I want to ride it where I like
Climate change funding hyperbole, Winter shrinkage and subbed refs
Chris Boardman. Olympic cycling pursuit champion. Tour de France stage winner. Advisor to British Cycling. Head of the government’s Gear Change strategy promoting cycling and walking at Active Travel England. Founder and face of Boardman Bikes, currently owned by Halfords. You may have one in the family, perhaps a balance bike for a toddler or a £3,555 top-end model.
Oh, and he’s been chair of Sport England since July 2021. You’d be forgiven for missing that, though, given the subterranean profile Boardman has maintained in the post - in stark contrast to previous holders of the role at the funding agency that hands out National Lottery and Exchequer funds to grassroots sport.
Until last week that is, when Chris Boardman came out swinging with a series of hyperbolic comments about climate change, while professing them to be otherwise. Bottom line, sports will be expected to have plans for saving the planet as a condition of future funding. Standout comment:
“Without veering into hyperbole, it’s so that we don’t all die.” Chris Boardman to The Guardian
I’m no climate change denier, or even sceptic (see Winter Olympics piece below). I was toppled off the agnostic’s fence a few years back. But there’s something about this approach that strikes me as seriously off. I’m told we’ve heard little to date from Boardman at Sport England because of the importance of his workload - presumably at Active Travel England - and that this new policy pronouncement dovetails with the government’s strategy. And yet it came within days of Rishi Sunak watering down his party’s ‘net zero’ commitment.
Who is holding the pen here? Has Sport England’s core purpose been forgotten? (It’s to help keep the nation active, in case you were wondering).
“Regardless of the colour [of political party], we’re all winning as long as governments prioritise health and low carbon living.” Boardman for the Blue Earth Summit
I chair a governing body, GB Wheelchair Rugby, with an excellent working relationship with the funding agency. It is a vital backer of our work supporting a sport for many who have severe physical disadvantages. I know what our priorities are, and more importantly our challenges. They include keeping venues open, confronting the cost of living crisis for our members, sustaining volunteer-run clubs and reaching out to those who might want to play rugby but aren’t aware of the opportunity.
All organisations in receipt of Sport England monies have their own specific goals and obstacles. We each address them within the constraints of a code of good governance for sport that exists for all the right reasons, but soaks up countless hours of work by staff and volunteer board members. And to this add action on the ‘climate emergency’?
Eyes have rolled across sport at Boardman’s pronouncements, but few if any will speak out for fear of jeopardising their relationship with Sport England. Perhaps my colleagues at GBWR will think similarly and take me behind the bike shed to be sorted out. If so, I’ll understand why.
Last time I wrote on sport and climate change was, ironically, when I defended British Cycling’s decision to sign Shell as a sponsor. The oil major was accused of greenwashing and the governing body of besmirching the green credentials of cycling. My stance was a minority one - at least among those prepared to state a view. A beleaguered British Cycling was grateful, perhaps even forgave me years of criticising it publicly.
Interestingly, Shell UK’s chairman David Bunch was appointed to the board of Active Travel England back in March, only months after its cycling sponsorship was announced. Wheels within wheels? I applaud the diversity of thought this appointment appears to represent, though. I dread the prospect of a world in which sporting bodies fearful of the funding axe screen candidates for vacant roles according to their views on climate change.
So that we don’t all die, Chris? Why not trust us to do the right thing? You wouldn’t have to stuff climate consultants’ panniers with cash then either.
Slip slidin’ away (or maybe not)
Thomas Bach has confirmed the IOC will award the rights to host the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympics at the same time. The organisation is conscious that the number of nations capable of hosting its Games - especially the Winter edition - is shrinking as fast as the polar icecaps. Perhaps as few as ten might now.
Already a boutique event by comparison with its summer big brother, could it be that the days of the Winter Olympics are numbered? Salt Lake City fancies a return to hosting duties in 2034, so the Games are safe until then at least, but the ugly, artificial snowscape of Beijing 2022 might in time be judged the beginning of a long, slow end.
Which is just what Bach himself may pirouette away from if certain of his acolytes succeed in persuading IOC members to revise its charter to allow the president to serve beyond the mandated maximum term of office. Just remember, the limit was introduced by Bach himself. No surprise in the parallel universe the IOC exists in, because of course no-one else in the whole wide world could do the job as well as Bach, could they?
“It is a matter of mutual respect and personal relationships that you do not dismiss such a sign of support and friendship out of hand.” Four more years? Thomas Bach rules nowt out
Exit the Dragon
After I speculated last week that AI reffing of association football matches might be only a few years away, Warren Gatland prompts me this week to ask what rugby football can do to dehumanise the man in the middle? If you missed it, the Wales coach cited the mid-game change to the referee after injury as a factor in his team’s World Cup exit.
“It does throw you off. We were comfortable with Jaco Peyper and the relationship that we had with him, in terms of control of the game. It’s nothing aganst Karl [Dickson] but you do a lot of analysis through what referees tend to be tough on and what they’re looking for. We hadn’t really prepared for that change.” Warren Gatland
Hmm! Here’s an idea for World Rugby. In future only announce the name of the ref on the eve of the match. Remove the gaming of the ref.
Like the No. 9 bus, podcasts tend to arrive together. More soapboxing from me this week on Hudson Sandler’s Fair & Square pod. If you can spare half an hour, I hope you enjoy it. Here’s the link