Sport: Blanked by the Baroness

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The Independent Online
SPORTS-LOVERS about to rush out to spend pounds 25 on Margaret Thatcher's book had better be braced for disappointment. I managed to sneak into a bookshop to buy an unsigned copy and have trawled through in vain for mention of the subject closest to our hearts.

I could find nothing in the Baroness's burly tome, for instance, about the six Ministers for Sport she used up in her lust to impose her will on our sporting scene. There is not a word about football hooligans and her single-handed but sorrowful attempt to bring them to heel with identity cards.

On page 88 is the briefest of references to her attempt to prevent the British team's attendance at the Moscow OlympicEs of 1980 in support of President Carter's boycott of the event. THER write error But we get no further insight into that doubtful episode, although she concedes, with an almost audible sniff, that most of the team went in any case. Posterity might have been better served had she mentioned that one of them was Seb Coe who won a gold medal and who is now an up- and-coming Tory MP.

Perhaps Lady Thatcher's reluctance to enlist sport's ability to bring light and inspiration to the most dreary of publications can be explained by the fact that on each of the rare surges she made into the sporting arena she came a cropper. This might have cheered us up at the time but in retrospect it was a shame. Just a little success might have encouraged her to look more kindly on this area of her realm, in which case her Downing Street years might not have been so damaging to the nation's sporting health, especially at school level.

We have much still to hope for from John Major's more enlightened attitude but the failure of Manchester's Olympic bid, which he supported with genuine enthusiasm, may have seriously dampened his crusading zeal.

It would be reassuring if the Prime Minister equipped his Minister for Sport with the muscles that should go with the job. At the moment Iain Sproat, for it is he, hardly appears to have a voice let alone biceps. (Not for nothing is he named 'No Throat Sproat' along sport's corridors of power.) However, despite his lack of discernible activity on behalf of sport, we should be more patient.

He is the eighth gentleman to be passed this troublesome portfolio since the Tories took office in 1979, and the fate of his predecessors would frighten anyone. Five of them served under Thatcher, their first step on the promotion ladder. For each it proved a rung too far.

Hector Monro took the Moscow rap, Neil Macfarlane carried the can for Bradford and Heysel, Dick Tracey never solved anything, Colin Moynihan was last seen floating down the Thames strapped to an identity card while Robert Atkins distinguished himself by suggesting that sportsmen who misbehaved on or off the field should not be allowed to play for their country.

Under Major, sport was moved to the new Heritage department where it came under the sympathetic supervision of David Mellor. Alas he proved too sporty for his own good and since his departure any priority physical recreation was beginning to enjoy has not been pressed so heartily.

Robert Key came and went as Minister Mark 7 without rippling the waters and Sproat, who is 54,took over in the summer. Educated at Winchester and Oxford, Sproat is a member of the Cavalry and Guards Club and is a Scottish rugby fan as well as a compiler of cricket books.

The one or two sportswriters who have managed to get close to him report that he seems keener to gather their ideas than impart his own. There are worse sources of good ideas and if he wants a couple from this quarter may I suggest that he starts by leaving hooliganism to the Home Office.

He should concentrate not on the top level of sport but the bottom and in this direction he appears to have made a good start by turning up last week to support the launch of the Register of National Playing Fields. The register will help keep track of the pitches being flogged off, mainly by cash- stricken local authorities.

Schools have the most need of playing spaces and, even more urgently, the will to get the kids on to them. Sport in schools has suffered badly not merely because government measures have alienated teachers but through the misplaced theories of non-competitive educationalists.

We have never produced so many flabby, unfit and physically inactive children, which is nothing for our Ministers for Sport to be proud of - even less those who appointed them.

AFTER the hooligan horror of Holland in which 1,000 English supporters were arrested comes the retribution. A dozen have appeared in court over there and all but two escaped with suspended sentences and fines of pounds 260. One was locked up for three weeks and another, who is 32 and blubbed in the box, received two weeks.

Twelve old ladies from Cheltenham riding bikes without lights through Amsterdam would have been hit harder.

But what the Dutch do is their business. What have we done? What steps have we taken to prevent it happening again in some other country?

My suggestion last week that if we allow the hooligans to strike again when England play San Marino next month the United Nations should arrest John Major, or preferably Michael Howard, brought this response from Peter Evans, of Willenhall: 'I share your sentiments, but San Marino are not in the United Nations.'

My error matters not, Mr Evans, because the match has been switched to Bologna where, no doubt, the fans will be too terrified of the consequences to try any hooliganism. I hope we're not banking on it.

MOST spectacular sporting sight of the week was that of English rugby union officials tearing down the posters of the All Blacks sponsors, Steinlager, put up at a press conference to mark the start of their tour.

It was a defiant act akin to Jesus throwing the money-lenders out of the Temple. Except Jesus didn't have his own money-lenders who were allowed in on other occasions.

But let's not jump to the wrong conclusion. I prefer to think that the RFU men were objecting to yet another Antipodean lager invading our country.

We've had Fosters, we've had Castlemaine XXXX and now comes Steinlager. To tempt our young men - not to mention girl students - with these pale apologies for a pint is a gross misuse of sport, particularly sports that were built on good beer.