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The false lustre of VVIPs
Politicians and sport rarely mix well. Royalty not always either. The fuss about the Prime Minister and Duke of Cambridge missing the World Cup final was classic British media nonsense. In my experience, the less time spent trying to sprinkle dubious stardust on sporting events, the better.
Civil servants at DCMS and staff at UK Sport spent ridiculous time that could have been better used elsewhere trying to lure a member of the cabinet and a senior royal to the London 2017 World Athletics Championships. The government at the time was in ‘don’t be seen to smile’ mode in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. The PM was scheduled to be on a below-radar hols and, one by one, from the Queen downwards the apparatchiks were told that the royals were otherwise engaged. Even London mayor Sadiq Khan could only pop along for the opening session.
And so I found myself on the first evening next to Prince Andrew in the VVIP section, still two years away from his infamous Newsnight interview. The Duke said a few words to the crowd to open the champs alongside the mayor and Seb Coe, World Athletics president. He then watched just two or three of the preliminary heats of the men’s 100m before being whisked away. Back to Balmoral we were led to believe. Rarely have I seen someone less enamoured with the duty thrust upon him.
“I have no doubt that more wonderful memories will be created over the next ten days, and that the performances beginning tonight will serve as an inspiration to people across the world.” Prince Andrew, London 2017 opening ceremony
Khan, by contrast, was so enthused by Mo Farah’s win in the 10,000m that evening that he ordered a rejigging of his diary so he could return to be in close proximity to the podium at the next day’s medal ceremony for the race.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley did make it to a session. At a celebratory tea party for athletes and staff at 10 Downing St a few weeks later, PM Theresa May told me how much she’d regretted being unable to attend herself, but that she’d watched the Worlds on the BBC while on her walking holiday in Europe. Must have been using a VPN to get round the geoblock on the Beeb’s signal, if true. A privilege of power I guess.
Authenticity is all, and so often lacking, even when true fandom exists. Blame the PR execs - Khan was surrounded by them, all glued to their phones and seemingly flummoxed by his unexpected intoxication with the event. Who’s more to blame for Rishi Sunak’s looking awkward in an England football shirt with its tags still intact to cheer on the Lionesses: the PM himself or whichever flunky pressed the top on him?
There is a right way to do it. In my brief interim stint at the British Equestrian Federation, barely knowing one end of a horse from the other, I sat next to our patron the Duchess of Cornwall - now the Queen and still with that role at the BEF. Our’s was a challenged organisation and I found the Duchess engaged, suitably concerned and full of passion for solutions to be found to our problems. Most importantly, none of this was for show.
Kevlar cockroaches and the tyranny of big numbers
Victoria has agreed to pay A$380 million (£192 million) to the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia for pulling out of hosting the 2026 edition of the Games. The state’s premier had claimed the cost of staging the event had ballooned to A$6 billion (£3 billion), more than twice the original budget. It would have involved around 5,000 athletes.
The 2017 athletics Worlds cost £55 million. 2,000 athletes took part.
Yes, you can’t compare chalk with cheese. Victoria 2026 required venues to be built. A village was to be created for the competitors. London 2017 used an existing venue and put athletes up in hotels. And inflation has surged in the interim years. But surely there must be a way for a multi-sport Games to be delivered using established infrastructure and costing no more than the equivalent of individual championships for each of the component sports.
“This brings to an end this matter, there can be no further appeals, there can be no further action. And that is a good thing.” Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria
The CGF should set itself the task of organising its next Games for little more than the embarrassment dowry just wrung by its lawyers from Victoria. My bet is it can be done.
First piece of advice is to beware the ‘Kevlar cockroaches’ - those professionals who roll around the world from event to event, exceeding budgets while blaming deadline pressures, claiming unrealistic economic and social impacts, hailing ‘best ever’ delivery before moving on to their next gig to blow funders’ dollars all over again. It’s not difficult to spot them, but can require a stiff spine to spurn their claimed credentials and instead utilise those experts proud of coming in under budget.
Still unconvinced? Well, you can hold a five day European Championships for eight wheelchair rugby teams - just under 100 athletes in total - in an absolutely iconic sporting venue for around £1.5 million. Just saying…
Received wisdom is that Daniel Levy did well to wring about €100m out of Bayern Munich for Harry Kane when England’s captain had only one year left on his contract at Spurs and wanted away. But would it have been better to allow him to run it down (assuming that the striker remained motivated to give of his best in the circumstances)?
There are clearly a number of moving parts in the equation: cost of a replacement, differential salaries and contribution to the team’s success, which in turn plays into the financial return for the club dependent on league position and cup runs. Boil it down to a couple of million quid per game though and you could make the argument that a fee foregone is outweighed by having a final season of Kane. Or at least the sporting chip that he represents on football’s high stakes roulette table.
Pass me the zimmer, London’s calling
Senior Railcard? TfL 60+ Oyster Card? Turns out the biggest benefit of my big figure becoming six is the jump in London Marathon ‘good for age’ qualifying time from 3:20 for men age 59 to 3:45 for those over 60. Reykjavik Marathon at 60 plus two days in 3:27.58 last weekend. Thank you ASICS Metaspeed Edge+, a prudent training schedule designed for the more ‘mature’ runner, great course, perfect conditions and a cortisone injection a few days out from the race. And even a metal bar called Lemmy to celebrate in after. London now calling.