Happy Olympic Day!


Alan Hubbard: I hope London 2012 is not ruined by tunnel vision

Duncan Mackay

At around 4am one Sunday morning just over a year ago David Haye could be spotted strolling the streets of south east London carrying the world cruiserweight title belts he had just unified by knocking out Enzo Maccarinelli at the O2 Arena. No, he wasn’t walking back to happiness, but to his home in Bermondsey because there was no other means of transport.

He couldn’t be driven there because the partially-closed Blackwall Tunnel, that vital lifeline to Docklands, was clogged up with traffic and had been for hours. And of course the Jubilee Line had ceased to operated, as it often does, well before the O2 event had ended.

As the Hayemaker, now of course the WBA heavyweight champion, will tell you, Blackwall is no tunnel of love - more of despair. I was among those stuck amid other cars, taxis and lorries for four hours getting home and the memory of that has given me tunnel vision about the 2012 Olympics, and it is not a good one transport-wise.

Ok, so I know we are all supposed to cram on to the tube when the Games open, but the Blackwall Tunnel and its environs, which include not only the O2 and ExCel, both Olympic venues, but the Olympic Park itself, remains a key access route for many coming from other parts of London and the country – not to mention deliveries of supplies for the Olympic Village. But it only takes one car to stall, and the result is chaos.

That happened a few weeks ago on a Saturday morning (actually it was an overturned lorry) and the tunnel was closed for the weekend. Fans getting to football grounds in East and South London were heavily delayed. So were the footballers of Gillingham who were late for the kick-off at Leyton Orient.

How many times do we hear on the London news that the tunnel is closed because of an accident or for "essential roadworks". And this also applies to the Limehouse Link which can be equally catastrophic as I know from personal experience in travelling to the Independent's former offices in Docklands from South London. 

Yes, there will be Olympic Lanes for competitors and officials. Let's hope they work but my concern is that we are not quite as disciplined as the Chinese (who obeyed implicitly in Beijing, probably fearing the death penalty) for you can bet there will be those who get frustrated and try to sneak down them just as they do bus lanes now. And to hell with the fine.

Last week the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) said that 75 per cent of the Games transport programme is now in place.
The work they have done certainly looks impressive. The ODA chairman John Armitt assures us: "We are on track for completing the transport improvements needed for the Games and legacy." That’s good news. And I have no doubt that Seb Coe and his highly professional team will produce the greatest sports show this country has ever seen - on time, (if not on budget), a memorable spectacle that will be brilliantly organised and orchestrated. I just hope that too many don’t have to struggle to get there.

Sure, the tube service we are promised, with those new state-of-the art high speed Javelin trains, seems excellent - on paper. But Bob Crowe and his merry men have yet to do their worst. Will the Games be held to ransom around three weeks before they open? They are a perfect target to be hijacked by threats of strike action on the tubes and trains just as BA might have been over Christmas but for the High Court ban. Ominously, Crowe is the General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union which covers a multitude of possibilities for industrial action affecting 2012 – including the Thames launch service which will ferry spectators to the O2 and other Games sites.

If I was Seb, right now I would be sending out invitations to Crowe and other union leaders to be guests in the VIP box at the opening ceremony and guarantee tickets for any other events they wish to see. Judging from his bonhomie and Have I Got News For You avuncular Bob is not averse to a bit of public pampering so such a "sweetener" might not be amiss in crucial circumstances.

Having said all that about potential travel problems, I do feel that boxing, having won its bout to stay within the Olympic radius – and I understand AIBA’s reasoning - has missed out by not moving to Wembley instead of the Excel. While the Excel has staged pro and amateur boxing it is a barn-like arena, rather soulless compared to Wembley where atmosphere oozes from its doors. It is  a traditional home for boxing, having hosted famous fisticuffs from World championships to the ABA finals over many years.  

Indeed, I have always felt disappointed that with the massive investment in Wembley the Stadium itself should be so underutilised during the Games. Why are we not employing the best stadium in the world for something other than the football finals? Football is a relatively minor part of the Olympics. I understand the stadium was once under consideration for the closing ceremony - a pity this now won’t happen and that we are not going to Wem-ber-lee, which is far easier to get to than the O2 and ExCel - and you don’t have tunnels to get stuck in.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games


Mike Moran: My plan to get the USOC back on track

Duncan Mackay
In 1894, two years before the launch of the Modern Olympic Games in Athens, a pair of American business and sports leaders, James E. Sullivan and William Milligan Sloane, gathered in New York and created the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

Over the next 115 years, the USOC has risen to prominence and prestige among the world's National Olympic Committees, the richest and most powerful of the family, and American athletes have dominated the Summer Games and the US have hosted the Games eight times, the most among all nations.

But, that was then, this is now, and the venerable USOC has arrived at the most challenging crossroads in its history.

It is about to undertake yet another major review of its governance structure (its seventh since the 1978 passage of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act by The Congress), another search for a chief executive.

There have been no less than 13 since that 1978 restructure - an average term of 2.4 years for each leader - and under the leadership of chairman Larry Probst, the 12th person to assume the role in those 31 years, the ongoing turmoil has engulfed the organisation again in conflict.

But what can happen in the next few weeks and months can alter that trend and shape the USOC's future indelibly for the best. The USOC announced recently that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will chair an independent advisory commission to assess the organisation's controversial governance structure with the task of recommending changes, if needed, in the size, structure and operating practices of its 11-member Board of Directors.

Probst and his Board have named a search and screening committee for the next chief executive officer with a timetable of nailing down the next professional staff leader by the end of the year. The names of its membership offer a great mix of men and women who have a clue about the Olympic Family, its athletes and its mission, which offers hope that the next CEO will not be another corporate product with no background in, or understanding of, the complex mission or emotions of the USOC and its vital National Governing Bodies (NGB) and Member Organisations that form the foundation of its existence.
 
It includes USA Hockey chief executive Dave Ogrean, representing the NGB Council, Olympic diving great Micki King, representing the US Olympians, Board member Mike Plant, an Olympic speedskater and the most vocal Board member demanding change, and two current athletes.

In the aftermath of events that began with the jaw-dropping ouster of Olympian and chief executive Jim Scherr in March as well as the ill-timed announcement of a USOC television network that angered the IOC, the debacle in Copenhagen that saw Chicago shoved out in the first round of the 2016 Host City election, and the contentious struggle over the agreement reached by Colorado Springs to keep the USOC in the city for the next 25 years, this is a golden opportunity to make things right and get the ship off the shoals.

Already, the Board has responded to intense criticism from the National Governing Bodies with concessions that include an outreach and engagement process with the key constituent groups that invites representation and transparency, an element sorely lacking in the last restructure in 2003 that resulted in the downsizing of the Board after the implosion of 2002-2003 that led to embarrassing Congressional Hearings and a media circus.

So, though my view and advice have been devalued and unrequested by the organisation I served for almost 25 years as its chief spokesman and voice since my retirement in 2003, I offer some respectful suggestions:
 
1. Select a man or woman as CEO who truly understands the Olympic Family, has a sports and business background, leadership skills which recognise professional talent with respect, and who can walk on the same path in our world as the pro sports commissioners, the NCAA, and become the face of the USOC in media appearances and gatherings of the companies that sponsor the USOC and the millions of Americans who want to support the effort.

2.
Give this individual the challenge and the freedom to hire a great staff, carry out the blueprint and build a team that makes the nation proud. Leave the CEO alone to do the job without interference, micro-management and politics.

3. Recognising clearly the fact that the USOC has been the recipient of a controversial $53 million commitment by the city of Colorado Springs and its residents to retain its national headquarters for the next 25 years and build it a gorgeous new downtown headquarters and improve training facilities.tackle these humble recommendations:

4. Commit to holding every one of its major events in its hometown for the future as a gesture that brings the city and its populace in distressed economic times a return on the investment it has made, including all Board meetings, the Olympic Assembly of over 1,200 people, its Olympic Media Summit prior to each Games, the US Olympic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, annual sfficial sponsor and supplier meetings, and the resumption of the US Olympic Academy.

5. Undertake an outreach and public relations effort in the city as soon as possible, with the goal of restoring the USOC's image and profile in its hometown. Visit schools, take seats on the boards of local charities and important business organizations, host community events and festivals at the Olympic Complex, and get out to meet the citizens. Colorado Springs embraced the USOC in 1978 and welcomed it as its new national headquarters when no other city wanted it. The city has been a warm and generous host since, and deserves better. 

6. Reach out aggressively to those individuals who have made significant and crucial contributions to the growth and the history of the USOC, and who make up the rich deposit of the organisation's institutional memory, but virtually ignored or avoided in the last few years, led by Bill Hybl (pictured here with George Bush). Once again, Hybl has stepped to the plate to come to the rescue of the USOC with the announcement that the El Pomar Foundation will provide the millions to complete the commitment by Colorado Springs to complete the new headquarters building and the other improvements. This is on top of Hybl's prior rescue efforts that begin with the creation of the first USOC Ethics Committee in 1991 after a huge scandal, his service as President twice, and the establishment of special independent commissions that bailed out the USOC after the '91 mess and the 1998 bid city scandal..

7. Enlarge the Board of Directors to include direct representation from the vital constituent groups that are the foundation of the organisation - the National Governing Bodies, the Disabled in Sport groups, the Olympians Alumni organisations, and former Presidents, chairs and CEOs. Yes, like Hybl.

8. Task my old Media and PR division with once again taking the Chair and CEO out on the road to communicate openly and directly with the crucial news media. Go to USA Today, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Sports, Sports Illustrated, Associated Press, the network Morning shows, the Foreign Press Center in Washington and others to deliver the message and provide access.

9. Rebuild the important personal relationships with reporters, columnists, broadcasters, bloggers and others in the media who shape image. Return every call and e-mail, grant access to leadership, respond with a voice when required, not text messages and vapid corporate-speak, canned responses.

10. Understand and embrace the obligations to the media and the men and women who cover the Olympic Movement at a time when budgets and the economy are threats to newspapers and magazines, and which require new, imaginative and cutting-edge media relations that recognize and take advantage of new media opportunities and methods of communication which evolve almost weekly. 

11. Read the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act from cover to cover. It will outline the mission of the USOC, which is simple. It does not require millions of dollars spent frequently in some vague search for the USOC mission. It's right there. Cherish and support the athletes and their National Governing Bodies. Support and foster amateur sports and fitness among Americans. Create opportunity for everyone in sport, promote the Olympic ideals and principles, and make Americans proud of the best of our youth that reach for their dreams. 

It's not rocket science. 

Mike Moran was the chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003. In 2002 he was awarded with the USOC's highest award, the General Douglas MacArthur Award. He worked on New York's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and is now director of communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation.  

Mike Rowbottom: Great footballer, but Giggs should not have won the BBC Sports Personality

Duncan Mackay

There are questions to which there is no obvious answer.

Profound questions, such as “Does God exist?” or “Is there life elsewhere in the universe?”

And questions of a less portentous nature: “What is the point of flies?” “Why does the shorter queue at Sainsbury’s always turn out to take the longer time?” “Who do you sue if are injured recreating your own personal injury for an accident claim company’s TV commercial?”

And then there is, if you will, a question of sport. Why is Ryan Giggs BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2009?

Now before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear. I think Giggs is a footballer of beauty.

Eighteen years ago, at the beginning of December, I was fortunate enough to see the young marvel, just turned 18, putting on a performance at Crystal Palace that opened up successions of sunny avenues on a day of grey.

With a backheel here, a surge and shimmy there, Giggs, inevitably, recalled that other pale, frail winger whom Old Trafford had taken to its bosom a quarter of a century earlier. On that wintry afternoon, Giggs set Manchester United on the route to victory with an effort of astounding directness.

Having received the ball direct from the keeper, he sprinted with simple intent towards the Palace goal before sending in a swooping, swerving shot from 25 yards which cannoned down off the bar, allowing Neil Webb to tap in past the shell-shocked Palace keeper Nigel Martyn.

Effectively, Giggs has been doing that for United ever since as he has amassed every honour the club game has to offer. Eric Cantona has been and gone. Ronaldo has been and gone. Giggs has endured, inspiring and admired.

To be described as the best player United have ever had by Paul Scholes, never noted for hyperbole, is a tribute indeed.

But why has Giggs found himself in receipt of the unfeasibly large TV camera trophy – I’ve always thought it looks like an undressed Dalek - halfway through what has been, for him, just another season of excellence?

Why has Jenson Button not received the award which many felt was his due after the seismic leap in his career which brought him the Formula One world title?

Okay, Button’s compatriot - and prospective team-mate - Lewis Hamilton was also beaten to the chequered flag in 2008 despite earning the F1 title. But on that occasion the Sports Personality award went to a man whose achievements in the calendar year were undeniable, cycling’s triple Olympic champion Chris Hoy.

Will Button ever reach these heights again? Will he even finish ahead of his clear-eyed team-mate? It might be nice to think so, but you wouldn’t put big money on it.

This was Button’s big chance. But the bookie favourite was left in Giggs’s slipstream on the night as he received 96,770 votes (18.74 per cent) as against the United stalwart’s 151,842 (29.4 per cent).

It was a runaway win for the contender who had least claim to have done anything special in 2009.

No wonder Giggs (pictured) appeared shocked by the result. What else could the poor boy do but accept the award with his customary awkward charm? 

This was not the first Sports Personality award to raise eyebrows. There was much facial twitching when Greg Rusedski, British as maple syrup, took the award in 1997 despite not winning any event of note.

But then the naturalised Briton had reached what turned out to be the peak of his competitve career in that year by finishing runner-up in the US Open final.

Questions were raised, too, in 1994 when Damon Hill took the camera-on-stilts despite failing to win the F1 title. Then again, that award could have been explained by the sympathy the Briton earned after the highly questionable collision with his rival Michael Schumacher in the 1994 Australian Grand Prix which left the title in the hands of the German driver by one point.

Two years later Hill stepped forward last again at the BBC bunfight – but this time as F1 champion.

As far as this year’s award is concerned, the main question appertains to the shortlist of 10 candidates assembled for the public to vote over.

How can it be that Giggs was shortlisted for the 2009 award, when in 2008, having scored decisively in the penalty shoot-out against Chelsea which saw United claim the ultimate club honour of the European Cup for the second  time in his career, he was not?

Once there, the duty to Manchester United’s followers far and wide was clear. Fly the Reds’ flag. Vote for Giggsy.

It was by placing Giggs into contention that the BBC effectively turned the award into their version of the New Year’s Honours List. They set up Giggs as a winner by Buggin’s Turn on a night when he should have been in the running for the Lifetime Achievement award.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames

 


Alan Hubbard: Eddie the Eagle is still soaring high

Duncan Mackay

These days Eddie the Eagle may sound more like a football club mascot (why didn’t Crystal Palace think of him?) but in back in 1988 he was away with the birds, soaring  to fame and misfortune as Britain’s tail-end-Charlie in Calgary’s Winter Olympics ski-jumping.

Oh, how the world giggled ,and how the blazers harrumphed as Michael Edwards, a plasterer from Cheltenham, soared though the air with the greatest of unease, finishing last in both events, a disaster waiting to happen in painful-to-watch slo-mo.

Edwards was our first Olympic ski jumper – and remains the only one, all guts and gumption but ultimately the eternal symbol of The Great British Loser.

We've rather lost track of him over the last 20-odd years but now the Eagle is leaping back into the public consciousness, minus the steam-up bifocals and this time with his feet firmly on the ground.

Towards the end of next year filming will begin on his life story with  Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter movies, playing the lead role. And next month Edwards returns to re-live his Canadian capers, carrying the Olympic torch through Winnipeg on its relay to Vancouver for next years’ Winter Games which start on February 12 .It is an invitation - extended by the British Columbia Tourist Board - which he has received with pride, more so as it will get up the noses of the authorities who have scoffed at him in this country.

After 1988 Olympic officialdom turned its back on him - and the de Coubertin philosophy that taking part is more important than winning, pouring scorn on his performance and virtually ignoring the enormous contribution he had made towards raising awareness about the Winter Olympics to an otherwise apathetic British public. Not to mention his unbounded bravery. 

Think hard. Name any other British competitor from those Calgary Games who did anything worth a mention on the sports ages, let alone the news pages. Well, there was Martin Bell, who finished a creditable eighth in the men’s downhill but otherwise Team GB's winter wallies either got stuck in a Rockies snowdrift or fell through the ice of the skating rink. It was Eddie the Eagle who grabbed all the glory – for his inglory. A figure of fun maybe, Unsteady Eddie, the abominable snowman, but the world admired his derring-do and old world phlegm.

Derided by then top brass and even some of his team-mates -those aesthete athletes who snootily thought he was taking the mickey out of sport - least the Eagle put some fun into the Games. During th ose Olympics he even received anonymous hate mail from those who reckoned he had stolen their thunder.

"The people in British Skiing didn't want me back in 1988 and they don’t want me now," he says. "The faces may have changed but the attitude hasn’t.  It’s a bit like an old boys club – the old farts in rugby.

 "I am sure some people will think, 'Oh no, not him again,' but I quite enjoy being a thorn in their side. They slammed the door in my face and told me to go away, but I am still here." And still standing.   

We caught up with him in last week, not in Cheltenham, where he has his own building and plastering business - but the Caribbean, where the Eagle was cruising, not flying. He regularly travels on ships like P&O's Oceana, where he was celebrating his 46th birthday, entertaining passengers with a motivational lecture and his inimitable winter’s tale.

"I talk about my life as a ski-jumper, including video clips of some of the funny things that were said about me. Then I tell them what it was like as an Olympian and what I have done since. The trouble is all my funny stories are true. Normally it takes ten to 12 years to become a ski jumper but I did it in five months. You could say I had a crash course."

He hopes to be in Vancouver working for TV but he says he’d much rather be up there on the perch waiting to fly again. "I always knew that at any time I could have killed myself, yet whenever I got it right, it was the most exhilarating thing in the world, but always, always scary."


 
The British Ski Federation could have picked him as a wild-card for subsequent Games but elected not to, even though his distances had increased from 55 metres (on the 90 metre jump) to 85 metres and from 71 metres to 115 metres on the 120 metre jump.  And he wasn't always last. In the US Championships he finished 29th out of 85 and believed he had qualified for the 1998 Games but was again refused a wild-card. 

The Olympic authorities had already introduced what is known as the "Eddie Rule" which requires a certain standard in order to qualify – meaning that participating athletes had to be in the world’s top 50. At the height of his celebrity he was earning £10,000 an hour and was always on the box. "For two years I was all over the world, opening shopping centres, golf courses, hotels, fun rides, all kinds of stuff. It was great fun and really good money, but what people didn't realise was that at heart, I was simply an athlete who wanted to do the best I could. But I did enjoy the attention, and to be honest I still do.”

Once he dressed up as an Eagle for an opening ceremony, only to find the uniform they had provided was that of a chicken, and he was dropped as the presenter of a TV show on the British bobsleigh team when the bobbers objected. At the height of his fame, the red-tops started to probe his love-life. "They didn’t find much because there wasn't much to find."

He had returned from Calgary to a hero’s welcome, parading to a crowd of 10,000 in Cheltenham with a slice of pizza in one hand and a Thomas the Tank Engine flag in another. In the following months he amassed a small fortune in endorsements and public appearances, placing most of it in a trust fund, but when the Inland Revenue sent him a tax bill in 1991, he discovered the money was gone, lost in a series of bad investments by his appointed trustees. This led to a bankruptcy petition and inspired by the legal battle with the trustees,

Edwards embarked on a law course during which he was introduced to his future wife, Sam, whom he married in Las Vegas in 2003. They now have two young daughters, Ottilee, five, and three-year-old Honey.  

People may also forget that his Calgary adventure was no one-off. In all he reckons to have made thousands of ski jumps, the last in 1997, fracturing his skull twice, breaking his jaw, collar bone, ribs and damaging a kidney and knee. 

Eddie was the Eagle who dared. It is good to see him flapping his wings again for he deserves our salutation, not our scorn.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games


Pippa Cuckson: What happens if Greenwich Park does not get planning permission?

Duncan Mackay

Publication of the planning application for Greenwich  Park’s Olympic equestrian facilities finally reveals that  a major hurdle remains to be jumped, despite the “final” endorsements of the site by KPMG et seq last year . 

LOCOG executives Tim Hadaway and David Luckes made light of the Borough planning process at last month’s General Assembly of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) in Copenhagen, and saw no need to be drawn into discussing alternatives, should the application fail.

However, the document now available on-line belies such easy dismissal. The weight virtual tome indicates that, not surprisingly, a major consultation exercise has already been untaken to make the project as palatable as possible. Even the consultees that LOCOG  feels happy to quote  seem to hedge their bets. English Heritage is only “unlikely” to oppose the application subject to ongoing dialogue.

Planning controls can be waived for facilities that are only in place for 28 days. However, although the equestrian infrastructure will be stripped out immediately after the Games, some of it has to service the test event in 2011 and  the later Paralympic Games. Thus the application theoretically should be considered against Council policy for permanent development and in many regards - accessibility to open space and generation of local employment - there is huge conflict. 

There’s the rub. Borough planners and councillors probably feel overwhelming pressure to wagon this application through,  but what price could they pay? In future residents seeking consent for controversial developments could cheerfully cite ample precedent for breaching the “Unitary Development Plan.”

Received wisdom is that Olympics are a special case, but a former planning guru with significant experience of major equine build  told me its not that simple. Exceptions should only be made if there is a planning reason, a completely separate can of worms to “lawful” usages that have exercised opponents thus far.

"Anything involving the Olympics tends to seduce otherwise sensible people," he told me."And the Council might think that the kudos of having an Olympic venue would be worth overriding policy. I don’t think that would be a good enough reason –‘material considerations’ have to be relevant to planning."

In any other circumstance such a project might  warrant a call-in by the Secretary of State – but even those who have criticised to Greenwich on grounds of physical legacy (there is none) and  space (not enough) know such a delay would imperil attempts to mobilise any "Plan B," never mind the venue of  choice.

Proximity to the Olympic Village was a prime reason for selecting Greenwich. It was also critical to calm IOC angst about the inordinate cost of staging equestrianism which is why London pursued the "temporary" option. The British Equestrian Federation’s feasibility study in 2003 suggested a modest budget of £6 million. The cost has now soared to a level LOCOG won’t discuss and no-one was baulking when guesstimates of £23 million did the rounds earlier this year.

It is true that wanton overspend in Athens made both the IOC and subsequent host cities twitchy. The Greeks lavished more than £120 million on a permanent horse park with two stadia and marble everywhere. Afterwards some of it was absorbed by the adjacent racecourse, but it never had a chance of paying its way in a country with a domestic horse population of 1,500  (Britain has  over 800,000).

However, those who cite the Athens as an argument against a London purpose-build  forget that  Sydney got theirs for £40 million, and it remains in active use.

Britain is one of the few horse nations that would have justified such a physical legacy. Some would dispute the requirement, given the history of private benefactors in providing the jewels of the UK calendar. But many venues in the supporting tier could have been transformed for a droplet of the tens of millions being squandered on Greenwich.

It’s always easier to waste money when you haven’t had to generate it yourself but it’s is now far too late to build somewhere brand new. So what are the options if planning hits a snag?

Badminton and Burghley tend to be championed by non-equestrians who don’t realise that these annual three-day events also function using “temporary” infrastructure. They are no more suited to hosting an Olympic Park – which caters for multiple equestrian disciplines over a much longer time span - than Glastonbury is equipped to take on the concert schedule of the O2. Neither were considered at bid stage, being too far from London.

This leaves two do-able fallbacks.  Windsor, with a Castle backdrop, hosted two of Olympic disciplines – dressage and show jumping – at European level this year.  The event was a financial disaster for reasons not associated with its superb horse facilities. The Queen's back garden is annually used for Royal Windsor Horse Show and the show site was relocated four years ago to enable the installation of permanent “Ecotrack” riding surfaces  – planning permission was  a consideration here, too. Some find it hard to believe that all this expense was entertained merely for an annual five-day show and military Tattoo.

On the down side, the three-day event in Windsor Great Park went bust years ago. Riders disliked the footing and if Windsor is on secret standby for 2012, tomorrow is not soon enough to apply some TLC to any cross-country route.

There  would be huge public support for the use of Hickstead, all the more so because its visionary founder Douglas Bunn died in June.  Bunn was often at odds with the equestrian Establishment – people who makes things happen usually are - but he subsidised British show jumping for the best part of 50 years and it would be a fitting reward.

It will be a leviathan task to make an informed decision by March – with only a year and a bit before the test event to go.

Families of Greenwich councillors will do well to omit the latest Dan Brown from their Christmas stockings. They have some altogether more serious reading to do.

Pippa Cuckson is the equestrian correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and one of the most respected commentators on equestrian sport. She was the deputy editor of Horse & Hound for many years and now regularly contributes to Chronicle of the Horse, Horse International and Country Life.


Alan Hubbard: Chooses his favourite Sports Ministers

Duncan Mackay

Cauliflower-ears sponged and pressed, the fight game's glitterati assembled in force for this year's big bash, the annual British Boxing Board of Control gala awards in London last week. Prominent among the VIPs honouring the great and the good of the ring was the Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe.
 

Not that he's noted for any significant contribution to the Noble Art as a practitioner – goalkeeping is more his game for the Parliamentary football team – but his presence and active support of the sport confirmed that boxing is no longer the pariah of sports ,un-PC and frowned upon by the 'elf and safety Gestapo. 

 

The battered old trade is back in vogue - as well as in schools - with strong political approval in parliament not least for its contribution in helping keep kids off the streets by getting them into gyms where they can be taught to sportingly channel any tendency towards violence.
 

In some 40 years of covering the boxing and sports politics beats I have seen a whole procession of Sports Ministers come and go, a veritable cricket team in fact, plus a 12th man. The best have championed boxing.


The late and very much lamented Denis Howell, still unrivalled as the Muhammad Ali of our Sports Ministers, was very much a boxing buff, a ringside regular in the sixties and seventies when Board members and their guests always wore dinner jackets.


One of his many successors, Richard Caborn .also knows boxing, much of it learned from his good pal in Sheffield, Brendan Ingle, the man who trained Prince Naseem Hamed among other luminaries, in the skills of hit-and-hop it ringcraft.
 

Since he stepped down as Britain’s longest-serving Sports Minister (in a single spell that is – Lord Howell did the job  twice in a total of 11 years) he has washed up as president of the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE), now a constituent body of the British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA) under another of his old mates, Derek Mapp.


We never saw much of Caborn at ringside though his appreciation of  the sport was evident. Both he and Sutcliffe fought hard to get it back on the agenda in schools.
 

Dick Caborn and I are old sparring partners. Last time we met - funnily enough at a boxing function - for no reason at all he publicly accused me of being "unenthusiastic" about London’s Olympic bid. How odd. Not only was it untrue, but uncalled for. Perhaps he was being prickly as he guessed he was about be jocked off the Board of England’s 2018 World Cup bid. Or maybe it was because I was occasionally critical of some of his policies on the less fashionable sport and his dismissive treatment the much-missed Panathlon to accommodate the politically-motivated UK School Games.


By and large marathon man Caborn wasn't a bad Sports Minister. Neither, in my view, was one of his Labour predecessors, Tony Banks, the spikiest and most outspoken of them all and always a joy to deal with. When I was sports editor of The Observer I once asked him whether, as a rival newspaper was suggesting, it was true that he was supporting a proposed move by a Welsh MP to ban head punches in boxing. He said he had not even read the proposal. So would he give me an on-the-record comment on the idea? "On the record?" he queried. "Yes".

 

"Effing bollocks!”
 

The late Banksy loved boxing, even though he declined an invitation  to speak at the Boxing Writers' Club dinner. The reason: it was a stag do, no women allowed. The Minister thought that a no-no, and as it happened, I agreed.


I would love to have been allowed to ask one of favourite Sports Ministers, Kate Hoey, to be my guest. Kate was a big boxing fan, too, particularly of the amateur game at club level.

 

A disciple of Denis Howell, she proved a terrific Minister with her devotion to grass roots sport, one of he best we've ever had but viciously stabbed in the back by Tony Blair after the Premier League's Sir Dave Richards, among others, blew in his ear because of her supposed antipathy towards the great god Footy.
 

The Sports Minister most associated with boxing was little Lord Moynihan then plain Colin Moynihan, a former bantamweight boxing Blue at Oxford and famously once barred by the ABA blazers for sparring with the pros at London's Thomas A'Becket gym.

 

He is now chairman of the British Olympic Association, of course, and at the last Commonwealth Games so keen was he to see the fisticuffs that he dashed straight from the airport, bags and all, and breathlessly dumped himself beside me in the media seats to savour the action at Melbourne's boxing arena. Like fellow sporting peer Lord Seb Coe (who has served as a  steward of the Board of Control), he is a boxing nut.
 

Moreover, he cheerfully endured having is own ears boxed by Margaret Thatcher on several occasions.
 

By comparison, the depressingly long line of Tory Sports Ministers who preceded and followed him under Thatcher and then John  Major were real down-the-bill journeymen: Eldon Griffiths,  Neil Macfarlane,  Hector Munro, Robert Key, Iain "Deep" Sproat, Richard Tracey and Robert Atkins. None, as I recall, having any particular affinity with boxing or boxing clever in the job themselves. And, lest we forget, the first-ever Sports Minister was Lord Hailsham, who rang a bell - though not a boxing one.
 

Luckily the man who, it seems, is likely to be the next Conservative Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, is a a bit of aficionado too. He boxed at Sandhurst, and spoke punchily at this year's Boxing Writers’ Club dinner. A top man, Hugh, and if the Tories get in then sport and the Olympics will be in good hands.
 

But back to last boxing Oscars. Another notable politico present was Lord Tom Pendry, long-time Labour Shadow Minister for sport but surprisingly gazumped for the post when Blair appointed Tony Banks, Some say Pendry was the best Sports Minister we never had. The young Pendry was taught boxing by a Benedictine monk and, like Moynihan, became an Oxford Blue, and eventually a Services champion with the RAF. He has also served on the Boxing Board.


The gathering of the political bigwigs was a sure sign that boxing is back in the public eye, thanks to, among others, giant-killer David Haye, who smilingly signed some 300 autographs during the dinner, albeit somewhat shakily with his fractured right hand in plaster. That's the difference between fighters and footballers. They are the real pros.


There was a bonus for the amateurs, too when the world super-middleweight champion Carl Froch was named Boxer of the Year. Froch is trained by Robert McCracken. newly-appointed as performance director and head coach to the GB Olympic squad.
 

And while we're in boxing mode, just for fun here is my bunch of five, a ranking of sports ministers I have known and loved (well, some of them). In descending order: 1 - Denis Howell, 2 - Kate Hoey, 3- Colin Moynihan, 4 - Richard Caborn, 5 - Tony Banks.


I haven't included present incumbent Gerry Sutcliffe because, while he he is doing a decent job, he keeps a low profile and seems in need of  tips on how to raise it. Perhaps that's why he was chatting so earnestly to the Hayemaker.

 

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics and scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire, and is a former chairman of the Boxing Writers’ Club.


Mike Rowbottom: Torvill and Dean's moment of perfection lives on

Duncan Mackay

December 4 - The news that Kelly Holmes has topped a poll to find the favourite British sportswoman of the last 25 years is grand - but not surprising.

 

Five years after she effectively concluded her athletics career by winning the Olympic 800 and 1500 metres titles in Athens, that transforming achievement, and perhaps the look of demented disbelief as she crossed the line for the first of those victories, clearly remain vivid in popular memory.
 

But what was most interesting about the research conducted by the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) from a sample of over 2,000 UK people was that Holmes's triumphs, although earning her the individual vote, had to give best in the second category of Iconic Moments in the last 25 years of British women’s sport to the one which secured Winter Olympic gold a full quarter of a century ago.
 

Strictly speaking the credit for top billing must be shared - Jayne Torvill was one hell of a competitor, but even she could not have won her Olympic ice dance title at the 1984 Sarajevo Games without her partner Christopher Dean.


Their distant, extended flourish to the slowly unwinding music of Ravel's Bolero, in a city doomed to the ravage of civil war, has an enduring appeal in the national consciousness.
 

Not, of course, that it is the only relatively distant sporting achievement by a British sportswoman to be recognised here.
 

Sally Gunnell earns third place in the individual list, and ninth in the performances, with her 400m hurdles victory at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
 

That disciplined, technical performance, which took her clear of the straggling challenge of America’s gaudily-attired favourite, Sandra Farmer-Patrick, was the start of a two-year period in which the farmer's daughter from Essex was unbeatable.
 

A personal memory of Gunnell is from 1994 as she sat beneath the statue of Lasse Viren that stands close to the Olympic stadium in Helsinki where she had just completed a grand slam of titles by adding the final element of the European title. She was world record holder too.
 

For two solid years, the sight of her upright form arriving at the first set of hurdles in the final straight meant just one thing: imminent victory. Gunnell’s high hurdles background meant no one had a more economical technique. And the work she did with coach, Bruce Longden, combined with her own stubborn nature, meant no one was going to out run her. The woman was unbeatable.
 

Inevitably the sequence had to end, and by the time she arrived in Atlanta to defend her title her challenge had been undermined by an injury that eventually saw her carried tearfully from the Olympic track.
 

There were tears at the Olympics too for another performer who obviously has a lasting place in the public psyche. Tessa Sanderson's emotion upon winning the javelin title at the 1984 Los Angeles Games was tangibly evident as she stood on top of the rostrum, and that image must surely have played a big part in her inclusion as an individual at number nine, and in the iconic moments list as number ten.

 

Again, though I did not witness her golden Olympic flourish, my favourite memory of Sanderson came six years later when, after winning her third Commonwealth title in Auckland, she returned to the mixed zone trailing clouds of righteous glory and laid into the Australian silver medallist, Sue Howland, who she believed should not have returned to the sport after serving a ban for steroid abuse. Sanderson was comfortably in the gold medal zone after, as well as during, her scheduled event.
 

Coincidentally, Sanderson and Gunnell retired on the same day in August 1997 during the World Championships in Athens. Thus, in the space of three hours, British athletics said goodbye to two of its greatest female competitors.
 

 

But what is it, you wonder, that makes those moments on ice in Sarajevo so truly iconic?
 

It helped, I suppose, that it was perfection – at least, it earned a perfect round of maximum marks from the judges.
 

The routine and the music proved to be a sublime match. And the romance of the dance was supplemented by wishful thinking on a countrywide basis about a corresponding romance between the two competitors.
 

Again, I wasn’t there. Like millions of Britons, I experienced the Bolero performance – again and again – on television.
 

But ten years later, when Torvill and Dean came out of retirement to have another crack at the Olympics, I was there. The effect of their re-emergence was enormous. Imagine if Eric Cantona were to stage a comeback at Old Trafford, or Seb Coe and Steve Ovett were to return to the track.
 

The public impact their return engendered was a measure of the impact they had made back in 1984. As it turned out, having cruised perfectly through the national championships to a background of swooning noises, T&D found inevitably, that the world had moved on in their absence as they warmed-up for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics by entering the European Championships in Copenhagen a month earlier.
 

Although they won in Copenhagen, they did so almost on a technicality ahead of the exuberant Russian pair of Oksana Gritschuk and Evgeny Platov, who won the free dance section, and - as the British pair probably knew in their bones before they left Denmark for Norway - went on to take the Olympic gold, with the Britons, resembling a beautiful vintage car, having to settle for bronze.


Before they left Copenhagen, the still, just, golden pair were asked if they would have altered their comeback routine had they known how the judging nuances had changed in their absence. They responded in unison, but for once they were at cross-purposes. "Perhaps" said Torvill. "Yes" said Dean.
 

It was too late. But, as this poll indicates, it didn't matter. Sarajevo was enough for history.

 

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.


Sue Tibballs: Running towards a gold standard in women's sport

Duncan Mackay

Today is the 25th Birthday of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF). To celebrate, we are launching a new report - Celebrating Silver, Going for Gold - which provides an overview of a quarter century of records from women’s sport.

As well as being a good excuse to look back at some outstanding achievements, this milestone in our life as a campaigning charity also provides an apt moment to pause, and consider what more needs to be done.

When WSFF was born, in 1984, women were not invited to compete in the marathon, the 5,000 metres, the triple jump, the pole vault, the hammer throw, the steeplechase, or boxing at the Olympic Games.

There was no women's Tour de France. No women's football World Cup. Britain had never hosted an international women's rugby game.

A female face had never presented Grandstand or offered commentary on Match of the Day. There were no women at the top of Premier League football clubs (or the First Division, as it was then). No female football referees. No female football agents. The Royal and Ancient had never allowed women onto its course or into its locker rooms. Women were not allowed into the MCC. No women sat on the Board of the English Cricket Board. A woman had never been named in Wisden's top cricketers of the year.

Back then, women were not able to play professionally in any team sport. And if you were the winning woman at Wimbledon, you received less prize money than the winning man.

These are just some of the things that have changed in the last 25 years. And some of it more recently than many might think – you’ll have to take a look at our birthday report Celebrating Silver, Going for Gold to find out when these "firsts" took place.

Also, 25 years ago we had not witnessed the amazing successes of our brilliant female athletes and sports stars – starting with Tessa Sanderson and Jayne Torvill in 1984 some of the amazing women we have enjoyed watching since then include Laura Davies, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Liz McColgan, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis, Shirley Robertson, Paula Radcliffe, Dame Kelly Holmes, Gail Emms, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Kelly Smith, Claire Taylor, Chrissie Wellington, Nicole Cooke, Victoria Pendleton, Christine Ohuruogu, Rebecca Adlington, Ellie Simmonds, Sarah Storey and Jessica Ennis.

Amazing women, and amazing achievements, one and all. 

Of all of these women, the one that the British public think is the stand out star of the last 25 years is Kelly Holmes (pictured), and for many of those we interviewed for our report, her wide-eyed amazement at her own success has stuck out as the most iconic female sporting moment of the last quarter century.

Since then, Kelly has worked tirelessly to use her profile to encourage more girls to get into sport, and to raise the profile of women’s sport in the UK. A fitting winner. Congratulations, Kelly. So, much has changed in the British sports sector. And women's sport has produced some amazing athletes and sporting moments. Is there much left to do?

Well, today only five per cent of all sports media coverage is devoted to women's sport; women's sport receives a fraction of the financial investment; and only one in five sports leaders are women – there are still no women represented on the governing bodies of the Football Association or British Cycling to name just two. We also still need to persuade Amir Khan that boxing is not a sport that should be left to men. And help Michael Stich understand that female tennis players are not just there to sell sex.

Some of these challenges are easily fixable - appointing women onto sports Boards or opening up the membership of sports clubs is not difficult to do if the current decision-makers were willing. Even changing less progressive minds about the validity and value of women’s sport is do-able with some persistent persuasion.
But growing the profile and revenue for British women’s sport from its currently low base is a much bigger and tougher challenge. And without the profile, the money won't come in. And without the role models, girls won’t get the sports bug and grow up dreaming of being a sports star as so many boys do.

However, conditions are ripe for further change. With 2012 fast approaching and an obesity crisis looming, British sport has never before been so much in the limelight. And women's sport at the moment is on fire - from grassroots football to elite success.

We at the WSFF are fighting fit and punching way above our weight. When the Prime Minister re-launched the charity with the extra "F" in 2007, we knew we could attract powerful backing. Since then, we have enjoyed fantastic support from some of the most senior men and women from British sport and beyond, including athletes, administrators and those in the commercial side of sport. Some of them are represented on our Commission on the Future of Women's Sport, launched in 2008 with a remit to unlock the potential of British women’s sport.

It's key interests are leadership, media profile and investment. We have set ourselves some far-reaching targets for 2015: 25 per cent of sports media coverage to be devoted to women’s sport, 30 per cent female Board representation, and double the amount of private sector investment.

Please do keep in touch with the Commission through our website and help carry its work out to the world. We might be perfectly formed, but we are a small charity, so rely entirely on the help of our supporters to ensure we achieve our goals. So, gather round to blow the candles out on the cake and then let's get back to work making even more strides forward for British women's sport.

Cheers!

Sue Tibballs is the chief executive of the WSFF. She began her career at the Women's Environmental Network in 1992, founded the Women's Communication Centre think tank, before joining The Body Shop as campaigns manager.


Sally Davis: BT is incredibly proud to be associated with the Paralympics

Duncan Mackay

Today we're celebrating a key point in time as it's 1,000 days to go until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. At BT we're really excited and working very hard to prepare the communications infrastructure that will deliver a range of vital communications services and applications to help the Games run as smoothly as possible.

 

We're also recruiting BT volunteers to provide support during the annual BT Paralympic World Cup that serves as an excellent platform for our top disabled athletes to prepare.

 

I have to say that we are incredibly proud to be associated and involved with the 2012 Paralympic Games.

 

Not everyone realises this but at BT we have demonstrated our commitment to disability in the UK through our long association with the Paralympic Movement. We were the British Paralympic Association's first commercial partner in 1989 and we're a Partner of ParalympicsGB as part of our London 2012 Partnership. We are also the title sponsor for the BT Paralympic World Cup for the next three years.

 

The dedication, skill and talent of Paralympians is amazing. BT supports ParalympicsGB because we want our athletes to be the best they can be - and the same goes for our people inside BT. 

 

Many employees have told me how truly motivated they've been when they had the chance to meet some of the coaches and hear from our Paralympic Ambassadors - Oscar Pistorius, Ade Adepitan, Nathan Stephens, Lee Pearson and of course BT's very own Paralympian footballer, Richard Fox.

 

Our employees have been, and continue to be, truly inspired and frankly in awe of what these individuals have accomplished both on and off the sporting field. Their achievements are a great source of encouragement and motivation for our employees during what has been a difficult time for all of us during this period of recession.  Many employees are looking forward to getting involved in the Paralympic Games as a volunteer and will be signing up to take part.

 

As well as our association with the 2012 Paralympic Games we run a campaign called 'Including You'. This initiative brings together everything BT does on disability and inclusion from improving disabled customers' experience of BT's services to product design and policies and practices that allow disabled employees to deliver their best.  

 

Disability and Inclusion is not a specialist subject or something we can leave to the experts. We all have a part to play in creating products, services and a workplace that can be enjoyed by everyone and in which everyone can participate and contribute.

 

Statistics tell us that a third of all people in the UK are disabled or close to someone who is* and there are 650 million disabled people worldwide**. These are big numbers that cannot be ignored.  We should all play a part in making disability something that is normal and not something that is necessarily special or different. 

 

This 1,000 Days To Go milestone seems a good time to reflect on the bigger picture of Disability and Inclusion within the UK. The fact that London will host the 2012 Paralympic Games provides this country with a wonderful opportunity and, as well as considering whether we are doing all we can to raise the profile of Paralympic athletes and sport, we also need to look at whether we can do more to make disability a business-as-usual activity in our day-to-day work and home lives.


*ONS Census 2001
** United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2007

 

Sally Davis is CEO of BT Wholesale and is the pan-BT Disability & Inclusion Champion. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup.  For more information click here.


Sally Davis: BT is incredibly proud to be associated with the Paralympics

Duncan Mackay

Today we're celebrating a key point in time as it's 1,000 days to go until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. At BT we're really excited and working very hard to prepare the communications infrastructure that will deliver a range of vital communications services and applications to help the Games run as smoothly as possible.

 

We're also recruiting BT volunteers to provide support during the annual BT Paralympic World Cup that serves as an excellent platform for our top disabled athletes to prepare.

 

I have to say that we are incredibly proud to be associated and involved with the 2012 Paralympic Games.

 

Not everyone realises this but at BT we have demonstrated our commitment to disability in the UK through our long association with the Paralympic Movement. We were the British Paralympic Association's first commercial partner in 1989 and we're a Partner of ParalympicsGB as part of our London 2012 Partnership. We are also the title sponsor for the BT Paralympic World Cup for the next three years.

 

The dedication, skill and talent of Paralympians is amazing. BT supports ParalympicsGB because we want our athletes to be the best they can be - and the same goes for our people inside BT. 

 

Many employees have told me how truly motivated they've been when they had the chance to meet some of the coaches and hear from our Paralympic Ambassadors - Oscar Pistorius, Ade Adepitan, Nathan Stephens, Lee Pearson and of course BT's very own Paralympian footballer, Richard Fox.

 

Our employees have been, and continue to be, truly inspired and frankly in awe of what these individuals have accomplished both on and off the sporting field. Their achievements are a great source of encouragement and motivation for our employees during what has been a difficult time for all of us during this period of recession.  Many employees are looking forward to getting involved in the Paralympic Games as a volunteer and will be signing up to take part.

 

As well as our association with the 2012 Paralympic Games we run a campaign called 'Including You'. This initiative brings together everything BT does on disability and inclusion from improving disabled customers' experience of BT's services to product design and policies and practices that allow disabled employees to deliver their best.  

 

Disability and Inclusion is not a specialist subject or something we can leave to the experts. We all have a part to play in creating products, services and a workplace that can be enjoyed by everyone and in which everyone can participate and contribute.

 

Statistics tell us that a third of all people in the UK are disabled or close to someone who is* and there are 650 million disabled people worldwide**. These are big numbers that cannot be ignored.  We should all play a part in making disability something that is normal and not something that is necessarily special or different. 

 

This 1,000 Days To Go milestone seems a good time to reflect on the bigger picture of Disability and Inclusion within the UK. The fact that London will host the 2012 Paralympic Games provides this country with a wonderful opportunity and, as well as considering whether we are doing all we can to raise the profile of Paralympic athletes and sport, we also need to look at whether we can do more to make disability a business-as-usual activity in our day-to-day work and home lives.


*ONS Census 2001
** United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2007

 

Sally Davis is CEO of BT Wholesale and is the pan-BT Disability & Inclusion Champion. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup.  For more information click here.


Tom Degun: Why I think netball should be in the Olympics

Duncan Mackay

I will admit, when I turned up at Bath University to train with reigning netball Superleague champions TeamBath, I wasn't all that prepared.


Nor did I know an awful amount about the sport other than what I had seen on the school playground (which is not a lot in every sense of the term).
 

I was rather tired from a hard day (yes, pull out the violins) and hadn't really given the event too much thought.

 

But who cared?

 

I was a reasonably fit guy. I go for regular jogs and play a bit of six-a-side football most Sundays. And after all, I was only taking on a bunch of girls!

 

How hard could it be?

 

So it was with the arrogant attitude that I emerged from the pristine changing rooms kitted out in my tracksuit and ready to strut my stuff and show the netballers how a real athlete does it!

 

Being the only male in the vicinity (a fact I surprisingly wasn't overly bothered about) I was prepared for an easy ride when the first drill was announced by TeamBath coach Jess Garland: a warm-up game of Frisbee.

 

I was in easy-street!

 

We split into two teams and netball rules applied meaning that you were not allowed to move with the Frisbee in hand and had to get to the opponents end to score.

 

So we began.

 

And then it suddenly dawned on me and far too late in the day; these girls were serious athletes.

 

They move around count with lightning pace and the reflexes of the most agile slip-fielder.

 

I thought that they were cheating and moving when the had the Frisbee but they simple caught and passed so fast, it gave the false illusion that they were not playing by the rules.

 

I started foolishly running around trying to catch the Frisbee but at the pace it was travelling, I could barely see it let alone lay a finger on it.

 

But then my increasingly battered pride took over, demanding that I put in more effort to avoid utter humiliation.

 

So I dug deep, wiped the reservoir of sweat from my brow and increased my tempo, managing even to catch the Frisbee once (though I also missed a catch spectacularly at one point where the Frisbee careered into the side of my head).

 

My problems however, quickly multiplied as a ball was added into the mix.
 

I didn't know whether to go for the Frisbee or the ball and as a result, ended up stupidly turning in circles on the spot.

 

Then - to my immense relief - the whistle blew singling the end of the practice.
 

"Excellent," I thought, "time for a drink and a much needed five minute breather."
 

No such luck unfortunately.

 

This wasn't the rugby training I had become accustomed to during my playing days with the charismatic but limited – particularly when it came to the cardiovascular department - University of Bedfordshire; this was training with a netball team who were comfortable victors in last years National Superleague Tournament.

 

Unlike me, they did not require rest between strenuous exercise and barely looked out-of-breath from the surprisingly vigorous warm-up as we moved on to a passing exercise which involved three attackers attempting to score past two defenders.
 

Needless to say, I did not excel in the drill and got about a close to scoring as Hull City to the Premier League title.  

 

We moved on again to another passing drill which involved quickly manoeuvring the ball around in groups of three but at this point, I was seeing stars due to my immense fatigue at the intensity of the activity.

 

They say that in boxing "Speed Kills"; well that is certainly a saying that can be applied to netball as I saw girls stretching dramatically to catch balls than can be more accurately described as fast-paced white blurs.

 

Despite my regular self-criticism, I am no slouch and have participated in a few physical sports in my time including rugby union and league, football, boxing, tennis and basketball and I can assure you that netball is faster than any of these.

 

The hand-eye coordination involved is mind-numbing and the handling skill puts some of the best scrum-halves I have played with to shame.

 

If you don’t believe me, tune in to Sky Sports on the evening of December 10 for the first match of the new Superleague where TeamBath take on Northern Thunder and see for yourself.

 

Better still, go along to the Sports Training Village at Bath at 8pm and have a watch because I can find no adjective to describe the blistering pace that is a feature of the game at this level.

 

We ended the training with a match and with one last heroic surge, I valiantly tried to mark my opposite number.
But I would have had more success trying to catch my own shadow as I could not get close to her so fast was she around the court and so quick was her ominous change of direction.

 

Like I said, "Speed Kills".

 

I finished the training session with a few aches and pains but I think it is my ego that will take the most time to recover as I had the obvious truth thrust upon me that there are girls who can annihilate me in physical activity.

 

And tremendous physical activity at that.

 

 

 

I never thought I would hear myself say this but I see no non-Olympic sport more worthy of a place on the programme than netball.

 

It is a fantastic game encompassing speed, skill, power, accuracy and finesse and I see no reason why it would not make a worthy addition to the Olympics.

 

Although netball will unfortunately not be featuring at the London 2012 Olympics or even the Rio 2016 Games, 2020 remains a strong possibility as up to and including Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he would like to see the most popular girl's sport in the country feature at the greatest sporting event.

 

In fact, TeamBath and England international Eboni Beckford-Chambers organised a facebook petition group which over 40,000 people joined to support the inclusion of netball at the Olympics Games as revealed to me that "support has come from no less than Dame Kelly Holmes, Mark Ramprakash and Cherie Blair".

 

And Garland told me: "Guys that I know that have come have given it a try or watch the game realise just how fast it is and how much skill is involved."

 

I was no exception.

 

So if you get the chance to watch the Superleague, make sure you do and then bang the drum for the sport's readily justifiable inclusion at the Olympic Games.

 

After my enlightening yet humbling experience, I certainly will.
 

Tom Degun is a reporter with insidethegames.biz


David Owen: When he thought things had gone wrong for London 2012

Duncan Mackay

It was one of those moments when you don't quite believe what your ears are telling you.

 

There we were, we Olympic scriveners, ensconced in the plush London offices of some accountancy firm, trying our hardest to stay alert and focused at one of the periodic press conferences given when the International Olympic Committee's Coordination Commission (COCOM) is in town.

 

This is the body that monitors preparations for the London 2012 Summer Games on the IOC's behalf.

 

These events have acquired a reputation as the dullest of assignments over the years largely because, from the perspective of everyone except those picking up the bill, everything has been going so well.

 

No news really is good news as far as COCOM is concerned.

 

So, as I say, there we were listening to COCOM chairman Denis Oswald's introduction, journalistic expectations pitched appropriately low, when the avuncular IOC member from Neuchatel starts talking about a "very tense meeting”"

 

Pardon me?

 

True, Oswald also made the habitual glowing references to the state of preparations – phrases such as "very positive" and "we really start feeling the Games taking shape" jump out from my notebook.

 

Nonetheless, it was no surprise when the first question from the floor (we are a cussed and contrary bunch) asked Oswald to elaborate on what he meant by "tense".

 

A pregnant pause.

 

"I meant 'intense'.”" Cue a palpable release of tension around the room. "I apologise for my poor English [de dum de dum de dum]."

 

And there, after barely three minutes, disappeared our hopes of a story with a cartoon-like 'Phut'.

 

To be fair, as those who have read my colleague Tom Degun's admirable report will know, there was half a story, in the shape of the ongoing – but hopefully soon-to-be-concluded - saga over the sports that are now to be staged at Wembley Arena, on the other side of town from the Olympic Park, to save the cost of building a new temporary venue.

 

But in the shipping forecast of Olympic news, that ranks as a gentle sou'-westerly.

 

My purpose in bringing this up is not to poke fun at Oswald's language skills, which are considerable.

 

Nor is it to curry sympathy for we hacks as we labour to bring you the first draft of  history. (Oh all right, just a little.)

 

Mainly, it is because I sense that an opportunity is being missed here.

 

As these things go, this was a reasonably distinguished gathering – the London Organising Committee top brass, high-ranking IOC members and officials and most of the top London-based journalists in the field.

 

Yet the whole event had about as much life as Monty Python’s parrot.

 

I suspect we all knew with 95 per cent certainty that this was how it would pan out, yet we dutifully turned up and fulfilled our allotted roles, like characters in a ritualistic drama.

 

Why, I wonder, doesn't somebody in London or, more likely, Lausanne take it upon themselves to use these occasions to inject some mildly worthwhile content into the proceedings?

 

Clearly there would be times when such efforts were wasted.

 

Not every COCOM meeting is destined to be dull; I imagine some in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Games were positively lively.

 

When a burning issue does pop up, there will be no getting away from it and that's what the media will concentrate on.

 

But events such as this are essentially a waste of everyone’s time.

 

Indeed, it could be worse than that if unscrupulous, or more likely harassed, journos start trying to manufacture stories where none exist.

 

I am not suggesting that this is the right forum for the IOC to make its most earth-shattering announcements.

 

But if briefings were arranged on, say, 'How the movement is weathering the economic crisis', or 'What is set to change as a result of last month's Olympic Congress', at least we would have something to fall back on when the press conference yields merely another satisfactory progress report.

 

I’m just saying.

 

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938.


Mike Rowbottom: Badminton joins in the passion play

Duncan Mackay

Whenever I hear the word passion in a sporting context I release the safety catch on my revolver.
 

Obviously I don't have an actual revolver. I' m talking here of a notional revolver.
 

And the notional safety catch gets taken off, because, like "culture", passion spells trouble.
 

"Passion", for example, was the excuse forwarded by John Terry for Didier Drogba’s crazed rant at the referee following last season's infamous Champions League exit by Chelsea at the hands of Barcelona. OK, the word itself wasn't used by the Chelsea captain, but that was his general point, and a journalist filled in the blank. We are often helpful in that way.
 

Subsequently, if reports are to be believed, Drogba was moved to apologise for his "passion" because it had embarrassed his son.
 

"Passion" is the managerial excuse for a brutal tackle. "Passion" is the slithery justification for the spectator who think that paying to attend an event justifies their pouring verbal poison onto it from the first minute to the last.
 

In the sporting context, "passion" is all too often an excuse for excess, whether from those who perform or those who watch. The French justice system did away with the defence of  "crime passionel" 30 years ago. Not so sport.
 

But then, sport attracts hyperbole.
 

Sport is Hyperbole HQ.  Sport has Hyperbole in the House – Big Style. Sport comes Home to Hyperbole.
 

On  rare occasions, the hyperbole can correspond to something like the reality. Rio's recent victory in the contest to host the 2016 Olympics, for instance, was established with the slogan: Live Your Passion.
 

Oh dear. And yet the proponents of this bid addressed IOC members with such palpable passion that their slogan seemed justified. Well, almost.
 

No sport seems immune to over-egging itself.
 

You'd think that badminton would be one of the sensible ones, wouldn’t you?
 

Badminton - as played in village halls throughout England by the sprightly middle-aged. Prime advantage thereof – unlike a tennis ball, when you whack a shuttlecock out of court you don’t have to go miles to retrieve it.
 

I could think of a couple of slogans that would suit.
 

"Badminton – really good fun."
 

There's one.
 

Here's another.
 

"Badminton – not bad at all."
 

Again, does the job.
 

But who am I kidding? We all know that, like so many games that were once the domain of those proving they were Still Good At Their Age, badminton is now the domain of dynamic youth.
 

An Olympic sport indeed, which is more than long-suffering squash can say.
 

And as far as Britain is concerned, a sport in which its top performers have achieved at the highest level, with Simon Archer and Joanne Goode taking bronze at the Sydney Games and with Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms getting one step further up the podium in Athens four years later before winning All-England and world titles in the space of the next two seasons.
 

More recently, the mixed doubles pair of Anthony Clark and Donna Kellogg (pictured), beaten by their friends and training companions in the 2006 world final, have stepped up to take the European title.
 

Since 2000, Badminton England - with the assistance of Lottery funding - has nurtured its players at their Milton Keynes HQ by surrounding them with some of the world’s leading coaches from Korea, China and Indonesia.
 

Three years ago, the national body felt emboldened to publish a mission statement entitled "The 100-Point Plan – a decade of delivery."
 

The intention was not, as it might first appear, a takeover of the troubled Royal Mail. It was for England to become, by 2016, "the No.1 playing nation in the world."


With Emms, and this week Kellogg, retiring, that lofty ambition seems some way from being realised. In the current world rankings, the flag of St George appears only once in the top 10 of any category, with Robertson and Clark ranking 10th in the men's doubles.
 

That said, the presence of young talents such as Chris Adcock, Robert Blair, Gabrielle White, former European junior champion Rajiv Ouseph and Jenny Wallwork, the 22-year-old who has replaced Emms as Robertson’s mixed doubles partner, offers genuine hope of resurgence in time for London 2012.
 

Replacing China or Indonesia as the world’s top dogs still looks like a bit of a stretch, but then – what's the point of having an unambitious ambition?
 

I fear, however, that the passion thing has left its dread mark on this sport. Evidence for the prosecution – the Badminton England slogan: "Play it, love it, live it."


Play it. Of course.
 

Love it. Why not?
 

But live it? How do you live a sport?
 

I think Kellogg's well-considered course of action after a decade of international success sounds more sensible.
 

As she steps away to concentrate more of her sporting energy on following her local football club, Derby County, the bemedalled 31-year-old’s personal slogan would be: "Play It. Love It. Live By It. Leave It."


Now that's sensible.

 

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.


Alan Hubbard: Boxing is on the ropes but will come back fighting

Duncan Mackay

No Olympic sport, with the possible exception of financially-savaged shooting, has suffered more vicissitudes since Beijing than amateur boxing. 

 

The brutal axing of Terry Edwards, the most successful coach in GB history, was followed by the defection to the professionals of six of the original eight Olympians with two of them, plus Edwards taking legal action against the governing body, the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA)

 

This amid substantial upheaval and reorganisation with the formation of the umbrella body, the British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA) under the stewardship of former Sport England supremo Derek Mapp.  He controversially appointed  Kevin Hickey, out of the game for 20 years, as performance director. 

 

Hickey in turn brought in Kelvyn Travis as head coach thus splitting the two jobs done by Edwards. Both have now departed within a few months, Travis just over a week ago when professional trainer Robert McCracken, a former British middleweight champion was hired to replace Hickey. McCracken then decided he wanted to be head coach too, so out went Travis. 

 

In the meantime the new look GB squad had returned medal-less from the World Championships and there was obvious discontent. Ronnie Heffron, a brilliant welterweight kid tipped to star in 2012 became disenchanted with the set-up and signed for Frank Warren. BABA are now embroiled in a battle for £16,000 in compensation for money claimed to have been invested in him.   


Turbulent times indeed for amateur boxing, although that now is something of a misnomer as while all this was happening the new World Series of Boxing was formed allowing, from next year, all 'amateurs' to be paid like pros. 

 

Thankfully, however there are now signs that the sport is coming off the ropes and fighting back. There have been some heartening results in international tournaments, notably against the USA who were whitewashed in three engagements in America and then a double-header in London when GB won the inaugural Atlantic Cup with 7-1 and 7-3 wins respectively against a once-great amateur boxing nation now in serious decline.

 

History was also made for the first time when women boxers appeared in the same tournament as men although dear old Sir Henry Cooper, a VIP guest at one of the events, pointedly made his excuses and left when the girls were doing rather more than powdering their noses. Like Amir Khan he has no liking for the women’s game.

 

That's tough because in terms of women’s boxing, Britain is now well ahead of the field in organisation and preparation for 2012, with some outstanding medal prospects too. 
 

All this is a firm basis on which Mapp and McCracken can build for the future, especially as there is some genuine talent to be nurtured once the world light-welter bronze medallist, Bradley Saunders and bantamweight Luke Campbell, Britain's first Euro champ for nearly half-a-century recover from hand injuries, plus flyweight Khalid Yafai, a former world junior champion who boxed in Beijing and has remained stoically loyal to the amateur ranks. 

 

I also like the look of Martin Ward (pictured), and 18-year-old product of  the Repton club, who won the European Youth tournament in  Finland this year without conceding a point. He's my tip to do at least an Amir Khan in London given the opportunity.
 

I know 40-year-old McCracken from the pro game, both as a gutsy fighter and subsequent mentor to Carl Froch the WBC super-middleweight champion.  He is a top man. Moving McCracken up from the consultancy role he shared with another ex-pro champion, Richie Woodall - who I understand also fancied the job McCracken now has - may prove to be Mapp's smartest move for there was growing pressure from both within the Sheffield based camp and outside for the return of Edwards. 

 

There are many – including a number of current GB boxers – who still believe getting shot of Edwards was a huge mistake. Other heads, not his, should have rolled because of the disgraceful behaviour of the ABA towards him and the team in Beijing, as we scribes writers who were there will testify. But as there is no chance of Edwards returning, as Roy Keane might say:  "Get over it." Time to move on.
 

My concern now is how McCracken is going to handle his dual role, plus looking after Froch and the handful of other fighters he trains, especially when the WSB league begins, for next year will also see the next phase of the 'Super-Six' tournament in which Froch will need to be prepared for up-coming world title bouts against Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward. That, of course is Mapp's problem. The BABA chair apparently has abandoned plans to appoint a chief executive and will himself shoulder some of the administrative load. 
 

Now I happen to like Mapp and wish him well in his endeavours to bring some glory to Team GB in 2012. I misjudged him when he was brought in as chairman of Sport England believing he was another Labour-luvvie, there to do the Government’s bidding. I was wrong – it was clear he set out to do a decent job, championing the grass-roots of sport, and when the Government started to interfere he had the bottle to stand up to the then Culture Secretary, a smarmy know-it-all named James Purnell, and quite rightly told him what to do with his chairmanship. 

 

It was during his spell with Sport England that Mapp, a self-made multi-millionaire businessman, discovered boxing, a sport he admitted that hitherto he knew nothing about. He set out to learn and I was instrumental in introducing him to Paul King, the chief executive of the ABA. Now he is running the show.  Remarkable?  Yes. 

 

But I have always found Mapp to be up front, straight-talking and not an awkward questions ducker; unlike some sports administrators, he will always call you back when there is a contentious issue to be raised. My one disappointment was that he was misguided - and I use the phrase advisedly – to ko Edwards. 

 

I have covered amateur boxing since I was a 17 year old cub reporter on a weekly newspaper in South London and never has the sport as better facilities, financial investment, and potential for development than it has now. But there are still things that need to be sorted and  UK Sport, the funding body, are keeping a watchful eye. 
 

There is some unseemly in-fighting in BABA's main constituent body, the ABA of England, whose President is Mapp's old mate Richard Caborn, the former Sports Minister.
 

The ABA chairman Keith Walters, a good bloke, is known to be unhappy in what he considers a lack of consultation regarding recent moves in relation to BABA. Caborn faces some stormy waters both with the dissent within the organisation and the Schools Amateur Boxing Association, who have petitioned political heavies such as the current Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe and Lord Tom Pendry, a former Services boxing champion, to examine the running of the ABA. When I saw Pendry at the recent House of Commons reception organised by BABA he warned: "There's going to be trouble ahead."


Whatever that is, let's hope it does not affect the people who matter most in this sport, those who take the blows. The boxers may now be getting the rewards, but they also deserve respect. Knowing Mapp and McCracken, I have no doubt both will ensure they get it.

 

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics and scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire, and is a former chairman of the Boxing Writers' Club. 


David Owen: An Olympic bid from Detroit would be an attractive proposition

Duncan Mackay

The air of irrepressible civic optimism belongs to another era.

"Everyone in our area supports the Olympic bid."

(No need yet, evidently, for demographically-balanced opinion polls to support the assertion.)

"We are a fiscally stable, Olympic-minded community."

I have been watching old promotional videos for Detroit’s unsuccessful bid to stage the 1968 Summer Olympics, awarded ultimately to Mexico City.

And a sobering experience it has been too.

How to relate the confidence, power and, yes, smugness exuding from these near half-century-old artefacts, with their references to "the city of champions" and "the American city whose products have revolutionised our way of living" to the much-diminished Detroit of today?

The Detroit of the 1960s, viewers were told, pooled "one of the world’s greatest reservoirs of organisational talent, the kind of men the country has…called on before to move mountains and who ask only, 'Where would you like them moved and by when?'"

Its industry was like "a stout heart within the city…the vital pulse-beat of technology and resources which has put the world on wheels".

While, for good measure, "the world’s largest freshwater beach" was "but minutes away from the heart of the city".

One of the films even parodied the Olympic flag with a Detroit flag composed of five "intermeshing gear-wheels".

I have been watching these relics for two reasons, well actually three, the first being that I am a certified Olympic anorak.

More importantly, I recently discovered that Detroit has tried harder than just about anywhere else on earth – even Istanbul - to bring the Games to the city, without ever once succeeding.

Most importantly of all, I would like to argue that there has never been a better time than the present to consider taking the Olympics there.

To take the second point first, Detroit tried seven times to land the Games between 1939 and 1966.

First time out, it gathered only two votes in its quest for the (aborted) 1944 Olympics, beating Lausanne (one), but losing out to Rome (11) and London (20).

In 1947, it mustered just two votes again, going out in the first round of a contest for the 1952 Games that was won comfortably by Helsinki.

Two years later, Detroit fared better, finishing fourth in a crowded nine-city field for the 1956 Olympics, with Melbourne ultimately prevailing over second-placed Buenos Aires by just one vote – 21 to 20. (Yes, the Games almost went to South America 60 years before Rio 2016).

In 1955, Detroit was up to third out of seven, behind Lausanne and Rome, the eventual 1960 host; while four years later, it was runner-up, albeit far behind Tokyo, the convincing winner.

That 1968 campaign brought its best showing of all, even though the 14 votes it garnered were still not enough to prevent Mexico from winning in the first round.

By 1966 in Rome, it was back to fourth and last in a race for the 1972 Games won by Munich on the second ballot.

Not long afterwards came the 1967 riot and Motor City’s Olympic dream was destroyed – for good, or so it appeared.

Now though, in a curious manner, the Olympic planets seem to be aligning in such a way as to make a Detroit candidacy a potentially attractive proposition.

For one thing, the United States Olympic Committee would probably benefit from eating some humble pie after the mistakes that undermined Chicago’s 2016 bid, confounding even the Obamas' eleventh-hour efforts to make up lost ground.

A good way of showing humility would be to ask the International Olympic Committee, in effect, to help fix an American city broken by the near-collapse of an industry on which it has depended virtually throughout the modern Olympic era.

For another thing, "legacy" has emerged in recent years as the Olympic buzz-word par excellence.

It has become, in the process, a much-abused term, but what a terrific legacy it would be if the Games could provide a platform for a city that has become a byword for rust-belt decay to diversify into new areas – 'clean' energy perhaps, or environmental clean-up technology.

After all, the city is scarcely bereft of assets: the car industry, even in its present state, remains a formidable nexus of engineering expertise, while nearby Ann Arbor harbours a world-class university.

Size might be an issue – but while the population of inner Detroit has fallen from two million in the 1950s to more like 900,000 today, greater Detroit still houses 3-4 million.

It might also be possible to involve the neighbouring Canadian city of Windsor in any Detroit Olympic bid.

The bi-national character of such a candidacy would help generate publicity and, I think, add a dash of panache and modernity.

I can imagine other bi-national bids emerging in years to come, perhaps from the Middle East, or even Europe, where Copenhagen-Malmö is an obvious candidate.

For all its deficiencies, Detroit retains in a wonderful phrase I came across in a Financial Times article "the bone structure of a great city".

Wouldn't it be something if the Olympic Movement could help it put new flesh on these bones

And think of the musical accompaniment!

The Detroit 1968 promotional films may be viewed by clicking here.

And here.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938.