One Year To Go To Tokyo 2020


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.


Mike Rowbottom: Elite sportspeople just make you feel bad

Duncan Mackay

It's pouring down with rain. More accurately, given the strength of the gusting wind, it's pouring across with rain, a rain that stings the face, borne by a wind that buffets the body.


The 55th Fuller’s Head of the River Fours race, scheduled to start on the reverse Boat Race course from Mortlake to Putney, has just been abandoned, leaving 2,000 or so would-be rowers to de-rig and load up boats which will not now be lowered into the surly waters of the Thames.
 

It is as I battle my way back across Putney Bridge that they pass me - all wearing international tracksuits. They're not jogging. They're running.  Running through the rain now that their plans to row through it have been frustrated.
 

And I think to myself, as I struggle on: "There is something very depressing about elite athletes." Of course, I hate myself for thinking it. But there we are. The thought is thunk.
 

Guilt and jealousy, no doubt, colour my attitude. Each eager runner who passes me is a rebuke, an invitation not taken to up my own game.
 

Over the years I have talked to many driven souls who have propelled themselves through ferocious belief and self discipline to the very highest levels of sporting achievement. They have their mantras, and very sensible they are too.
 

"Listen to your body." That’s a big favourite, particularly with endurance runners such as Paula Radcliffe - although for someone who has been listening to their body for years she seems to have spent a lot of time disagreeing with it.
 

Listen to your body. Yes indeed. But what if your body is telling you: "I quite fancy another round of muffins with lemon curd"?  Or: "Do you know what? It's not worth the bother"?


One of my favourite sporting quotes is from Dave Bedford, the former world 10,000 metres record holder who is now international race director for the Virgin London Marathon. Asked once what he found most challenging in his athletics career, he replied: "Getting out of the front door."


(In the same spirit, Houdini once said – if Gilbert O'Sullivan’s lyrics are accurate, and I have no reason to believe they are not – that to get out of bed was the hardest thing he could do.)


Bedford, of course, managed to get over the threshold with sufficient regularity to clock up 120 miles a week in training - which many people at the time thought insanely excessive.
 

But somehow that acknowledgment of lurking sloth makes his achievements palatable.
 

"Control the controllables. You can't control what your rivals do, only what you do." Again, sounds sensible on the face of it. But if, say, you have the swimming style of Eric the Eel at his panicky worst, getting in full control of it is not going to do you a whole lot of good. 
 

I remember once controlling my controllable all the way round Woodfield Stadium near Watford as I ran my first - and last - competitive 3,000 metres race against my mate Kidder, who trained regularly and was faster than me, and two characters who turned up in running shoes, rather than the training shoes Kidder and I sported.
 

On the face of it I seemed bound to finish last, witnessed by large numbers of fellow schoolboys and girls awaiting their own events. And that was what happened - although I did also manage to control the strong urge not to bother finishing as I saw my friend cross the line in third place more than half a lap ahead of me.
 

Perhaps I should have employed a bit of visualisation? Perhaps I should have laid down a mental template of victory. But what happens when you snap out of it and recognise that what you have just envisioned bears as much similarity to reality as a "yet more apocalyptic, giant blade-thrusting action!" computer game?
 

As they say on the Underground: "Mind the gap."


In his newly published book Inspired (Headline, £18.99), which discusses some of the characteristics which elite sporting figures have in common, Steve Redgrave calls the mindset of Olympic swimmer John Naber (pictured) "as inspirational as anything I have come across in sport."


Essentially, Naber, who had missed out on medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics, set his sights on winning gold in the 100m backstroke at the next Games and calculated that, based on the progression of times, he would need to swim the distance in 55.5seconds – four full seconds faster than his best.
 

"Then he broke it down again," writes Redgrave. "He trained for ten months a year, so he would only need to improve by one tenth of a second over the space of a month. There are roughly thirty days in a month, so he would only need to improve by one three-hundredths of a second every day. He trained for four hours every day, so he only needed to improve by one twelve-hundredth of a second every hour."


Naber eventually won his gold – in 55.49sec.
 

The moral of the story for Redgrave? Even an apparently insurmountable goal can be achieved by a motivated athlete.
 

The moral of the story for me?  I never could, and never would have been, remotely, a motivated athlete. A couple of days of improvement, fine. But day on day? Over four years?
 

As I say, elite sportsmen, they just make you feel bad.

 

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.


Pippa Cuckson: How the FEI managed to sabotage its own new anti-doping programme

Duncan Mackay

The sheer incongruity of a sporting body relaxing its policy on certain drugs is bound to attract headlines, but there  was always a strange inevitability about the way the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) torpedoed  its  own clean sport campaign.


The FEI has just spent Euros 1.8 million (£1.6 million) and a year on formulating  measures to kick doping into touch after excruciating positive cases at the Olympic Games and crass revelations by German riders that damaged  the sport’s already dwindling stock with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The FEI’s Royal Rresident has made herself available for media briefings to an unprecedented  degree. 

 

No-one would dispute that the adoption of hard-hitting changes to medication control at this week’s General Assembly in Copenhagen deserved congratulatory coverage befitting "the most important decision the FEI will ever make."


So how come, I and countless others are still trying to fathom why the FEI bounced into the agenda a last-minute "option" to sanction the controlled use of phenylbutazone – a particularly contentious  anti-inflammatory? The notion was delivered with the same matter-of-factness you might ask if someone wanted sugar in their tea.
 

Two other pain-killers have also been approved but  only people born since 1989 can be excused for not knowing World War Three would break out over bute. Still a staple in many at-home medicine chests, a small amount can magically make a lame horse look sound - the working life non-competitive veterans is often prolonged by the "powders".

 

But it has no place in sport, which is why it was banned outright 20 years ago. Apart from cheating, the safety and welfare issues associated with jumping fences at speed on a horse that is essentially crocked are too awful to contemplate.
 

Significant global players - Germany, Ireland, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States - made impassioned pleas for zero tolerance. But it's one nation, one vote. Although it may be too sweeping a generalisation, the newer federations that are still learning about competition horse management were never going to reject bute. With the equally high-risk application of a secret ballot - some other matters were decided by a show of hands - it was almost a done deal.


Equally baffling is why the FEI had no prepared justification or recommendation for bute. The top table had to confer when entirely predictable questions came from the floor. Perhaps most telling was an executive suggestion that  the request for anti-inflammatories came "from the industry" - FEI-speak for riders, owners, trainers and vets.
 

This is not the first time in recent months that the FEI has been led off-piste by parties with vested interests. In August, it was discovered there was no mechanism to decide whether or Britain or Belgium should be relegated from the Nations Cup superleague after tieing at the bottom  in Dublin. On the day it was announced Britain would remain. By 10pm, both were relegated. Two weeks later the FEI Bureau ruled they were back in. But then Princess Haya (pictured) invited the views of the International Jumping Riders Club - at a meeting not attended by the British - and suddenly Belgium and Britain were relegated again.


You need very strong mental reserves to work for the FEI. They have all the commercial and political pressures associated with any major sport, never mind one burdened with popular perceptions of elitism and animal abuse. No other sport has to police an overwhelming set of welfare obligations to an athlete who cannot speak for himself.

 

Neither can welfare be ring-fenced. At the one end, medication control has always struggled to stay a hoofprint ahead of the pharmacists whose impossible-to-detect new potions can help a horse with aches and pains through the vet check on the eve of a major contest, adding maybe hundreds of thousands to his value.  At the other end is the challenge of educating third nations whose equines have metamorphorsised from beasts of burden to sporting commodities in barely two generations.
 

Until the 1980s the FEI was stuck in a backwater in Berne, though it has reinvented itself since relocating in Lausanne and in bringing in commercial and management expertise from a range of other sports and even the arts. Its designer-suited marketeers are probably impressing fledging sponsors. The FEI’s use of new media is both imaginative and exceptional.
 

In similar vein, one can only admire Princess Haya's stoicism and dignity when her own husband - Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Duabi - was "done" for doping just weeks after she stepped-up her clean sport campaign, and her determination to leave no stone unturned by inviting big-hitters  from outside the sport to lead her anti-doping commissions.
 

But  you can go too far:  however many smart agencies and focus groups you "engage" in the "consultation" process it never hurts to take all necessary time to run radical notions past your own people - those with heritage in and understanding of  the numerous idiosyncracies of this sport. Anti-inflammatories were not the only matter perceived to be railroaded through the Assembly by delegates. Many must have wondered why they had troubled to make the trip and, having left early, they unwittingly provided a practical excuse not to stage a re-vote for which by then a case was emerging.  There is, after all, ample precedent for the FEI to re-visit hasty decisions.  
 

Even if the current regime cannot remember the tumultuous debates about bute in the 1970s and 80s, the mood in the room should have sent up a flare that a public relations catastrophe was already underway.  The communications team's cheerful review of the year, presented several hours after the  sensational vote was already big news around the horse world, had all the resonance of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. It required the FEI’s veteran vice-president, Sven Holmberg, not a PR professional, to point out the reality. "If you thought media reaction to rollkur [a controversial training technique] was tough, just wait till you see what happens with this," he said.


Earlier, Swedish delegate Bo Helander, himself a former FEI chief executive, had asked: “I have been in the FEI for 30 years and have never heard of this mysterious body, 'The industry'.  What is it and what place does it have in the FEI?"


Let's hope his irony was not lost.  Before the FEI dreams up any other grand plans it needs to take a very good look at exactly who is wielding both the carrot and the stick.

 

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: Frank Warren is not happy with the BABA and there could be trouble ahead

Duncan Mackay
It has been a rather good week for boxing. The battered old game has picked itself off the canvas, Hayefever infecting the nation following  our David's dancing demolition of Russian Goliath, Nicolay Valuev, the moribund mammoth who turned out to be more pussycat than ogre. 
 
Moreover, we also saw the launching of a new future for the amateurs with a swish reception at the House of Commons to announce the new World Series of Boxing (WSB) in the presence of the head-honcho from AIBA, the sport's governing body, one Dr C K Wu, the Taiwanese tycoon who dramatically claims to have received death threats while single-handedly, he says, cleaning-up up the sport. "No more corruption. The cheating is over." Maybe, but the in-fighting isn't.
 
The IMG-backed WSB, an inter-city league tournament, with London as one of the dozen franchises, will start next autumn and looks promising. We are told rewards for the boxers could see the best earning up to a quarter of a million pounds a year providing they sign a three-year contract. Enough, reckons Dr Wu, to keep them from the clutches of the pro promoters.   
 
Will it work? Television is crucial. It may be attractive to networks in Asia and parts of Europe but in the UK at the moment non-terrestrial channel seems remotely interested in seeing people biff each other around except in The Bill or EastEnders. Now Setanta have gone belly-up there's really only Sky and they have a rather full boxing agenda.
 
Unfortunately, the Parliamentary bash was swallowed up in the afterglow of Haye's victory which indicated that as far as the media is concerned pro boxing will always be top of the bill, except around the time of the Olympics.
 
It was a jolly and informative soiree, though when the division bell sounded, the assembled Ministers, MPs – among them, John Prescott who we know can thrown a mean left jab – leapt into action like fighters coming out for the next round
 
The gathering attracted an eclectic bunch of politicos and pugs. Frank Bruno was there, so was Barry McGuigan and Charlie Magri though one notable absentee from the professional ranks was Frank Warren. 
 
If it was intended to show that amateur boxing is throwing down  a gauntlet to the pro game by offering prize money that will entice talented young amateurs to resist the lure of the paid-ranks, it was rather ironic that at the same time Warren was concluding a deal to scooped yet another top British amateur to join his stable of Olympians – the 19-year-old welterweight, Ronnie Heffron (pictured).
 
Said to be one of the brightest emerging stars around and a surefire tip for a 2012 medal, Heffron, the former ABA champion at senior and junior level and much in the mould of fellow Lancastrian, Ricky Hatton, leaves the amateurs with some rancour, miffed at being overlooked for selection for some meaningful tournaments and now being told he – or Warren - must pay the British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA) £22,000 which they claim to have invested in his future. 
 
In fact, he had also only been on their podium scheme for two months and has repaid the £2,000 he has received. 
 
It will be interesting to see how far BABA's chairman Derek Mapp gets with the demand for the rest. Breath should not be held. Apart from anything else, it has antagonised Warren who previously had promised not to approach any potential young Olympian in the run up to 2012. We wonder if that will now remain the case. 
 
He is also less than enamoured at the appointment of Carl Froch's pro trainer Robert McCracken as the new performance director of BABA, following the short-lived appointment of Kevin Hickey who had himself replaced the popular long-serving Terry Edwards, jocked off despite GB's glowing record of achievements, not least in  Beijing.
 
Warren points out that that McCracken is not exactly giving up his day job training the world super-middleweight Champion Froch – who will be spending some time at the splendidly refurbished BABA HQ in Sheffield – plus  a number of other fighters on the books of rival pro promoter Mick Hennessey. 
 
Could this give Hennessey an unfair advantage if and when it came to signing any of the GB squad after the Olympics? There is no doubt that McCracken, an excellent trainer who boxed with distinction as a world middleweight title contender is an honourable man. But it may raise the question of a conflict of interest. 
 
Also, we wonder, what happens if Froch is engaged in a bout in the Super-Series, to which he is contracted, say during the next Commonwealth Games? Whose corner would McCracken feel obliged to be in? These matters are not insurmountable, of course, and we wish the revamped amateur set-up and the new WSB well. 
 
Anything that puts a few bob in the boxers pockets has to be good. Our main hope is that commitments to the league, where there will be no head-guards or vests, with bouts over five rounds scored on the professional ten point system, do not adversely affect preparations for the Olympics, where the sport reverts to traditional amateur rules.
 
What really does intrigue as though is the inevitable upcoming confrontation between Derek Mapp and Frank Warren. Not to mention Dr Wu and a certain shock-haired-haired gent from the United States. Don would not be King if he didn't have something to say about it. Rather loudly.
 
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist and boxing correspondent of The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics.

David Owen: The WSB will change amateur boxing for ever

Duncan Mackay

C.K Wu went to Westminster this week for a reception on the House of Commons terrace.

 

As the Thames rolled imperturbably by, the President of AIBA, the International Boxing Association, betrayed impressive sang-froid in describing his reaction to death threats received since taking the helm three years ago.

 

"I said, 'I'm over 60; it's not too bad'," he told an audience including Frank Bruno, Barry McGuigan and current British boxers of both sexes.

 

The occasion afforded an opportunity to catch up on progress of the nascent World Series of Boxing (WSB), which knowledgeable observers expect to change the face of amateur boxing for good.

 

The idea is to create a competition that will drive enough money into the so-called "Amateur" sport to prevent top-drawer Olympic boxers joining the "Professional" ranks the minute they step off the medal podium.

 

What AIBA and IMG have come up with is primarily a team competition that will straddle three continents and could enable top boxers – who, crucially, will retain their Olympic eligibility - to generate earnings running comfortably into six figures of US dollars.

 

At least 12 cities around the world will host teams consisting of both local and international boxers.

 

After a three-month season – with the inaugural competition scheduled currently to start in November 2010 – a champion team would emerge, following a series of city versus city matches featuring bouts in five weight categories fought over five three-minute rounds.

 

The best boxers at each weight would subsequently face off for individual WSB titles.

 

The hope, obviously, is that this format will attract substantial sponsorship and broadcast income, as well as sizeable live audiences.

 

After making inquiries, I think I can reveal where the first dozen or so franchises are likely to be, with teams grouped into three continent-wide Conferences.

 

In Asia, the line-up is likely to pit a Chinese team (Beijing) against South Korea (probably Busan), India (New Delhi) and Kazakhstan.

 

In the Americas, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are all in the picture, with the fourth franchise possibly based across the Canadian border in Montreal.

 

In Europe, Milan, London and Moscow may be joined by a franchise from Turkey, although I understand that Germany (with its potentially lucrative television market) and even France may still be in the picture, with a possibility that the European Conference might end up including more than four teams.

 

As for venues, Ivan Khodabakhsh, WSB's Chief Operating Officer, steered me towards the O2 Arena as a possible setting for the London team’s home matches.

 

When I asked whether the New York team might fight at Madison Square Garden, he replied that they had had a "presentation" and talked to different people there.

 

Commercial interest in the venture plainly exists: a top Ladbrokes executive in the Westminster audience confided that the company was "seriously interested" in the competition.

 

According to Khodabakhsh, the current plan is to have a single presenting title sponsor, with other sponsorship rights going to franchise-holders.

 

I have heard plausible suggestions that this title sponsorship might raise in the region of $3 million-$5 million (£1.8 million-£3 million).

 

Franchise-holders – who, in Europe, will pay an annual franchise fee of €300,000 (£271,000) - would also get a share of TV revenues pertaining to their particular territory.

 

With boxers from all over the world expected to take part in the competition, the value of TV rights should clearly not be restricted to those countries with franchises.

 

A particularly alluring prospect for boxing fans is that one or more Cuban stars might join their local franchise.

 

Khodabakhsh told me WSB was more than confident Cuban boxers would participate in the competition.

 

The way in which boxers – who will be guaranteed a base salary (excluding prize money) of $25,000 (£15,000) even if ranked in WSB's lowest category – are allocated to teams promises to be extremely interesting.

 

According to Khodabakhsh, a draft system will operate, but there is also set to be what sounds like an Indian Premier League-style auction for the 20 or 30 biggest names.

 

Transfers from one team to another will also be allowed.

 

With around 12 months to go before the first scheduled WSB bouts, one burning question, of course, is how the glitzy, many would say garish, world of professional boxing will react.

 

It is a world, after all, that has made a habit of turning Olympic medallists – from Muhammad Ali to Lennox Lewis – into global superstars over many decades.

 

As we filed out of the reception, I raised this matter with the globe-trotting Wu, whose next stop after London was set to be Georgia.

 

"We don’t want to challenge them," he told me in his clipped, economical English. "We do ours; you do yours."

 

Separate worlds, then - I wonder if it really will turn out to be that simple.

 

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.


Alan Hubbard: How Tessa Sanderson is digging up nuggets in the East End

Duncan Mackay

Those who complain that retired sports heroes rarely put anything back into the game should look no further than Newham, right in London’s Olympic heartland where one of Britain’s greatest champions is doing more than her bit to ensure that 2012 has a real legacy.

Tessa Sanderson was the first British black woman ever to win Olympic gold back in 1984 and her javelin triumph in Los Angeles remains our only such success in a throwing field event. We met up again recently after more years than both of us cared to remember in Newham, where the ever-ebullient Tessa is now running an academy for potential young stars of 2012 and beyond, something she has built up over the last three years off her own bat with the enthusiastic backing of a far-sighted local council but precious little from the Government, its quangos or the Lottery.

To say she has worked wonders is something of an understatement. There are now 70 'pupils' at the Newham Academy to which Tessa has enticed a dozen coaches covering most of the Olympic and Paralympic sports, with a further 60 young athletes on the waiting list for track and field alone.

You certainly would not confuse Tessa for Simon Cowell, but her remarkable Newham project has the hallmark of a veritable sporting X-Factor. Just to give a few examples of the progress that has been made in recruiting local kids into the scheme:  There's a 19-year-old 110 metres hurdler, Emmanuel Okpokiri, coached by Tony Jarrett who is on course for the Commonwealth Youth Games and, according to Tessa "has the potential that could see him there in 2012 but more likely for 2016."

Then there's a 10.8 second sprinter, Rashid Kakoza, coached by Julian Golding and a remarkable trio of fencers. All from different ethnic backgrounds, they are now known as the Newham Swords and have just deposed a rather posh rival team from Kensington and Chelsea as champions in the London Youth Games. They certainly bring a whole new connotation to the word "fencing" in the East End. 

Tessa has done this by breaking down barriers and knocking on doors of organisations such as the ExCel Centre, 2012 partners CLM and the Football League to extract a few bob, even ploughing money from her own speaking and motivational engagements into the communal pot.

"There is so much talent in the East End," she tells us. "I am just pleased that we have the wherewithal to unearth some of it."

But digging up those nuggets has not been easy. "We have had to go into schools to convince head teachers, tap up the local leisure centres to get free use of their facilities and talk to hospitals into getting their medicos and physios on board. No-one else has the uniqueness we have here. I know we have the right set-up from the number of kids we have knocking on the door wanting to come in, I just need more funding. If we don't catch medals in 2012, we will in 2016. All I want is people to say, 'Listen Tess, we want to help you.'"

Now Tessa hopes to extend this sporting oasis through her own Foundation, which has just received approval for charitable status. It means she will be able to spread her work outside the capital. Yet for all her efforts on behalf of the London Games and sport generally she remains on the outside of both the 2012 organisation itself and sports administration, which she admits hurts a bit.

She was involved with the original bid team led by Barbara Cassani but was not invited to be part of the party which went to Singapore, despite her connection with both the Olympics and the black community. "There are times I felt I had been overlooked and I wonder why. I've always tried my best for sport and my community."

Perhaps she has been too outspoken. It does seem odd that Sebastian Coe, who I know is among her many admirers has not sought to give her a more substantial role. Even odder that she is currently not a member of any of the sports quangos despite her obvious talent for getting things done. A few years back she was a vice-chair of Sport England the then Sports Minister, the late Tony Banks proposed making her chairman. He was howled down. I doubt I am alone in  believing Tessa would have done a a great job. Indeed, you think there would be room for someone now who has been there, done it and got the Olympic t-shirt (not to mention a gold medal) alongside the academics, business tycoons and B-list celebs who seem to proliferate on these bodies.

Tessa may not have made it in sports politics. But we can let you into a secret; she has ambitions to do so in the real thing as she is thinking of standing for Parliament in the near future.

"For which party?"

She laughs. "I am open to discussion. The Government have never approached me so if the Tories want to come and talk to me, I am happy to listen."

Actually, she says, she would love to be Sports Minister.  "I am absolutely sure I could do a lot better than some of them."

At a trim 53, the eternally feisty Tessa confesses she has never been happier. She is getting married – for the first time -  in May of next year to the British Judo chief, Densign White.  He's 48.  "My toy-boy," she giggles. They are both from Wolverhampton and have known each other for since 1984 but did not start dating until three years ago. Dame Kelly Holmes and Christine Ohuruogu (whose sister Victoria is at Tessa’s academy) will be among her bridesmaids.

Over the years Tessa has been elevated from MBE via OBE to CBE but surely the time has come to rank her alongside Kelly, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Mary Peters. As they say, there’s nothing like a Dame, and Tessa is true sporting nobility.

Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics, is a former Olympic Journalist of the Year and has twice been voted the Sports Journalists’ Association Diarist of the Year.



Tom Degun: I am now a table tennis convert

Duncan Mackay

I’ll be perfectly honest – when I went on Sunday to the 65th English Open Table Tennis Championships at the impressive English Institute of Sport (EIS) in Sheffield – I didn’t know all that much about the sport.
 

But before you criticise me too much, I did know some of the basics.
 

I knew that for each game, the first player to reach 11 points wins that particular game and that a game must be won by at least a two point margin. I also knew that a point is won every time the ball is in play and not – as many think - just by the server. I even knew that the edges of the table are part of the legal table surface, but not the sides.
 

But after that – my knowledge of the sport becomes rather insignificant unless you count the trivial tips I picked watching the film Forrest Gump when Tom Hank's loveable character competes at the Olympic Games in the sport. I had played the sport before at an undoubtedly "recreational level" but as a spectacle – I will admit that my preconceived idea was that table tennis would be – well - a tiny bit dull.
 

I had caught glimpses of the sport on television during the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games - where it appeared a very fast paced sport seemingly dominated by the Asian nations – particularly China - but I was not under the illusion that table tennis had a large fan base in England.
 

I was therefore slightly taken aback when I walked into a magnificent and packed arena with an atmosphere that rivalled anything I had experienced at the electric 41st Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the O2 Arena just over two weeks ago.
 

The boisterous crowd were seated around a single, gleaming table tennis table that took to the spotlight effortlessly. As I took my own seat – my naivety for the sport becoming more readily apparent by the second – I almost fell straight out of it again as suddenly, deafening rock music bellowed out of the surround sound speakers.
 

One-by-one, the players walked out to the music that was almost drowned out by the rapturous applause of the Sheffield natives. For a moment, I was convinced that I had entered a world heavyweight boxing contest and was half expecting to see Mike Tyson emerge from the player’s tunnel so caught up was I in the moment. When the entrance music faded and I coolly re-gathered myself, I settled down in anticipation for a "run-of-the-mill" table tennis match.
 

It became readily apparent though that my perception of a “run-of-the-mill” table tennis match was woefully inaccurate. The first point I saw, in the women’s final, almost bought me to my feet. As the serve went over the net - with so much spin it made a Shane Warne leg-break bowl look straight as an arrow - the two players engage in what can only be described as full out warfare on either side of the rectangular surface.


As a big tennis fan, I though table tennis would prove a miniature version of my beloved hobby just with a little less skill, less speed, less emphasis on technique and less athleticism. Watching the sport in the first person proved to me almost the exact opposite. The speed in which the players were hitting the ball was frightening.
 

While my eyes were struggling to keep up with the pace of the ball, the player’s were anticipating the angle of their opponents next shot with lightening reflexes that would rival those of the fastest cat while the hand-eye coordination I saw from the table tennis players was superior to that I had ever seen before from any athlete in any sport. And all the spins on show in tennis were there, just more of them.
 

There was top-spin, back-spin, side-spin, and a spin I can only describe as defensive reverse chop spin that stops as it hit the surface then speeds up again and loops up before flattening out - though I do not believe that is the technical name of the spin for anyone wishing to quote me on it.


It was so tactical, so quick, so delicate and yet so athletic that I shall now renounce anyone that can watch the sport at this level and call it "boring". The object is to out-think and out-manoeuvre your opponent out of position, with the use of accurate spin, flat shots and blistering speed, before delivering the killer blow like a boxer delivering the knockout punch to his weaken foe.  It is like a graceful game of chess played at a breakneck pace.
 

And for those who think it does not require and athletic ability, you are very wrong. These guys are fit, muscular specimens and if any of the guys took their tops off, I assure you that you would not want your girlfriend in close proximity.
 

For anyone looking to lose a little weight – and I could certainly do with shedding a few pounds right now – don't bother with running. Find a good table tennis sparring partner and an intense half-hour game a day should have you sweating more than Rafa Benitez is right now.
 

During the Championships, I ran into the delightful Joanna Parker, the British women’s number one player, who was kind enough to show me her specially built defensive racket - which retailed at around £120 - and explained the complexities of spin and flattening out shots in a terminology I could almost understand.
 

Joanna also said to me: "We just need more clubs around England as they play it everywhere in Asia. But I have never spoken to anyone in England who says they don't like playing table tennis. Anyone who has played it or has seen it live has never said it is boring."


After my experience on Sunday, I am inclined to agree with the British number one. I left the 65th English Open Table Tennis Championships feeling a huge admiration for a sport as worthy of praise as any other. I think I am now hooked on the sport and have already made room in the garage for what I hope will be a rectangular shaped Christmas present and I hope to soon play non-stop with anyone who fancies a game.
 

I think with a bit of practice – I could get into some decent shape (don’t laugh) and actually be quite good.
 

Degun for table tennis gold at London 2012? On the other hand, after seeing the superhuman Chinese Ma Long win in Sheffield, save yourself a few quid and don’t bet on it...

 

Tom Degun is a reporter with insidethegames.biz


Andy Hunt: The Winter Olympics is just as important to BOA as London 2012

Duncan Mackay

With only 100 days to go until the start of the 2010 Olympic Games, we still have 100 days to make a real difference for our athletes as they prepare for Vancouver. All of them are striving to reach their best form, their coaches are pushing them all the way, and all of us at the British Olympic Association (BOA) are doing everything we can to make these Games a success for Team GB.


One of the first decisions I made when I took over as the BOA's chief executive was to increase the focus on the Winter Sports and the Vancouver Games. It would have been easy to concentrate most of our resources, and most of our attention, on the 2012 Games in London, but I felt strongly that that would be wrong.
 

Why? Well because we have some extraordinarily talented and dedicated winter sport athletes who deserve to get our complete backing as they chase medal positions or a personal best. The BOA is here to support all of our Olympic sports in equal measure, and that's what we're planning to do.
 

So, right now, we're dedicating a significant amount of time planning for Vancouver. We're investing in our winter athletes and sports, and we're working on ways that we can support them not just in Vancouver, but in the years to come. It's a huge honour for me to be Team GB’s Chef de Mission in Vancouver, and there’s no way that I want winter athletes to ever feel like second-class citizens – they are absolutely fundamental to the Olympic Movement, both in Britain and around the world.

 

Not that there aren't serious challenges. The amount of Exchequer and Lottery funding given to GB winter sports is roughly 1.5 per cent of that available to the summer sports, while many of our athletes clearly have to train abroad for much of the time. This challenges the sports and athletes to be ingenious, entrepreneurial and frugal to make the most of limited the resources. Most winter athletes also rely on significant support from their families and friends, without whom their journeys to achieve their ultimate goal would have ceased a long time ago.

 

Around the world, British athletes are now competing, many in qualification events, in earnest with an eye on next year's Games. We've already secured places for our men’s and women's curling teams, with our men led by David Murdoch (pictured) having won the World Championships earlier this year. We also have five places for athletes in figure skating – comprised of a ladies single place, a pairs place and also an ice dance qualification and we’re certain of a men’s biathlon place. But we're aiming much higher than that – our team should include more than 45 athletes by the time we arrive in Canada.
 

For the moment, the emphasis is on honing performances and earning those crucial places. It can be a stressful time – athletes are understandably anxious about injury, about losing form, and, most of all, about missing out on a place at the Games. But coping with stress is one of the attributes of a great sportsman or woman - a capacity to rise to the occasion.


Over the next 100 days, I will be visiting the majority of our long-list winter athletes in competition as they qualify and prepare for the Games. Next week, I'll be going to Marquette, in the United States, to watch our short track skating team attempting to earn their places on the flight to Vancouver. I've got every confidence in them to produce something special, and I want to be there to see it happen and to cheer them along.

 

I hope the message will be clear - the BOA is putting its athletes and their performance at the heart of everything we do, every decision we make - and every ambition we cherish.

 

Andy Hunt is the chief executive of the British Olympic Association.


Neil Wilson: How Zola Budd alerted me to the doubts over Caster Semenya

Duncan Mackay

The first I knew of the doubts over Caster Semenya’s gender was in an e-mail from Zola Budd whose South African junior 800 metres record she had just eclipsed.


That was a month before controversy erupted after Semenya won gold in the World Championships but it seems ironic now when a senior Athletics South Africa official, Dr Simon Diamini, is claiming that Semenya's problems were caused because her critics were racially motivated to jealousy after she broke Budd's record.
    

Jealousy was not Zola's motivation in sending me a link to a story on a South African website. Now she lives in the United States on a two-year working visa she keeps in touch with her homeland through the internet and occasionally links me to articles she thinks may be of professional interest.
    

We met first when the Daily Mail sent me to South Africa in 1984 to check out the phenomenon of a teenager who was breaking world records running bare-foot in a country banned from international competition because of its apartheid policies. My journey resulted in her coming to England some three weeks later and receiving a British passport to which she was entitled by her grandfather's birth there.


The rest is history, the controversy that split the British public and Parliament, caused her to be attacked on a cross country course, hated in the United States because of her accidental involvement in the fall of that nation’s darling, Mary Decker, at the Olympic Games and the eventual International Amateur Athletics Federation - as it was then called - ban on Budd’s participation in the World Cross Country Championship which drove her to return to her homeland.
     

All now very old history. We have stayed in touch but Zola is about as far removed from the political machinations of South African athletics as it is possible to be. For more than a year now she and her family have lived an ocean away.
     

The now Mrs Pieterse, 43 and a mother of three, lives in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, where her children attend local public schools. Her husband Mike chose the location when she expressed an interest in running on the US masters circuit because it was renowned for its golf courses, his game.
      

She runs in low-key Masters division races throughout the Carolinas, winning many from five miles to half-marathon.  She has even run cross country there, the discipline in which she was twice world champion. Few of her rivals recognise her as a former world champion or even her name. When she signed up as a volunteer coach at her local college just one student on the athletics team knew of her background. The one happened not to be American-born. The nation that in 1984 hated her has long forgotten.
     

She runs because she has always enjoyed running. She ran the New York Marathon last year – in just under three hours – for the fun of it and is contemplating Boston next year and applying for an extension of her two-year visa. As she says, the only person she competes against now is herself.
      

The future may include coaching daughter Lisa, 13, who has started running, but when a local Carolina newspaper interviewed this autumn the writer said that the only hint that a famous runner lived there was the treadmill on the stoop.
    

It was, he noted, on the steepest setting. Zola’s never been anything but competitive, even when it is only with herself. At her peak she would have given Semenya a run for her money, whatever her gender.
 

Neil Wilson is Olympic and athletics correspondent of The Daily Mail. He has covered 18 Summer and Winter Olympic Games.


Ben Ainslie: Getting ready to get in the Finn again for London 2012

Duncan Mackay

Last Saturday marked be exactly 1,000 days' until London 2012 gets underway and I cannot wait for the excitement and buzz around the Olympics to really start ramping up as we get closer to the Games.

 

All the facilities will be in place but I really think it will be the atmosphere generated throughout the country that will make or break the Games and hopefully it will be better than anything I've ever experienced at any other Olympics.

 

The biggest Olympic Classes event I've ever done in this country was probably the Olympic Trials in 1995 so to compete at an actual Olympics in front of a home crowd in Britain would be very special.
 

To coincide with the release of my autobiography recently I did a few book signings around the country and it was great to meet so many people who just loved the Olympics and seemed genuinely excited about the Games coming to Britain.

 

I haven't been in a Finn since Beijing last year but I have a week's training with the rest of the British Finn squad scheduled at the start of December and in all honesty I fully expect the other guys to give me a good butt kicking!

 

It will probably be really windy and I'm a good six-seven kilos below my racing weight at the moment but that's fine and I'm looking forward to just getting back into the boat.

 

I'd like to do as much Finn sailing as I can in January and February and, although nothing's concrete yet, maybe look to do a couple of events next year too. But 2011 is the crucial year for me to really step it up while adding those extra kilos I need to sail the Finn.

 

It's great to be working with David 'Sid' Howlett again on my Finn campaign. Sid was my coach for Athens 2004 and he'll take a lot of the workload out of the logistics and planning meaning I know I can step back into the boat and i t will all be in great shape. His enthusiasm and knowledge are priceless, especially on the technical side, and he will be a great asset.

 

Last month myself, Matt Cornwell, Iain Percy and Christian Kamp enjoyed a successful week in Bermuda winning the Argo Group Gold Cup. The event is part of the World Match Racing Tour and has in the past been won by some of the biggest names in sailing so to win the coveted King Edward VII Gold Cup was a very special moment for us all.

 

We had some tough racing during the event being pushed hard by Australian Torvar Mirsky, reigning champion and fellow Brit Ian Williams and Kiwi Adam Miniprio in the final knockout stages but with those three guys currently sat 1-2 and 3 in the overall Tour leaderboard after eight events  it was a very satisfying victory.

 

It's frustrating to have only done four Tour events this year meaning we're not in line to land the World title but a good performance at the final round in Malaysia in December could still see us sneak on to the podium.

 

Later this month Team Origin will compete in the first Louis Vuitton Trophy Regatta in Nice. With the 33rd America's Cup solely the Deed of Gift Match between Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing next February, a series of five Louis Vuitton Trophy events, sailed in America's Cup boats, have been proposed starting now and continuing throughout 2010. I think this is a really good thing and crucial if the interest level in the America's Cup is going to be maintained.

 

Finally huge congratulations to Jenson Button on landing the Formula One World title. I was a guest of Brawn GP at the European Grand in Valencia in August and they made me feel so welcome, even involving me in all the post-race briefs. It's a remarkable story and I'm really delighted for Jenson. 

 

Ben Ainslie is Britain's most successful Olympic sailor of all time, in total he has won three gold medals and one silver. He is also a nine times World champion, eight times European Champion and three times ISAF world sailor of the year. Ainslie's next aspiration is to win the Americas Cup with Team Origin before bringing back a historic fourth gold in the London 2012 Olympics. To find out more information click here.
 


David Owen: What is Sepp Blatter up to?

Duncan Mackay
You couldn’t exactly brand it a shock development.
 
As surprises go, the recent disclosure that FIFA President Joseph Blatter wants to run for re-election ranks right up there with Usain Bolt running a sub-10 second 100 metres or San Marino finishing bottom of their World Cup qualifying group.
 
Granted, if he won a fourth term, world football’s energetic boss would be within shouting distance of his 80th birthday by the time it ended.
 
But I have always tended towards the view that, if given the choice - and assuming immortality is not an option - he would expire in harness.
 
It was the timing that got me wondering.
 
The 61st FIFA Congress is not scheduled for another 19 or 20 months.
 
When he was last up for re-election in May 2007, he was returned with a standing ovation.
 
Why on earth declare so early?
 
Having done some research, I can see that such early notice of his plans – in this case his "hope" that "in 2011 the FIFA Congress once more has faith in me" - is not unprecedented.
 
The first reference I can find to his wishing to seek another term in 2007, “"providing I remain healthy", dates from April 2005, more than two years before the election date.
 
However, then the circumstances were rather different in that the length of his second term had been extended from four to five years and he had initially said, in 2002, that he would stand down at the end of that second term.
 
You can understand why he might have felt that a clear and early statement of his intentions was expedient.
 
This time, the Presidential term has reverted to the normal four years and Blatter had no need, so far as I am aware, to row back from any previously stated intention.
 
So what else might have prompted him to make plain his desire to go on?
 
A simple wish to keep us all informed?
 
Or could it be he feels that his position in the post he has held for more than a decade since 1998 is in some way under threat?
 
I have taken soundings and detected whispers that some sort of challenge could indeed be in the offing.
 
At different times, I have heard various names cited as possible successors to the man from Visp, "near the famous Matterhorn".
 
One is Michel Platini, among the most gifted footballers of recent times, who is now President of UEFA, the European football confederation.
 
Another is Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s Secretary General.
 
I think the circumstances would have to be quite far-fetched, though, for either of these Frenchmen to run against Blatter.
 
A third name who might, I suspect, have fewer scruples about taking the incumbent on is Mohamed Bin Hammam, the 60-year-old Qatari who is President of the Asian Football Confederation.
 
But in May Bin Hammam only narrowly retained his seat on FIFA's ruling Executive Committee, defeating Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa by 23 votes to 21.
 
It seems to me he would need a great deal of help from other power brokers if any challenge to Blatter is to stand the slightest prospect of success.
 
Might Issa Hayatou, the 63-year-old President of the African Football Confederation (CAF), who ran against Blatter in 2002, going down by 139 votes to 56, be tempted to add his support?
 
We shall have to wait and see; Bin Hammam would probably need him.
 
I have also heard musings to the effect that a candidate from outside the present FIFA Executive Committee could conceivably emerge.
 
This too must be seen as a long shot, although it is not impossible, I suppose, that a Latin American media mogul or somesuch with the means and desire to mount a campaign might come out of left field.
 
At any rate, the source of the musings commands enough respect for the notion not to be automatically rejected.
 
All of this might be of limited interest to those not directly involved were it not for the highly competitive race for the right to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups that is currently picking up speed and which will culminate in December 2010, around six months before the 2011 FIFA Congress.
 
Clearly, bargains struck and alliances forged in the context of any tilt at the FIFA Presidency could have ramifications for these high-stakes, high-profile bids.
 
I may be making too much out of this.
 
It could still very well be that Blatter, far from going back to his village, strolls on into a fourth term with as little fuss as he strolled into his third.
 
But as someone who has watched this strange organisation throughout Blatter's decade in the top seat, I would advise bid strategists to make sure their political antennae are in sound working order in the weeks and months ahead.
 
I’ll certainly be keeping my ear to the ground.
 
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.

Shanaze Reade: The excitement of London 2012 outweighs the pressure

Duncan Mackay

Shanaze Reade_in_everyday_clothes_14-02-12With this weekend's "1,000 Days To Go" milestone making the headlines, some people might feel London 2012 is a long way off but, for me, 1,000 days seems incredibly close. At the same time, it still only feels like yesterday when I was competing at Beijing 2008.

Beijing was an amazing experience for me. I was only 19 and being hyped up as a gold-medal hopeful in the BMX event, which brought a huge amount of pressure. In the end, it may not have worked out as planned but it's a massive advantage that I’ll be able to carry that experience into London 2012. I know that, being a bit older, I'll be much better equipped to handle the pressure that goes hand-in-hand with competing at that level.

The girl who won gold in the BMX at Beijing was someone who had never beaten me but she was a few years older than me, and I'm sure she used that to her benefit. I've learnt that mental strength has a huge part to play in success at the Olympics and I'm lucky enough to be working on this with GB coach Steve Peters. He works with many athletes on their mental approach to aspects of their life and sport, which will be invaluable in 2012.

It's inevitable that the pressure on GB athletes will be greater due to the fact that the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will be on home soil. I feel like I matured more as an athlete overnight in Beijing than at any other point in my career. I'm now familiar with all aspects of the Olympics; I've had experience of the training regime, media requirements and even the athlete village. I know that I can take the pressure and expectation with a pinch of salt and that sets me up perfectly for London 2012. The incentive to make history by winning on home soil more than outweighs the extra pressure of being a GB athlete!

As well as training with the GB BMX squad almost every day, I also get to ride with the BMX team that I support, Team Reade, which includes six of the other top BMX riders from around the country (aged between 12 and 23). Both sets of riders are constantly talking about London 2012 and there's a huge amount of excitement around it.

That said, there's still plenty to achieve in the meantime. I've been out for a number of months this year with a shoulder injury. Picking up injuries is never ideal but this time it was a blessing in disguise. I realised that I hadn't had any proper time out since Beijing and it just allowed me to have some time off to do ‘normal’ things. I was able to reflect on everything that happened last year and, having been back in training for a month now, I feel really refreshed and keen to get back to BMX competition.

Shanaze Reade_in_action_14-02-12
Due to the injury, I wasn't able to defend my BMX World Championship title this summer so I’ll be training hard in order to regain it at next year’s event (and then retain it in the following years). That would be the ideal scenario and would be a great run-in to compete for gold at the Velopark in East London in 2012.  

I've been lucky enough to visit the Velopark even though it's still a construction site down there. All you want as a BMX rider is a good solid track but I'm sure the facilities at the new venue will be second-to-none. It's surreal being at the site, and it’s hard to imagine what it will be like when it's finished, but it gives me goose bumps to think about competing in front of a home crowd.

The other advantage of having the Olympics in London is everything that it brings with it. We've noticed the difference that the funding has brought, even down to smaller things like just having new equipment appearing in the gym. The Olympics helps highlight such a variety of sports and, because of the attention paid to BMX in 2008, it seems that more people are interested ahead of 2012.

It's an easy sport to get involved in, with plenty of tracks around the country, a lot of which hire bikes for only a few pounds. I really believe that participation in BMX is increasing and hopefully, in the 1,000 days between now and the Olympic Games, more and more people will be tempted to try the sport. Hopefully this means there will be plenty of people supporting the GB BMX riders in 2012 and I'll be doing all I can to make sure I'm there and giving them something to cheer about. 

Shanaze Reade is a BT Ambassador.  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.