Minister for Sport is a tricky job but Helen Grant hasn’t made it any easier for herself

The questions she didn’t know the answer to raise other questions

Click to follow
The Independent Online

All right so she’s not into tennis, rugby, football or the Paralympics. Perhaps motor racing is her thing? Certainly new sports minister Helen Grant now knows more than the rest of us about car-crash TV.

Get your hockey kit on, get down to the local sports centre, ring up the local TV cameras. Simple stuff for a new junior minister. But when Helen Grant, who last month took over as Minister for Sport, was sprung by the local news and given a bit of a sporting pub quiz, things went decidedly pear shaped.

All right, so the questions weren’t that easy, but it was the answers she chose to give, rather than the mere fact of not knowing, that makes it so unwatchable. Who are the current FA Cup holders? “I don’t know but I’m going to say Manchester United because they’re my favourite team.”

So the new Sports Minister, who has already made pledges to reaffirm the government’s commitment to football, is a plastic Man Utd fan who doesn’t even know whether her team are current FA Cup Champions (they’re not, Wigan are).

Who is the current ladies Wimbledon champion? “I don’t know but I know Andy Murray won it for us, and he’s fantastic, he’s fantastic.” Yawn. The current winner is of course Marion Bartoli, the subject of John Inverdale’s rather crass “never going to be a looker” comments, which turned into a very public row over sexism in which Grant’s now boss, Culture Secretary Maria Miller, became rather heavily involved. Ms Grant’s job at the time? Under-secretary of State for Women and Equalities, yet it seems this controversy somehow passed her by.

The question on who won the most Paralympic medals wasn’t easy. I, a former Paralympic Correspondent, couldn’t recall the Australian swimmer’s name straight away (Jacqueline Freney - eight golds), and I’ve met her. But to turn to your aides for help and come back with “Dave Weir?” as if you’ve never heard of David Weir, who is almost never known as Dave, is pretty unbelievable.

The whole unfortunate imbroglio raises no shortage of questions. Some say she shouldn’t be expected to know everything about elite sport. She’s a policy maker, not a pub quizzer. Had she just taken over a junior job at the Department for Climate Change, would it be so embarrassing if she didn’t have the latest stats on greenhouse gas emissions at he fingertips? But to know so little in an area where so many know so much is particularly galling.

Hugh Robertson, the outgoing, much respected Sports Minister, would, I am almost certain, have scored at least four out of five, and might even have got the one on the history of Maidstone Football Club. But he’s been moved on to the Foreign Office, and who knows how he might fare in a cheekily sprung quiz on African Presidents.

Interestingly, a lot of Westminster watchers, who’ve seen this type of thing too many times before, have been criticising her for attempting to answer the questions. “Just say you’re more of a policy person,” claim one. “Why engage?” others advised. Actually being castigated by political hacks for attempting to answer the questions asked, however awkward, and not just dexterosuly shifting the conversation over to the one she wants to have (although she does briefly attempt this)? That’s unfair.

Helen Grant has a difficult job to do. There is much talk already about wasted Olympic legacy - not all of it fair. And never before will a minister have come under so much pressure for once largely ignored matters of sporting participation figures and the like. At least now, people might know who she is, even if she could hardly have got off to a more embarrassing start.

Can you do better? Take this quiz