One Year To Go To Tokyo 2020


Mike Rowbottom: I have a special gift - for losing money

Duncan Mackay

Ten pounds of my money, at 6-4, said that Andy Murray would beat Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-final.

You see, when you’ve got a gift, as I believe I have, you just know things. There’s no point in trying to analyse it.

So sure was I that this would not be money wasted that I also asked my not particularly friendly high street bookie if I could also put a tenner on Tomas Berdych to beat Murray in the final - but was told, with just a hint of pity, that such a bet was not possible as Berdych was still involved in his match with Djokovic.

I knew that. Did he think I didn’t know that? Surely that should have made the bet more audacious, less certain, and a bookie such as his good self should have been even more eager to take my money in the circumstances? Well…no.

As I write, a broadcast sigh from the other room, mingled with some real, first-hand sounds of human pain and frustration, tell me that our British winner has been revealed once again as a Scottish loser. And that the crumpled ten pound note I handed over earlier today will not be coming back to me with reinforcements. Bye bye Murray, try try again…

But the way I look at it is this. At least I didn’t put a tenner on Berdych beating Murray. So in a way, it’s honours even. I’ve lost nothing.

Apart from ten pounds, that is.

It’s gone the way of the fiver I had on England to beat Germany 1-0 and the fiver I had on the two sides being level after 90 minutes.

Although the way I look at it is that if the referee and his benighted linesman hadn’t found themselves calamitously unable to make the screamingly obvious judgement that Frank Lampard’s shot had bounced a yard over the line after hitting the crossbar, I may well have had my money.  2-2 at full-time. Then England going on to win 1-0. OK. Half my money.

It’s gone the way of the tenner I had on England to beat Slovenia 2-0. I was absolutely sure England would beat Slovenia 2-0. I could picture the scoreline: England 2, Slovenia 0. And England did indeed win. But they neglected to score the required second goal, even though they went close about four or five or six times…

Still. The way I look at it is this. It was a good bet. It had legs. It walked the walk, and it talked the talk, and respect was due to me for knowing the game, and reading it right.

But not right enough to save my money.

They say that money is the root of all evil. I don’t know about that. But I do believe that, when it comes to betting, success is the root of all failure.

My first ever proper bet, on a whim, formulated as I crossed the threshold of the bookies, was for Wimbledon (upwardly mobile Crazy Gang) to beat Liverpool (serial European champions) 1-0 in the 1988 FA Cup final, with Lawrie Sanchez (typically unlikely scoring hero in the manner of Sunderland’s Ian Porterfield, Ipswich’s fainting Roger Osbourne or Southampton’s Bobby Stokes) to score the only goal.



In the end, I had to settle for Wimbledon 1, Liverpool 0 with Sanchez scoring the first goal. Which was what happened. So - a lucrative punt.

And therein lay the stingalingaling. When I next had The Vibe, the unbeateable, unerring Vibe, it was for West Ham to beat Norwich in the League Cup semi-final. All the runes pointed towards another coup. West Ham lost by three goals, and it was not just their League Cup aspirations that were destroyed.

Fast forward to 2010. Oh my God, the years, the years. Anyway. 2010. England’s first World Cup group game. Only the United States. But group game, so historical precedent. England 0, Uruguay 0, 1966. Early joy unlikely.

Ten pounds on a 1-1 draw at 6-1. A sweetener to counterbalance poor Robert Green’s sickener.

Success. And the promise of more to come.

Fatal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a betting man. In betting terms, I smoke Freeman’s. So I won’t be putting my house on anything or anybody.

But ten pounds might, just might, sneak themselves onto Berdych, just in case he turns into the new Federer.

And the Vibe is telling me something else. It’s telling me to put ten pounds on a Scotsman to win the 2012 Olympic tennis title.

As John Lydon once sang: "I could be wrong. I could be right…"

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


Kate Walsh: Our aim is a gold medal at London 2012

Duncan Mackay

Hi, my name’s Kate Walsh, and I'm the current England and Great Britain women’s hockey captain. I've been playing in the senior international team since 1999 and have more than 230 international caps. Here's a brief insight into our preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games and an introduction to the GB women’s hockey squad.

Although only two players remain from the squad that represented Great Britain in Sydney 2000, there are few differences between the present team and the team playing back then in terms of characters.

That's one of the things I love so much about playing hockey - the different personalities coming together and everyone pushing towards a common goal. For this team that common goal is a gold medal at the London Olympic Games. We know that winning any international tournament is no mean feat, and we're pushing ourselves harder and harder.

The squad members have all recently moved to live closer to our base at Bisham Abbey in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, so we can train full-time together. That's around 20 hours a week, covering hockey sessions, weights sessions, speed and conditioning. But it’s not all hard work and no play.
 
We socialise together far more now than ever before, mainly because we live so close by. Tuesday night is pub quiz night at our local in Marlow, and there are plenty of DVD nights and meals out to celebrate team birthdays. I've really enjoyed getting to know some of the girls away from the stresses and strains of the hockey pitch, and in the long run I reckon it'll make us a stronger unit.

Our pub quiz geniuses are Emily Maguire, our Scottish defender, and Becky Herbert, who is currently out with an injury. Their general knowledge is amazing. I know for a fact that they are entirely happy on websites questioning them on the capital cities of Europe. We encourage them. Being competitive we love winning at anything and everything, including pub quizzes.

Full-time training is extremely hard work but we love playing hockey so much. For us, it isn’t a sacrifice but a choice. A number of players in the squad still juggle work and hockey training. We currently have a few teachers, a doctor, a sports scientist, a recruiter and quite a number of students. Although it's really difficult for them to manage, they feel they need this balance in their lives. Can you imagine completing 20 hours of training on top of your job?

For sheer exertion, one of the most ferocious exercises I’ve ever experienced was definitely training with the Royal Marines at their  base in Lympstone, Devon. That, without doubt, was one of the hardest things I have ever done of my life. Perhaps one of the most valuable too, but I wasn’t thinking that at the time as we ran across a gorse moor holding a stretcher piled high with heavy logs and ammunition boxes, knowing we couldn’t put them down for even a moment if we didn’t want to fail the test. I think most of us just fell down  when it was over.

So, we're extremely busy women, and it’s about to get a whole lot busier. This year is an important year with the Champion’s Trophy on home soil in Nottingham; the World Cup in Rosario, Argentina, and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The Champion’s Trophy will see the best six nations in the world compete for that top spot.

England take on Argentina, Netherlands, Germany, China and New Zealand.

It’s going to be fantastic to be playing at home with a noisy, supportive crowd behind us; hopefully, it’ll give us that added edge.

From Nottingham we’ll have three weeks of final preparations before heading out to Rosario for the World Cup. If selected, this will be my third World Cup. It'll definitely be one to remember, as the huge fanatical crowds in Argentina will provide an inspirational backdrop for some excellent hockey. England will be looking to improve on our last two finishes of fifth and seventh.

Finally in October, England, Scotland and Wales will head out to Delhi to take part in the Commonwealth Games. The British players will have a rare opportunity to face each other on opposing teams.

We're all looking forward to some big challenges ahead of us this summer and have just sharpened our teeth with a four-match series against the Aussies. We drew three of the games 1-1 and lost one 4-0. Not bad against a team ranked two places above us in the world rankings. As you'd expect, the games were all hard fought and provided an excellent tester for the squad before going into the exciting summer ahead.

So, now we’re into the final week of training. That ends in selection, and then we’re ready for the challenges that await us in Nottingham at the Champion’s Trophy. Wish us luck!

Kate Walsh, the current of England and Britain, played in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics and won a silver medal in the 2002 Commonwealth Games

British Hockey is represented by davidwelchmanagement.com


Jim Cowan: Can we have a strategy please Minister, rather than just cross our fingers?

Duncan Mackay

It could only happen in the "say one thing, do another" world of politics. A politician announces a sound, new policy which will overturn a decade or more of poor policy and then, barely a month later does exactly what he said he was going to eradicate.  

In the Daily Telegraph last month, the new Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson announced an end to what he termed "initiative-itis" and this author applauded him for hit.   

And yet yesterday, only five weeks and three days later, Mr Robertson proudly announced the launch of a new, nationwide initiative which, the Minister tells us, "will provide a tangible sporting legacy from the London 2012 Games."  

As insidethegames reported:  "The new Olympic and Paralympic-style schools sports competition will create a new sports league structure for primary and secondary schools culminating in an inaugural national final to be held in the run up to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.   

"The scheme will see schools compete against each other in leagues at a local level from 2011 with winning athletes and teams qualifying for up to 60 county finals.  

"The most talented young athletes will then be selected for the national finals while schools will also be encouraged to host in-house Olympic-style sports days so that children of all abilities have the opportunity to compete.   

"There will be a Paralympic element at every level of the competition for young people with disabilities while the ambition is for the competition to continue after 2012.  

"Robertson claimed that the competition is a key part of the Government’s plans to create a lasting sporting legacy from hosting the London 2012 Games and to maximise the sporting opportunities available to all. "

Robertson told insidethegames: "I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I think it partly answers the question of, ‘What is the sporting legacy from London 2012?

"The legacy from 2012 is coming out of this because every single child going through the school system in England today has the opportunity to play competitive sport and they are inspired to do that by 2012.   

"That is the best possible use of the London Olympics."

The new initiative sounds great, it should excite, inspire and motivate generations to come and should place competitive sport back at the heart of school Games and PE.   

So why am I criticising it?   

I’m criticising it because it has the same flaws a decade of other well meaning initiatives have had. It stands in splendid isolation; it is not a part of any vertically integrated sports development planning. It is a standalone initiative, all be it a vast, ambitious one, which assumes that all of the many structures and systems needed to create the proper developmental pathway are in place.   

I’d like to ask Mr Robertson (pictured third right); Where is your strategy, the properly thought out, integrated strategy which fully services the sports development continuum of Foundation, Participation, Performance and Excellence?   

It isn’t in place. Mr Robertson, having criticised "initiative-itis", has now launched a huge initiative and crossed his fingers instead of planning.   

He has crossed his fingers that clubs covering every sport on the new events’ programme exist close enough to every participating school (that’s all of them) to service the demand created.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that where those clubs do exist, the coaching and non-school competition structure is in place to support the hoped for influx of eager young people.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that teachers are sufficiently well trained and versed in such a range of sports that the programme can be properly introduced to beginners in an appropriate way.

Or has he crossed his fingers and hoped that an imaginary army of coaches are standing by to support these teachers? Remember that primary school teachers receive very little formal PE training in any sport as part of their training, typically less than a month of their degree courses.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that at a time when budgets are being slashed in local authorities, the nation’s biggest sports facility providers, that there will be adequate facilities for this boom in new interest in sport remembering also that as a non-statutory requirement sport and leisure are likely to face significant local authority cuts. Perhaps making provision of and support for sports facilities and sports development gaining statutory status would be a sensible 2012 Legacy Minister?   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that after cutting £7 million from County Sports Partnerships there will be sufficient local sports development expertise to support the growth in interest.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that the funding, the tutors, the courses will be in place for the training of the new coaches the new young sports men and women will require. That is assuming the local clubs have found the volunteers to train as coaches in the first place.   

Should I go on?   

Mr Robertson quite rightly told us that "initiative-itis" was a flawed way to develop sport. Initiatives can only work properly as planned, targeted elements of a properly devised, greater strategy for the development of sport. Initiative-itis is not the way forward.   

This new initiative will undoubtedly enthuse new generations to a lifetime of sporting participation and, where talent permits, the pursuit of sporting excellence. It may not sound like it, but I applaud it. It is better to have it than not have it but to maximise its effect, to fully exploit its benefit to the nation please Mr Robertson sort out the wider, urgently required strategy. Do not offer all these young people a taste of the Promised Land only for them to discover the infrastructure to pursue it is not in place.   

Please Mr Robertson, can we see a genuine sports development strategy in place of this cross your fingers planning?   

Jim Cowan is a former athlete, coach, event organiser and sports development specialist who is the founder of Cowan Global, a company specialising in consultancy, events and education and training. For more details click here


Alan Hubbard: Britain may be missing World Series of Boxing but plenty to look forward too

Duncan Mackay

Despite the decision by Britain’s amateur boxing authorities not to participate in the upcoming World Series of Boxing it is interesting that AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, has chosen London to announce the draft of boxers for their revolutionary tournament on Monday.

This least shows there is no ill feeling that London has elected not to have one of the European city franchises and that consequently no British boxers are involved.

As things have turned out - the downtown in the economy, the closer scrutiny of funding in the light of budget cuts and the need to concentrate on the build-up towards the Commonwealth Games, the new British Championships and the London Olympics in 2012 - Derek Mapp and the British Amateur Boxing Association are right to have exercised prudence.

While any selected boxers might have earned a good few bob for their appearance, the priority has to be focussing on these events, especially as the new head coach Rob McCracken is now getting results from his squad that hold out some hope of England equalling the eight-medal (five gold) haul from the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the three medals (one gold, two bronze) from Beijing.

The decision to hold the event in London is odd, as it is unlikely to attract media attention in the middle if Wimbledon and with England deep in the grip of World Cup-itis. What can IMG, World Series’ high-profile PR backers, be thinking of?

Another interesting aspect of the launch is that one of the World Series stars to be paraded by AIBA is the Italian world amateur lightweight champion Dominica Valentino, who was beaten  by Liverpool’s Tommy Stalker in the recent European Championships in Moscow. This is a measure of the progress under McCracken.

GB’s European performance was the best for 53 years, landing three silver and two bronze. McCracken, who since his appointment earlier this year has turned things around at Britain’s elite boxing HQ at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, reckons: "With a bit more luck we’d have come out with more medals - perhaps with a gold. These boys are fantastic, they are showing real potential.

"We have a nice atmosphere in Sheffield, they work hard and they know what I ask them to do is for their own benefit. We have a good team in place although we need to build some more strength in the higher weights, but we are working on that. The boxers and the coaches all deserve a pat on the back."

McCracken singles out Stalker for beating the Valentino. "And Iain Weaver (pictured) was outstanding at featherweight. He is proving himself a top international boxer and will go from strength to strength. There is going to be real competition for places because the way we are strengthening up we will have two really good boxers in most weight divisions. Look at the example of Weaver and the former European champion Luke Campbell at featherweight, two solid international boxers."

The boxers themselves are also full of praise for McCracken: "Since he took over things have changed for the better," says flyweight silver medallist Khalid Yafai. "He’s so professional, so calm and experienced. He’s also turned us into real athletes."

Brummie McCracken, a former world pro middleweight title contender, says it has taken him some time to get used to the judging system in amateur boxing. "It’s all about scoring a single point and you get a lot of boxers simply keeping their gloves up and making to difficult for their opponents to score. And they don’t seem to recognise body punching. That’s very disappointing - especially in Khalid bout because I felt he won comfortably in all three rounds. But you have to work within the system, with what they are looking for and you hope things will change a bit before the Games.

"I think we learned from these Championships that we have strength in depth and real potential with the youngsters. Khalid’s younger brother Gamal was terrific. He’s just turned 18, had four bouts out there and was unlucky against the Russians in the semis. He really stepped up for one so young."

McCracken was brought in after a turbulent, non-productive spell following the departure of long-serving Olympic coach Terry Edwards. The team had failed to win a medal at last year’s World Championships but this year they have fistfuls from a number of high profile tournaments.

McCracken will be taking a full squad of 14 English boxers to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and says it will be interesting to see how his men shape up against the Asians and Africans, particularly in the lighter weight divisions. "But the good news for us is that in many weight divisions, the European Championships are as tough as it gets. It was good to see how many of our boys were comfortable against the Russians and Germans."

GB will also be testing themselves against a Chinese team here in August and will be boxing against a Rest of the World team in the World Championship of Boxing Festival in Cardiff at the end of next month.  

"We are finalising the team at the moment and this may be a chance for some of the other boxers to show that they can do it as well," says McCracken, who also trains Britain’s former world super-middleweight champion, Carl Froch. They are waiting on a date and venue for his next bout, against Germany’s Arthur Abraham, in the Super Six series and hoping it will not clash with the Commonwealth Games in October.

Other boost for British amateur boxing came last week with the announcement that Lucozade are to become the sport’s official nutrion partners through to 2013 and and that the inaugural British Championships, in which the winners of the home ABA’s will participate, is to be televised by the BBC from the Liverpool Echo Arena on November 12 and 13.

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


Tom Clift: Being Olympic Host City is icing on the cake for Coventry

Duncan Mackay
Coventry and Warwickshire began our journey to London 2012 on the July 6, 2005 - a momentous day in the history of British Sport, as the eyes of the world watched and waited for Jacques Rogge to finally open that envelope in Singapore and say…London! Thankfully.

At the time, Coventry was the first UK City to be hosting the International Children’s Games (ICG), an International Olympic Committee (IOC) sanctioned event where children from around the world, aged 12-15 come together to promote peace and friendship through sport.

As a result of London’s success, in Coventry, key, like minded individuals from major local organisations recognised the potential inspiration of an Olympic and Paralympic Games on home soil, only 95 miles away and had the vision to embrace and engage in this once in a life time opportunity by creating the Coventry and Warwickshire 2012 Partnership, (CW2012) a unique combination of public, private and voluntary organisations, working together to maximise the opportunities from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tasked with securing tangible benefits across the sporting, cultural, business, educational and pre-Games training camp opportunities created by London 2012, CW2012 brings together key organisations from across the city and county, including local authorities, our two universities, chamber of commerce, tourism destination agencies and Coventry Primary Care Trust, amongst a number of other key local sporting, educational and cultural partners.

The focus and engagement of CW 2012 activity has been widely praised. None more so with the recent announcement that Coventry, through the Ricoh Arena - or City of Coventry Stadium as it will be known in 2012 -  is now an Olympic Host City after being named as the new Midlands venue to host Olympic football matches in 2012. This huge honour for our City is an unbelievable achievement and encapsulates the past five years of the Partnerships tireless effort and engagement in London 2012, whilst also providing a massive opportunity for the surrounding West Midlands region and economy.

It also is a prime example of organisations working together to achieve a common goal, through a sense of shard purpose, vision and ambition. Many people will not realise that the Olympic football competition is the second largest football event outside of the World Cup. More than 500 athletes from 28 nations will compete in 58 games over 18 days across six UK venues - and we cannot wait!



For us, this is not a football tournament being staged in Coventry, this is Coventry playing its part in a UK wide festival of sport and culture and the biggest sporting event in the world! Not bad for the ninth largest City in England.

We understand the privilege and responsibility that goes with being a part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 and through our CW 2012 Partnership, we will embrace the Olympic values and seize the opportunity to do everything we can to contribute to a making 2012 the best games ever.

From the 2005 ICG, the hosting of major sporting events is an area where Coventry has excelled due to the high quality of facilities, expertise in planning and deliverability of a wide range of sports. A legacy of the ICG, provided the skills, expertise and knowledge which led to Coventry being the first English city to host the UK School Games in 2007.

Since then other major sporting events such as the British Transplant Games in 2009, England under-21 Internationals, EDF Energy / Heineken Cup rugby, international netball and National League ice hockey and speedway all take place in the city and if being a 2012 Host City wasn’t enough, Coventry’s Ricoh Arena is also a venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, meaning that Coventry will host two out of the three largest sporting events in the world.

Our vision to inspire young people in Coventry and Warwickshire and to maximise the opportunities presented by London 2012 has delivered notable successes. Coventry and Warwickshire has 10 venues in the official London 2012 Training Camp Guide. We have been awarded a London 2012 Live Site, one of only 20 screens across the UK that will help make the Games come alive and bring together local communities across a wide and varied programme of sporting, artistic, educational and historical events to celebrate London 2012.

However, we feel our real distinguishing feature is the development of local projects which have been specifically tailored to reflect the Olympic and Paralympic values. These build upon Coventry and Warwickshire’s own heritage and innovation to provide everyone with their own London 2012 moment.

We have developed our own Festival of Sport: a London 2012 Inspire Mark project which reaches out to school children and gives them a taste of the Olympic and Paralympic experience. We have identified and celebrated the achievement of over 100 local Olympians and Paralympians, and we have used their experiences to inspire the next generation of young elite sportspeople who we support through a Team Coventry and Warwickshire programme.

We have sought to engage other independent organisations across Coventry in the Cultural Olympiad. The pinnacle of this engagement is Godiva Awakes

which is the West Midlands representative project for the national Artists Taking the Lead programme.

This emphasises the passion of many organisations within the city who wish to use London 2012 as a catalyst for activity and innovation.

We are fully engaged in supporting both regional and national 2012 initiatives, such as Get Set, Compete For and Open Weekend and the West Midlands Cultural programme through the projects of People Dancing and Community Games.

The year of 2012 is also of high importance to Coventry in relation to the 50th anniversary of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral after being severely bombed during World War Two. In support of the IOC's mission of promoting peace and reconciliation, the consecration is to be the focal point of activity to service this value and is to be honoured by a confirmed visit from Her Majesty the Queen in the summer of 2012.

The next two years will be challenging times, but through our Partnership and by remaining focused and true to our vision and objectives that we initially set out to achieve, we are committed to maximising the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for the benefit of our local communities, leaving a memorable legacy that we can be proud of.

Tom Clift is the Coventry & Warwickshire Partnership Manager, 2012 Games at CSWP Ltd

Cathy Wood: Olympic recognition already benefitting women's boxing

Duncan Mackay
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from my first amateur boxing tournament at Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, North London on a late June weekend. 

Blood on the canvas absolutely; a bit of gore, possibly; knock outs, certainly.

As for the women participants I expected lots, mainly because interest in the sport has rocketed since the IOC's decision, last August, to make women's boxing a full medal sport in 2012.

Previously a demonstration event - at St Louis in 1904 - women's boxing was then removed from the Olympic agenda and hasn't been seen since.

Until now.

In the months that followed the IOC announcement the number of female boxers registered to fight in England rose 26 per cent to more than 850.

I can't say hundreds were on show at Ally Pally, for the last day of the 2010 Haringey PC Amateur Box Cup, but there were a fair number.

In fact of the 57 bouts making up the final day of the event, eight bouts were all women affairs.

Launched in 2008 the Box Cup is a festival of boxing, open to men and women of all standards, from novice to open class, from the UK and Europe. 

In 2008, 168 boxers took part making it the biggest open boxing tournament in the UK. This year numbers topped 400.

The event is the work, in no small part, of Gerry Willmott, a serving Met officer who founded Haringey Police Community Amateur Boxing Club a decade ago.

"It started as a diversion project to get kids off the street," he says. 

Now it's one of the most successful of all Police Community Boxing Clubs of Great Britain (PCCGB) with 30 boxers registered to fight and another 30 or 40 using the gym in Tottenham High Road to train.

Meanwhile Willmott and treasurer Ken Marsh (pictured), also a Met Officer, both received MBEs earlier this year in recognition of their work.

One of those to benefit from Willmott and Marsh's tireless efforts, is 23-year-old Hannah Beharry, who took to ring B - one of four rings set up in the Palace's Great Hall - for Bout 8 against Michelle Grizzie of Moss Side Fire Station.

Born in Acton, Beharry, a London 2012 hopeful, fights at flyweight (48-51kg), the lightest of the three Olympic weights.

The other two are lightweight (56- 60kg) and middleweight (69- 75kg).

Over four rounds of two minutes each, with one minute to recover, Beharry went toe to toe with Grizzie and, in some cases, punch to punch, before being announced, unanimously, the winner.

Across in the opposite ring - C - all eyes were on Ireland's Katie Taylor, also 23, a double world and triple European champion in the 60kg category, and already a serious gold medal contender for 2012, as she took on the impressive Ingrid Egner from Oslo, Norway.

Here the punches seemed harder, and more audible, as Taylor's right hand thudded into Egner's protective head gear and the Norwegian fought back.

It's a bit like watching a game of chess played out by two agile masters gliding with skill and speed as they dance around the central part of the ring.

Four rounds later the highly regarded Taylor gets the decision but it's closer than expected with a majority, rather than unanimous, verdict.

Taylor, who's father Peter, a former Ireland senior light heavyweight champion, coaches her  is a formidable athlete. Not only does she box, she's also played football for Ireland more than 40 times.

It'll be athletes like Taylor, and Beharry,  who help portray women's boxing in a new, more accessible light in the months, and years, to come. And for those wondering whether to take up the sport women, apparently, make great students.

"Girls are willing to learn a lot better than men," says Gerry Willmott.  "Most men think they are Sugar Ray Leonard when they start.  Women are much easier to teach."

With the closing bouts of this year's Box Cup still underway, I leave North London more enlightened about women's boxing as a sport, not a spectacle, than when I arrived.

There are, without doubt, those who are against it.  But seen first-hand, it's fast, athletic, entertaining and skilful.

And not a drop of blood anywhere in sight.

Cathy Wood was editor of the Daily Mail Ski Magazine before moving to become ski correspondent on the Daily Mail. She later became travel editor before going freelance. She represented Great Britain at elite level triathlon and writes on travel, skiing and sport.

Lucy Wickes: Funding cut is devastating but we will not give up

Duncan Mackay

It was devastating. I couldn’t have written this a few days ago. We, the Great Britain Women’s Volleyball Team, received the news that there isn’t enough money for us to stay together as a squad over winter, nor to compete in a full schedule of matches next summer. is week.

At 28 I felt like the whole meaning of my life had just been pulled out from under my feet and all the sacrifices made, career and personal life too - that I’ve made to follow my Olympic Volleyball dream all seemed to have been for nothing.

The bad news was delivered on Tuesday night. Despite our team ticking all the boxes to move to Slovenia and compete in the MEVZA (Middle European Volleyball Zonal Association) Inter-country league for the upcoming Winter season, we were told it is no longer an option because of a lack of money. And that wasn’t all.

There was even more bad news to come. The full time programme currently based in Sheffield is also over as of August 2010 and there isn’t enough money for a full competition schedule next summer, the  last summer before the Olympics.  This leaves are our planned preparations, put in place in order for usso we could to achieve our performance targets in 2012, in shatterstatters.

So, what now? We aren’t going to give up.

We are going to take control of our destiny and try to raise the funds we need ourselves. Our Olympic Dream will not end here. To keep our dream alive we will need to raise £500,000 through donations and sponsorship and we will need to do it quickly.

To sustain a high performing program, enable a summer of quality International volleyball, and the chance to compete as a team for the winter leading up to the Olympics, myself, my team mates and all our coaches are embarking on a 300 mile bike ride from Sheffield, the current home of British Volleyball, to Earls Court Arena, the Olympic Volleyball Venue. Cycle 250 has been born!!! I don’t think I have gone on a bike ride since I was 12, and due to a rather bony behind I am currently on the hunt for a comfy, heavily padded bike seat!!!

I am thankful I sat on the bad news for a few days allowing it to sink in and to get some perspective. Reviewing our summer so far I am feeling much more upbeat. We have consistently shown that we can compete with some of the best teams in the world.  The progress we have made in the last year is huge and the belief we have in each other and the team to overcome this challenge is immense.

Our team isn’t gifted with great height, I don’t think I have ever seen a 6fin 5in British girl. However,, the Eastern European teams seem to be able to find at least six of them! What we do have over these teams though is the ability to utsmart them and use our speed and variation to fox them. We are starting to show how this works - but to develop this style is complex and takes time. Playing together year round is the way forward to embed this.

This summer we have come across some of the best volleyball players in the world, as well as some of the tallest, and time after time we have shown that we can mix it with them. The results may not be there just yet but we have never been closer. Going 30-32 against Japan, ranked fifth in the world is no accident and it is the style of play the Japanese utilise that we are aspiring towards. Results are important, we know that and we desperately want them, it just takes time and I am confident the results will come.

We have now made a name for ourselves in the world of volleyball but we are still relatively unknown in our own country. We are consistently being praised by our opponents and we have already being been given a place in 2012 by the FIVB who because they believe us to be of awe are good enough to compete. It’s competitive standard, it is just a shame that our own Country country can’t see the benefits of financially supporting a team sport who which would go a long way to creating the legacy UK Sport and the Government keep going on about.

We are exactly where we want to be in performance terms with two years to go to the Olympics and we are on track to achieve our goal of finishing in the top eight in the Olympics. Once you get to the quarter finals anything can happen with the support of a home crowd. All we want is to be the best we can be.

I now find myself in the middle of a busy summer of International Volleyball making frantic calls to my agent to see if he can find me a decent contract abroad for the upcoming season. In an ideal world I would like to go away with some of my team mates so I can continue working on the style of offence we want to run. Being the setter for our team, and therefore the “playmaker”, means that this is important for me and the team.

Not all is lost. If most of us can get get placed in decent clubs in Europe we will all have the opportunity to play matches throughout the winter and we will come back better and more experienced as individuals. It will then be a case of pulling it all together as a team. I just hope we have found the finances by that point to ensure we have something to come back to.

If all goes well I will be packing my life into a bag come August, moving out of my flat in Sheffield and trying to make a home for myself somewhere for the next 8 months. Hopefully a base will be found for next summer as the prospect of coming home to nothing is a bit daunting as well as trying to find somewhere to live for the remaining 4 months of the year. It may be a case of “Mum and Dad I’m moving back home!!!!” which for me, at 28, is a step backwards.

Lucy Wicks is the captain of Britain's volleyball team

British Volleyball is represented by davidwelchmanagement.com


David Owen: I have seen South Africa's Olympic city

Duncan Mackay

I think I have just visited Africa's first Olympic city.

No, not Johannesburg, South Africa's economic hub.

Or Cape Town, perhaps the only big city in the world that could claim to be as scenic as Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 Olympic Games host.

The place I am thinking of is Durban, another South African coastal city, on the Indian Ocean on the country's east coast.

Yes, this piece is partly triggered by a visit to the city's jaw-dropping new Moses Mabhida Stadium, where I watched the much-vaunted Spanish football team succumb to Switzerland in a recent World Cup tie.

It must be one of the most beautiful sports venues in the world, with its 105-metre high Wembley-esque arch, along which a funicular can carry customers to a viewing platform at the top of the arch.

But it wasn't the aesthetic splendour itself that got me thinking, "This city wants the Olympics".

It was more that a signature feature of that extravagance seems a little over the top for the sake of a few football games - even if one of them is a World Cup semi-final.

Then you start to notice other little details: such as that there is room in the arena for an athletics track around where the football pitch is now.

At 60-some thousand, it is true that the stadium as currently configured is not big enough to serve as the main stadium of a summer Olympics.

But when I looked it up, I read that its design "allows the stadium seating to be reduced to 54,000 for local matches or upscaled to 80,000 for events such as the Olympic Games".



The location seems perfect for an Olympic Stadium too.

I say this for two reasons:

It has been sited in what has become a veritable sports hub near the centre of Durban, incorporating another large football/rugby-type stadium and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

According to Robbie Naidoo, a local businessman I consulted, there is also a cycling track, though it would need upgrading for an Olympics, and - who knows? - maybe other facilities too.

The stadium is also located adjacent to a pedestrianised zone that allows you to walk along the ocean front, past a humming casino/restaurant development, from numerous hotels to your seat in the stand.

"You have hit the nail on the head," Naidoo said when I started to expound my Olympic thesis to him.

Durban has been "like an international secret," he added.

There is more: I arrived in the city at a brand new airport. This too should prove a big asset: according to Naidoo, who is General Manager - South Africa for Jet Airways and hence in a good position to know, the old airport had runways too short to accommodate the biggest planes when fully laden.

I suspect Durban's biggest Olympic asset may prove not to be made of concrete or bricks and mortar, but flesh and bone.

Durban-born Sam Ramsamy (pictured), an International Olympic Committee member since 1995, quite simply knows more about the Olympic Movement than any other South African.

I haven't yet had the opportunity to discuss it with him in detail, but I would think the quality of the planning behind this first-rate sports hub has quite a lot to do with him.

I would be surprised, moreover, if Ramsamy was not the guiding light behind the decision to try to bring the 2011 IOC Session to Durban.

This is quite simply a masterstroke, ensuring that all IOC members and their spouses will be exposed to the city - and hence be able to draw on personal experience should they ever be required to assess its suitability as an Olympic host.

The host of the 2020 Olympics should normally be chosen only two years after that Session in 2013.

I actually think the competition might prove too hot for an African candidate city to win on that occasion.

In any case, with all these new stadiums around the place, I imagine that Durban would face a fight even to be adopted as the South African contender.

By 2024, however, the Olympic Movement ought to be ready for an African Olympic Games. That may be Durban's big chance.

Sam Ramsamy will be 86.

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 


Jonty Clarke: England hockey team making progress but no-one is complacent

Duncan Mackay

Welcome to the England Hockey men’s team blog. I’m Jonty Clarke and have been playing senior international hockey since 2003. I’m a forward and one of two accountants in the team, but don’t let that put you off!

Currently, we’re between tournaments. The World Cup was in India in March, where we finished fourth and beat Australia along the way. In good old English tradition, however, we lost our semi-final to Germany. Having started the tournament very strongly, we were extremely disappointed to come away without a medal.

We’re training hard right now, aiming to peak for the Commonwealth Games in October, but also with one eye on the Champions Trophy in July. This tournament is held for the top six teams in the world; our finish at the World Cup secured our qualification for the tournament, which will be held in Mönchengladbach, Germany.

Some of us aren’t training hard at all, actually. Key defender Richard Mantell, for example, broke his ankle during the World Cup match against Pakistan, so he’s out. His brother Simon, however, who missed the whole of the World Cup, has now recovered from a broken metatarsal and has resumed training.

Barry Middleton - the captain - and Ashley Jackson - the World Young Player of the Year for 2009 - are finishing their club season in Holland, where they play professionally. Their club HGC, from the Hague, has made it into the play-off final against last season’s European champions, Bloemendaal. Both play key roles for their team, with Ashley finishing as the top scorer, in what is widely regarded as the strongest league in the world. We certainly look forward to their return to the England squad.

Aside from that, there are a number of people nursing other injuries, largely as a result of the heavy running sessions that we’re going through right now. Some players seem to make it through all the tough times, however, like our very own "iron man" Ali Wilson and goalkeeper James Fair. It is very rare to see those guys sitting on the sidelines.

It’s a stressful time for some of the younger guys in the squad, such as Ali Brogden and Richard Smith, who have exams at university. Nick Caitlin, for example, the youngest member of the team from the World Cup, is studying history at Nottingham University. He thinks life is tough at the moment, but I remind him that he isn’t doing too badly compared to those of us who are working full time as well as fitting in all the training.

Nottingham is home to Ali Wilson, Adam Dixon and George Pinner, who all play for Beeston Hockey Club, which is playing host to the Women’s Champions Trophy and a men’s four nations invitational tournament in July. These guys hope to be fit and healthy and to be selected for that invitational tournament. Playing in front of your home crowd always adds something special to the experience of playing for your country.

Before we get to Nottingham, we’re travelling to Holland for two friendly games against the Dutch. There’ll be a number of players hoping to get a chance to prove their point in those games and to get selected for the rest of the summer. Some of those guys hoping to get a chance to impress will be Richard Springham of Reading HC and Simon Egerton of Bowden HC. Both have been around the squad for a couple for years now and have had to be very patient in waiting for their chances.



Whether or not they get that chance is down to head coach Jason Lee. Jason has been coaching both GB and England since taking over a few months before the 2004 Athens Olympics. Following those games, there were wholesale changes in the player group, and Jason has been instrumental in taking us from 11th to sixth in the world rankings and to the Eurohockey Nations Championship gold medal in 2009.

Jason has quite a unique manner with the players and has changed considerably over the years. At first he was quite the dictator -until he instilled in us the habits that he sees as essential for playing at the topmost level. Now he allows us much more freedom on and off the pitch. He trusts that the squad has been together long enough and has enough experience to know what is acceptable and what is going to work and what isn’t. Obviously, he retains control and isn’t averse to pointing out in no uncertain terms when things are going wrong. Generally, however, he’s a pretty laid-back head coach these days.

As an accountant, I work for BDO, who have supported me through the last five years of my hockey career. Many in the squad have understanding employers, without whom committing to training would be a real problem.

Iain Mackay is a trainee accountant; Glenn Kirkham, Dan Fox, James Fair and Matt Daly are teachers; Nick Brother works in the city; Ben Hawes manages a Dutch clothing label in the UK; George Pinner works for a well-known chocolate brand based in Birmingham; and James Tindall is an electrician. Rob Moore has been known to do a bit of modelling in his time but generally is part of a group - including Ali Wilson, Adam Dixon and Simon Mantell - who seem to get by doing not a lot aside from the odd bit of coaching here and there.

Clearly, there is a broad mix of backgrounds and interests within the squad, but we have a fantastic team spirit. There’s a shared dry sense of humour among the group, and you won’t have to wait too long to hear a healthy dose of sarcasm and probably a few quotes from The Office. It’s either that, or everyone laughing at the latest antics of Richard "Ratman" Alexander, who always seems to relish in being the centre of attention when it comes to mucking around.

Forward Jonty Clarke represented Britain at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and has been capped 28 times by GB

British Hockey is represented by davidwelchmanagement.com


Andy Pink: The British are Coming!

Duncan Mackay

When I last blogged we, the Great Britain men’s volleyball team, had just taken our leave from the European Championships qualification tournament in Greece. This was no disgrace, rather we gained not only the invaluable experience of going close against the top teams in Europe but also the plaudits and respect around the volleyball world that we crave.

Since then we have begun to play in the yearly European League competition, which features two pools of four teams, comprising of two home and away fixtures before a final four playoff weekend to decide the winner. 

Our pool is a tough one. It includes former European Champions Spain, former European League winners Slovakia and a very strong Romanian team. Spain was nominated to organise and host the final four of this year’s European League and will therefore automatically get a place in the de facto semi-finals.

So, if we’re to achieve the goal we set ourselves of final four qualification, we will most likely need to finish top of our pool. After two weekends of play, I am pleased to report that we currently sit well poised in second place in our pool.

We opened the competition last weekend by hosting Slovakia at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. This Slovakian team had blown us out of the water a fair few times in the past, but we are a different kettle of fish these days. In front of a vociferous crowd, however, we fell to another heartbreakingly close 3-1 defeat in Saturday’s opening match. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m penning this little blog from a cramped economy seat on a British Airways flight high over Spain. Why does that matter?

Well, since that opening match against Slovakia we have played a further three matches in two countries, never mind the training, weightlifting and travel. In essence, I can’t really remember what happened in that first match. It’s often said that some athletes have a near-photographic memory of even the most minute events that occur during competition. In this case, however, I didn’t play very well, and sometimes those matches simply fade in the memory.

After reviewing the video of our loss to Slovakia, we realised that with just a few minor changes we could beat those guys - a result that simply wasn’t an option a couple of years ago. I could tell in the morning’s training session that the mood in the squad was good, and the gaffer had that look in his eyes he gets when he’s hatching a mischievous plan. The team took the hint and came out of the starting blocks on fire. We tend to play our best when we are fighting for every ball, every point, scratching and scrapping our way to winning ugly.

Without boring you with the details (you can read wonderful match reports by Programme Director Kenny Barton  by clicking here), we won the match 3-0. A fantastic result, and a much-deserved reward for everyone involved in the hard work behind the scenes. Coupled with Romania’s victories over a young Spanish team, we found ourselves in second position in our pool. What a difference a win can make.

Three days later we were on our way to Salamanca in Spain for the next two matches. Spain’s legendary coach, Julio Velasco, had decided to play pick and mix with his team selection in the first round of matches to let young but talented players cut their teeth at this level.

It’s always a guessing game in this competition as to who will turn up for the opposition because the team sheet doesn’t have to be made official until 24 hours before the first match. As expected, Spain made some changes from their losses against Romania.

However, our own Churchillian figure by the name of Brokking (pictured) was not to be outdone and sprung a surprise by giving Jason Haldane the weekend off and letting future star Dami Bakare show what he can do. Dami had a fabulous weekend and looked like a 10-year veteran of international volleyball.

The first match against Spain on Friday night could not have started any worse for Team GB. We were trounced in the first set (25-15). We just didn’t get into the match until the second set. I would have bet my life on a positive response from the boys and my, my, what a response it was. We hit back hard to the tune of 25-18. The match was now finely balanced. Somehow we managed to figure out two more ways to lose a set by the minimum number of points, with the final two sets finishing 26-24 and 28-26. If the volleyball world rankings were based on the ability to lose a set by two points, we would be world champions. I’m not sure I’ve seen Team GB that disgusted and angry. Ever.

One of the best parts of this competition, however, is that at this stage there is nearly always another chance to put things right - and we had a second match in Spain in less than 24 hours to try and do just that. 

Job done. A smash and grab 3-0 win that featured fantastic performances from Bakare and McGivern left Spain reeling. It wasn’t a pretty game, but all we care about is results and we’ll definitely take this one. Add Spain to the ever-growing list of countries that have fallen at the hands of Team GB!

Our next matches are at the K-2 Centre in Crawley against current table toppers Romania. A couple of victories will leapfrog us into first position at the halfway point of the competition, and we will spend a few days training hard in Sheffield to ensure that we are ready before we head down to Sussex. The rest of the European league has been put on notice. The British are coming.

Andy Pink, who plays for Bassano in Italy, is Britain's vice-captain. For more details on the matches at Crawley click here.

British Volleyball is represented by davidwelchmanagement.com


Alan Hubbard: Seb Coe running just as hard as ever to promote London 2012 message

Duncan Mackay

Is there a busier - or better- bigwig in sport that Lord Sebastian Coe? Since the acquisition of the 2012 Olympic Games for London in  Singapore five years ago, clinched by his persuasive eloquence, his feet have not touched the ground , just ass they never appeared to do when he was at his athletic zenith.

Goodness knows how many miles he has flown, hands he has shaken or speeches he has made in the cause of selling the London Games to the world - as well as Britain.

This week he invited me to join him for a day “on then run” so to speak, and believe me, it is all go with Coe.

We left on the 8.10am from King’s Cross to Leeds, where sport’s supreme travelling salesman was embarking on another retailing mission, this time to deliver the message to people in Yorkshire that  while the Olympics and Paralympics are a capital idea, it is not just London which can profit from of staging the biggest sporting show ever held in Britain.

To this end LOCOG (The London Olympic Games Organising Committee), which he chairs,  have initiated a number of schemes to encourage cities, towns, villages and communities throughout the UK to play their part in making 2012 a national celebration and convince them in Coe’s words "that this is a momentous opportunity for British business in the current economic climate."

He expands on this as we head northwards to what the London-born Coe, claims as is actually his manor - Yorkshire. "I have always regarded it as my home county," he says. "It was where I learned my trade as an athlete. I was at school in Sheffield, did most of my early athletics there, went to university in Loughborough and my mother was Indian so I don’t naturally view the world from inside the M25. 

"From the outset, even before we won the bid, I was trying to convince people that however compelling the story was, this could not be seen simply as 200 acres of re-generation in East London. There had to be a relevance to the people in Truro and Stornaway.  We set up these programmes in the early days to drive this message into their own back yards, modelling it on the nine English regions, plus Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  We involved all sorts of people and organisations from local MPs, sports bodies, schools and health authorities. The whole idea was to inspire another generation for sport.  For me this has always been the template.

"In Yorkshire some 28 businesses have picked up contracts in connection with the Olympics. Everything from construction to publishing, several hundred millions pounds worth of business.  When you think we have to procure about a million pieces of sports equipment, 16,500 shuttlecocks, 146 weight lifting bars, 30 horses for the modern pentathlon, that we have an Olympic village to furnish with 17,000 beds - that is an example of how British businesses can profit from the Games in London. 

"I recognise that when I go to Stornaway for instance, there aren’t too many people there who are going to be at the Games. But there are businesses there, like Harris Tweed and chocolate manufacturers who can benefit. They can use the Games as a showcase."

He adds: "It is also a fact that the further you get from London, the more creative the ideas for involvement with the Games. When we went to Stornaway,  an hour’s flight from Glasgow, I opened the Western Isles Primary Schools track and field meeting. It had a big Olympic focus. I used to bitch about sitting on the North Circular road for 45 minutes on the way to Haringey on a Tuesday night, but some of these kids had got up at four in the morning to come by ferry. When you sit and talk to them between events, they are absolutely focused. There is a huge awareness about the Olympics so this is really what these days are about.

"It is really important that the Games leave a legacy - and much of that legacy must be outside of London. When  people ask ‘Is there really anything in it for us?’  My job to persuade them that there is."

He does so with zest and style as we visit a business conference in Bradford, where he also meets a number of 2012 Young Ambassadors displaying fabric work highlighting the Cultural Olympics, and at Lister Park  is mobbed by hundreds of Yorkshire schoolkids ,among them  a group of cheerleaders waving vibrantly coloured pom-poms, at a sports day. He hands over plaques and certificates, starts a cycling demonstration and then lustily yells encouragement as runners pound the grass track in a 400 metres race.

As he inspects projects they have prepared for him, chatting with the kids and glad-handing the dignitaries, it is with dexterity borne of the politician he once briefly was. Handed a microphone, he slips into oratory overdrive. "Things come alive when I get out of London and come to places like this," he assures them. "We’ve got the Games, we’ve got the structure, we’ve got the strategy. Now it is over to you and your local communities to pick up the baton."

Another project is to encourage youngsters to understand the media contribution to the Olympics. It is called ‘Supporters to Reporters’, in which school children turn journalists and today, naturally they wish to interview him. "You always ask much tougher questions than the real journos," he laughs. One of them comes from nine year Chloe Powney from Our Lady of Victories School in Bradford.  "Who do you think was better - you or Steve Ovett?" As ever, Coe is supremely diplomatic. "I think we were both better at different times."

On our whistle-stop tour there is hardly had time to catch a breath and barely time to snatch a sandwich - or in 53-year-old Coe’s case, half a pork pie. 

Everywhere he is greeted like royalty and in sporting terms, he is probably the closest to royalty that we have. In Shipley, at he stops by a local pool to present a certificate to 13 year-old Sam Thornton, a Tom Daly wannabe who wins approval as he executes a perfect back two and a half somersault with tuck. "What advice would you give me?" the dripping-wet, red-headed lad asks. "Listen to your coach and just live your dream," he is told."

Finally, it’s back to Bradford where he is joined by the new Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson for more speeches and presentations this time at the 500th Inspire Network project, which rewards smart and creative ways to promote a 2012 connection.

On the 4.05pm back to London, where Coe is dashing to yet another evening of flesh-pressing with a major Games sponsor, he chews over that inspirational aspect of the Games with Robertson. "They question people most ask me is whether they are worth it," he says. "Believe me, with every day that passes it seems a better deal."

It has been a day of endless interviews and  photo opportunities, all of which he undertakes with patience, charming everyone as he signs autographs and poses for "just one more please Seb"

"He’s not at all uppity for a lord, is he?" one bystander had remarked at Lister Park.  In the 30 or more years I’ve known him, uppity is certainly not a word you could ever associate with Coe.

The good lord has always had a neat sense of humour, too. On the road from Leeds to Bradford we pass a pub curiously named the Cock and Bottle. "Hmm," muses Seb. "Sounds like a dope testing centre."

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 Olympics


Mihir Bose: IOC voting system more rigorous than FIFA

Duncan Mackay

So when will USA withdraw its bid from the 2018 World Cup and concentrate on getting 2022 for the States?

On the day of the FIFA Congress, immediately after Australia withdrew from 2018, rumours swept  Sandton, the once exclusive white suburb now dominated by the huge statute of Nelson Mandela where the good and great of football have gathered, that the USA was about to pull out.

After all, why bother with 2018 when everyone knows that the entire FIFA Executive is agreed that 2018 must come back to Europe?

I never thought that USA would just follow the Aussies, not straight away in any case.

I believe USA will withdraw to concentrate on 2022, but that will not be until October. That month the FIFA Executive meet to decide the mechanics of the voting system.

Now you may think this is a trivial issue but it is actually very important. And in the race for 2018 and 2022, it could well prove quite crucial. The decisions made at that meeting will shape the deals which will decide these races.

For a start FIFA, being FIFA, its voting system is not quite as clearly set out and rigorous as that of the IOC. Recall back when Korea and Japan were bidding for 2002 and it looked as if Korea might win. João Havelange, then President, having promised Japan the competition, just decided there would not be a vote. The result: both countries shared the competition and Havelange justified it by saying it was necessary to save the face of the loser.

Sepp Blatter, his successor, cannot quite pull of anything like that. In an IOC vote on bidding cities, the IOC member from the country bidding cannot vote until his or her city is eliminated, but there are no such restrictions in FIFA.

Hence the famous remark of Craig Reedie, one of Britain’s IOC members, that his great wish was to go through an IOC vote on cities and never be able to vote, a wish he fulfilled in Singapore in 2005 when London won. In contrast, Geoff Thompson, the British member of the FIFA executive, is the one vote England can count on for definite.

Also, in an IOC vote on cities, the city with the lowest votes is eliminated and the members then vote again on the remaining candidates. This can lead to curious situations.

Take the vote in Moscow in 2001. Everyone knew Beijing was odds on favourite, despite attempts by Paris and Toronto to argue that China's totalitarian system should not be rewarded. Istanbul was also in the race and nobody gave the Turks a chance. But the night before, the Turkish member of the IOC went round IOC delegates and said, "I know we will be beaten but please do not humiliate us." And amazingly, in the first round while Beijing was miles ahead, Istanbul came second, beating Paris and Toronto which pleased the Turks no less. Clearly they had benefited from a sympathy vote by IOC members, confident it would not stop the Games going to China.

However, such tactical voting can go wrong, as it did when Chicago lost out to Rio last autumn for 2016. Some of the Asians who were for Chicago voted for Tokyo in the first round. They were persuaded by Japanese pleas that while Tokyo knew it would lose, it did not want to be humiliated. In the process it was Chicago who sensationally got dumped.

And this is where the voting system FIFA decides in October becomes important.

Normally, for such votes FIFA executive members are given a card with the names of the countries bidding. But with two bids being voted on at one meeting, will they given one card or two?

Remember, while all the non-Europeans, barring USA, have withdrawn from 2018, all the Europeans, including England, are technically still in the race for 2022, so a voting card for 2022 would also have to carry their names.

And how exactly will the vote take place? They first fill in the card for 2018, then get another card and vote immediately on 2022? Or is the result for 2018 declared before they vote on 2022?

More, how are the FIFA Executive members told about 2018? Are they told only the continent that has won? Are they told the name of the country? Are they given the details of the vote?

All these details matter because they can make or break deals. In an IOC vote, members are told which city has been eliminated but not the voting figures. This makes it more difficult to switch votes with confidence between various rounds. This may explain why, when London won in Singapore, Madrid's vote went down between the rounds when you would have expected it to go up, much to the amazement of Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Samaranch, to his dying day, remained convinced that, had Madrid not Paris got into the playoff with London, Madrid would have won. London too feared Madrid. The shout of joy that went up in the British camp when Madrid got eliminated was one of relief. And who is to say this happened because some Madrid supporters, not knowing the exact figures, pressed the wrong button in the round which eliminated them?

With the USA bid committee led by former President Bill Clinton, the Yanks will know a thing or two about deals. They will look closely at the voting procedure FIFA decide in October and then make their announcement that they are concentrating on 2022.

America will go into any deals knowing it has three solid CONCACAF votes. At the CONCACAF Congress last week here in Johannesburg, the English presentation led by David Dein who opened the batting followed by Andy Anson, was by common consent the best. The CONCACAF delegates I met were positively drooling about it, far better than a poor Russia and a even poorer Spain-Portugal. But at the end of it Jack Warner, CONCACAF’s leader, said, "Our three votes are for the USA."

But come October and the voting system known, America can then look at its options. It will then be in a position to make a deal with the strongest European challenger. 

Let us say by October there is an European country - Russia, Spain-Portugal or England - with six votes. I discount Belgium-Netherlands because I do not believe they stand much of a chance. For the USA, its bargaining power is immense.

This is how I see the conversation going. The Americans say to the strongest European, "We give you our three, which takes you to nine and in an almost impregnable position [a winner requires 13 to win] and you give us your six which makes us very strong for 2022."

The deal done, the USA withdraws saying how it welcomes 2018 coming back to the old world, all the time confident that 2022 will go to the new world.

It is worth stressing that an European-USA deal has been talked about for a long time. Michel Platini President of UEFA, discussed it with Sunil Gulati, President of the US Soccer Federation, more than a year and half ago. This was also something that Lord Triesman was working on, hoping to persuade Platini that England was the strongest of the Europeans.

The USA is certainly using the South African World Cup to make its public presence felt. Before they left the States, the entire team, including the players, were at the White House, Obama next to Clinton. It is rare in the US for an ex-President to be seen with a current one except on formal occasions like funerals.



Blatter was also entertained at the White House by Obama. Then here in South Africa, Joe Biden, the Vice-President had a good pow-wow with Blatter. Clinton will be here towards the end, as will Henry Kissinger and Spike Lee, the Americans combining power and Hollywood glamour.

In many ways, the USA's pitch is similar to that of England: after all the excitement of South Africa, a new continent and all that, come back to safety and security, well organised events, that will also be very profitable. And the more problems the South Africans have, in transport, in stewards walking away from sites, the more the attractive USA becomes compared to its 2022 opponents where Qatar is making  most of the running.

At the end of the day, the winners in 2018 and 2002 will depend on deals made after FIFA announces the voting procedure in October. And the Americans will do all the running on this.

How ironic, the new world will decide which country of the world has 2018. It will show football is like politics after all.

Mihir Bose is one of the world's most astute observers on politics in sport and, particularly, football. He formerly wrote for The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph and until recently was the BBC's head sports editor. His latest book, "World Cup 2010 South Africa: the Teams, the Players, the Venues", is available now

www.mihirbose.com
http://twitter.com/mihirbose


Lynne Beattie: Making progress on road to London 2012 but more help needed

Duncan Mackay

One of the many joys of being an international volleyball player is the opportunity to travel the world - even if that does mean getting up at 2.45am to board the team bus to Manchester Airport en route to our next competition destination - Kladovo, Serbia.

On arrival, we’re greeted by temperatures of 36°C and a shiny Mercedes Benz coach. The following four-hour journey turned out to be a kamikaze, white-knuckle ride on a cliff-top road along the River Danube, with the driver approaching terrifying speeds.

That treat was compounded by the absence of a single "comfort break" for the entire four hours. Quite a challenge for most people, let alone a team of female athletes who had to stay hydrated for the evening training session that awaited them!

Finally arriving at the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised. The place was great, the food delicious and our hosts were very welcoming. Post-lunch, we headed off for a swift power nap to revitalise minds and bodies for the evening training session.

Anticipation and excitement are common feelings on arrival at a competition venue and as we glimpsed our opposition, most of them towering more than 6 feet tall, it was time to focus on the task at hand - beating Serbia, ranked tenth in the world.

Now, we’re used to training in Sheffield with temperatures of around 15°C, so it took a while to acclimatise to the stifling heat of the Jezero Sports Hall. Despite that, the training session was focused and highly competitive.

Next morning, the temperature had soared to 38°C, and in the sports hall most of us were sweating ever so slightly more than normal. Cue our stat-man Matt, who doubled up as our floor mop for the day. Once that was sorted, the training session ran like clockwork and we were ready! The team’s mood was extremely upbeat as we left for the hotel for a couple of hours’ downtime.

Back at the sports hall for the match, we were met by TV crews and Serbian children asking for photos and autographs. We could already hear the crowd. Pre-match, our dressing room routine always includes loud music, a sing-along and lots of banter! It was going to be tough to beat a very tall and experienced Serbian team, but we were quietly confident.

Entering the arena, the 2,000-strong home crowd was chanting songs and a brass band pounded out tunes. We could barely hear ourselves think. What an atmosphere! If only we could get a crowd like this to our home games in Britain. 

We played some really good volleyball despite a disappointing 3-0 loss. Serbia struggled at times to handle the speed and variation of our offence. We surprised them with combination plays, defended some amazing balls and blocked some of the best players in the world. Not the result we were looking for, but everyone thought we could take some sets in the the following day’s match.

Today’s training started at 9am and focussed on offence!  Again, the tropical climate of the Jezero Sports Hall was challenging, but we trained with a confidence and belief that we could win sets and, hopefully, our first match of the season. 

The opening set was one of the best sets we’ve ever played. We took risks, trusted in our game plan and executed our skills well. As we approached the business end of the set, however, Serbia grew in confidence and closed it out. We weren’t disheartened: we’d just proved we could compete against this team. We went into the second set on a high but started to make mistakes that left us with a huge points deficit. Battling on, we caught them up, but the pressure of the Serbian serve was the difference between the two teams and resulted in another 3–0 win for Serbia.

Yes, the results didn’t materialise, but we’re really proud of our achievements this weekend. The progress we’ve made since playing Serbia one year ago is astonishing. It has given us confidence in the hard work we’re putting in every day and makes us even more determined ultimately to win matches against Serbia.

Despite the progress we’ve made as a team since the beginning of the GB programme in 2007, recent funding cuts mean that we’re desperate to find a team sponsor to help finance our programme on the road to London 2012. We need to play more matches to help us continue to progress. If we don’t find sponsorship or additional funding, our dream of competing at London 2012 will be destroyed. So we urge you, please, to help us in any way you possibly can to keep this dream alive.

Come along to K2 Crawley on Saturday and Sunday this weekend (June 19 and 20) to support us in our next European League matches against Bulgaria. If a small town in Serbia with a population of 30,000 people can get 2,000 fans to support their national team, surely a city like London with a population of 7.5 million can do the same. Support Team GB!

Lynne Beattie, 25, is the captain of Britain's volleyball team. For more details on the matches at Crawley click here.

British Volleyball is represented by davidwelchmanagement.com


Kenny Barton: Volleyball has moved faster than any other sport in the build-up to London 2012

Duncan Mackay

We are watching the GB men’s volleyball team turn into something special. With table-turning wins over two of Europe’s top teams in successive weeks, the signs are there of growing strength and self belief in our young squad. We made history. Last weekend we defeated Spain, the 2009 European League runners-up. The weekend before that we scored a famous victory over Slovakia, the 2008 European League winners.

All from a standing start in 2006 with no tradition, no infrastructure, no players, no coaches, only ambition and the Holy Grail of the 2012 Olympics. I might be accused of bias, but no Olympic sport has moved so quickly from nowhere to serious competitiveness, gaining plaudits across Europe, than we have.

There is further to go, as acknowledged by our Dutch coach, Harry Brokking, but the three set defeat of Spain (25-22 26-24 25-22) in Salamanca last weekend in the CEV European League, avenging a loss the previous day, was a demonstration of this squad’s powerful resilience.

As the Spanish Samba band were whipping up the crowd into a Latin frenzy aided and abetted by El Toro, the Spanish Mascot, it was obvious the home crowd were demanding a second straight victory over the British underdogs. But despite the Spaniards racing to a three point lead with lightning fast services followed by huge blocks, GB scrapped for every point.

Empowered by the total support from their subs corner, the visitors were responding magnificently to the incessant beat of the Spanish percussionist. That’s when I found myself thinking: Does anyone know a Samba band from the Crawley area? If yes, please contact me immediately and prepare to bring your drums to the K2 Crawley Arena next Saturday, June 19, home Euro league match-ups when Romania and Bulgaria will be the visitors, men’s match at 3.00pm and women’s at 6.00pm

That is the way it works in British volleyball. All hands to the pump. Everything we can do to make this deserving team more successful, we are pledged to do, alongside the funding we receive from UK Sport. We were rewarded last weekend with the sight of opposite, and Sheffield dental student, Dami Bakare, leaping higher than seemed physically possible, hovering in the air and completing monstrous stuff blocks which must have looked like a total eclipse to the attacking Spaniards.

It was a glimpse of his huge potential leading up to London 2012. The Spanish women’s team coach was sitting near me while we watched the match. When he saw how high Dami could jump he just laughed and gasped. It was probably the best response.

Super quick Rio-born Mark "Samba" Plotyczer was sensational, working overtime in passing and attack. The higher-ranked Spanish had no answer to him and could not quite manoeuver their big guns  into attacking positions to inflict real damage to the GB defences. The marauding British took the second set 26-24 , and nostrils were twitching as they scented a famous victory.

Surely the Spaniards could not be so soundly beaten in their own back yard? With the game on live TV and being beamed across Europe, it came down to the moment when Mark McGivern, hanging around in the middle, managed to get the third fingernail of his left hand to thwart a last ditch tip attack from the Spanish to finish the match and secure the 3-0 victory.

What a difference a year makes. There was a time when the team was so young and raw that they would lose matches by huge margins. But the professionalism and attention to detail of Brokking and assistant coach, Joel Banks, has transformed the fortunes of the team.

As Brokking said post-game: "I am very happy with the result and, of course, it keeps us in the race for the Final Four. There was a lot of tension in the players after the loss yesterday, so it was a good win, with better serving and blocking than the day before." The team learns quickly. It has to.

Julio Velasco, the renowned coach of the Spanish team lamented that injuries that forced him to play a young side. What he didn’t know was that our GB team was even younger. 

GB Captain Ben Pipes said: "I’m obviously delighted, it was a big turnaround from a 3-1 loss yesterday to a 3-0 win . it was like déjà vu from last weekend when we beat Slovakia 3-0 on the Sunday match at EIS Sheffield.

"We are massively looking forward to the matches next weekend in Crawley when I’m hoping our crowd are as loud as the Spanish were today. It is important that the two matches in Crawley against Romania have become must-win matches, and it is entirely within our own hands to qualify for the final four in Guadalajara in July."

So, to repeat my plea, can someone find us a Crawley Samba band before next Saturday?

Kenny Barton, a former captain of Scotland, is the Performance Programme Manager of British Volleyball, overseeing all aspects of the delivery of the programme from budgetary control to decisions on tournament entries in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics. Tickets for match, priced £8 for adults, and £4 concessions, are available on the door.    

British Volleyball is represented by davidwelchmanagement.com


Cathy Wood: Windsor Triathlon demonstrates sport's incredible growth

Duncan Mackay
Driving along the M4 for one of the highlights of the domestic triathlon racing calendar, the Nokia Windsor Triathlon, the competing triathlete isn't hard to spot.

It's not the sticker in the back of the car or even the type of vehicle they drive.

It's the gleaming frame dangling from the bike rack or the shiny new wheels pressed against the rear windscreen that give the game away.

In recent years triathlon has become increasingly visible as a sport and attractive to its participants.

It wasn't always so. 

Almost 20 years ago, when the fitness boom in the UK was in its infancy, the very first Windsor Triathlon took place amid some cynicism.

"Trying to get people involved was like missionary work," says John Lunt, the founder of  Human Race, an events company now putting on more than 30 events a year including half and full marathons, open water swimming races, duathlons and triathlons, including Windsor.

In the early 1990's the idea of swimming 1500 metres in the Thames, then cycling 40km around Windsor before finishing off with a 10 kilometres run didn't attract much enthusiasm or interest.

Just 200 trail blazers lined up for the first Windsor race in 1991.

This June Windsor celebrated its 20th running with 2,500 athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes willingly plunging into the Thames knowing they were the lucky ones.

It's a race which has long been one of the most prestigious events on the summer calendar, and all 2,500 slots for the 2010 event sold out within three weeks of online registration opening. 

Another 1,200 were on the waiting list.

"If you haven't done Windsor you haven't competed in all the big events in Britain," says Ian Parker, who's completed nine in total and now helps as one of a small army of volunteer staff.

Back in the early days, when triathlon was still relatively new, it was just the super fit who competed.



Today, while not a mass participation sport, triathlon, and Windsor in particular, caters for a range of athletes with varying experience and ability.

There are triathletes participating for charity, others who want to dip a toe in the water with the shorter, 'Sprint' distance (750m/29km/5.5km), age group competitors who start by age and gender and, finally, an elite field of 70 of the country's top triathletes who start at the end.

Today the sport's no longer the domain of a fit few. 

Instead a pre-race Expo features music, clothing and equipment stands, refreshments and a long line of massage tables for the eager triathletes.

And there's certainly no shortage of eye catching and, at times, eye wateringly expensive kit.

"It's totally changed," says Parker. "You used to be able to get your old bike out of the shed and compete.  Now you have state-of-the-art bikes and wetsuits."

Adrian Smith, director of Total Fitness Bath, one of the exhibitors at Windsor, agrees. "'I raced the first race," he says. "The kit I used was basic. Now everything is very specific."

And expensive.

"You get people who spend £4,000 or £5,000 on a bike," he says. Or there are those who want carbon front and back wheels and are happy to pay £2,000, or more, to have them.

"You can go crazy," Smith says. "But it's still the person pedalling the bike at the end of the day."

And as those gleaming machines and shiny wheels get put away for another day, the 2,500 or so athletes who own them probably feel a little sorer than they did at the start of the day.

And, no doubt, exhilarated at the achievement.

Happy Birthday Windsor Triathlon. 

Here's to the next 20 years.

Cathy Wood was editor of the Daily Mail Ski Magazine before moving to become ski correspondent on the Daily Mail. She later became travel editor before going freelance. She represented Great Britain at elite level triathlon and writes on travel, skiing and sport.