Sport: Misnomers, sunken launches and rank stupidity

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The Independent Online
HE WAS a nice man. A very very nice man. And he was telling me all about the investment which had turned his family business into one of the country's leading leisure resorts.

Seventy-five years earlier his great-grandfather, Herbert Potter, had established Britain's first holiday camp. But that, he explained with a darkening countenance, was then, and this was now. In recent years, he added, they'd built a theatre, a gym and an indoor bowling venue. Work had started on the construction of a hotel. So they were, absolutely and definitively, not running a holiday camp. They were running a leisure centre, and any idea that it was still a holiday camp, just because it had coachloads of holidaymakers arriving, was very wide of the mark and unwelcome. So no references to holiday camps please.

Hosting the World Bowls Championships last month was perceived by all at Potter's Leisure Resort as another step towards the bright new dawn. It was unfortunate that Steve Rider, introducing BBC TV coverage of the event, should mention the "h" and "c" words.

It was also unfortunate that one paper - this one, actually - should employ the phrase "Hi-di-hi" in a headline.

But then, what did they really expect? And what's wrong with being a holiday camp? As a small exercise in attempted news management, this was not an outstanding success. But then it is a tricky area.

A few years ago, in an effort to revamp its fading image and appeal to the young, the British Athletic Federation (now deceased) held a press launch - on a river launch.

As we bobbed on the Thames, the new scheme was explained to us. It was a ranking system, sponsored by TSB bank, which would evaluate athletic performances on an overall points basis, to create a picture of who were the best British athletes in absolute terms.

Hungarian scoring tables, of the type used to convert decathlon performances into points, were to be employed. It was an anorak's wet dream, but as a torch-lighting new venture... well, doubts were swiftly expressed.

The smile on the face of the BAF's executive chairman, Professor Peter Radford, became strained. He turned to the man on his left, Roger Black, observing with some levity that, as things stood, Black was only Britain's second-best 400 metres runner and was trailing well behind some of the hurdlers and javelin throwers - in absolute terms, of course.

Presumably, Black was then expected to say how he would redouble his efforts in order to see his name rise proudly up the TSB rankings. Black, however, was not amused. His response was brief and, for the purposes of the bright new dawn, unhelpful. Stick it up your rankings, in effect.

What, someone then asked, was the structure of prize money for this new scheme? It was explained that there was no prize money. As such. At all. At which point the TSB rankings launch, already holed below the waterline, became dead in the water.

Among other doomed launches I cherish in my memory was the techno-music fashion show put on in the stupendously unsuitable setting of Bisham Abbey to publicise England team kit and leisurewear spin-offs for the 1994 World Cup finals. Which, as you may recall, England failed to reach.

When I recall the bright young things gyrating under the ancient beams in their bright young things - manufactured courtesy of Far East sweated labour - I almost feel glad England didn't make it.

Alongside misconceived initiatives, doomed attempts at setting the media agenda figure prominently in my own personal ranking list.

Graeme Le Saux's scornful defiance of a five-minute interview limit imposed during a Chelsea press conference before last season's Littlewoods Cup final, raised him high in the estimation of myself and a number of colleagues present.

Strenuous, and fruitless, efforts were also made in an attempt to stop questioners looking beyond the weekend's final to the European Cup-Winners' Cup final the next week. But, for wishful thinking, you couldn't beat the US Olympic Committee, which set up a press conference with ice skater Tonya Harding before the 1994 Winter Games with the proviso that no questions were to be asked about her alleged role in a pre-Games hammer attack that left her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, with an injured knee. It was like expecting Basil Fawlty not to mention the war.

In preparation for the expected media onslaught, someone had provided Harding with a standard response: "That is not an appropriate question." Glory be, it was as an umbrella in the face of a tidal wave.