubs as a vital qualification.

It is a worthy thought but, alas, the strains under which these gentlemen work are not likely to be relaxed even if we improved their quality by 1,000 per cent. Under the existing structure of domestic competition, at any given time during the season three or four of them will be managing clubs at the bottoms of the various leagues and under the direst pressure.

Unless we can devise training courses for ambitious directors, glory- hungry fans and blood- seeking reporters, managers are going to remain football's fall-guys. Their situation would be dramatically improved if the real meaning of the word "club" was invoked and the feeling of mutual responsibility was prevalent in the bad as well as the good times.

Until that happens, I would advise managerial candidates to aim for the qualifications necessary to be a football administrator, whatever they may be. Martin Edwards, the chief executive of Manchester United, spent last week warding off complaints from fans about his pay shooting up by 39 per cent to pounds 321,000 a year.

"I don't want people believing I had such a big rise in a year when our profits are down," retorted Edwards. "My salary went up from pounds 290,000, which is less than 11 per cent." A handsome hike, nevertheless, for what is hardly the most stressful position at Old Trafford.

It was also revealed last week that Rick Parry, the chief executive of the Premiership, received a bonus of over pounds 100,000 for negotiating the pounds 670m television deal with BSkyB. Considering how desperate Sky must have been to land the contract that will be the mainstay of their burgeoning sporting empire, I would not have thought such a brilliant act of salesmanship would have been involved.

You do not have to go on a course to learn that if you want to avoid stress in football, the boardroom offers much less of a threat to mental stability than does the pitch.

MUNICIPAL involvement in building stadiums is growing in Britain and can be a very welcome link between a team and its locality. There are dangers, however, in the effect these developments can have on the haughtiness of local dignitaries.

San Francisco 49ers might be having second thoughts about combining with the city fathers to build a stadium to replace their old home at Candlestick Park following an outburst by the Mayor, Willie Brown.

Those who saw the 49ers' game against Dallas Cowboys on Channel 4 last Monday night will recall that San Francisco's 20-17 defeat stemmed from two woeful passing errors by the second-string quarter-back Elvis Grbac late in the game.

Grbac, said Mayor Brown afterwards, was "an embarrassment to humankind" and he pronounced: "After that interception and that bonehead intellectual breakdown, he can't play in any stadium that I'm going to assist to be built."