Emily Goddard
Alan HubbardI am disappointed in David Cameron. Though never a Tory voter I have been among the dwindling numbers who appreciated and understood what the Prime Minister has been trying to achieve in dire economic straits and the strategic way he had to go about it.

But he has plummeted in my estimation in the light of his handling - or rather mishandling - of the Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson debacle.

We know now that one of Britain's greatest Paralympians has been ruthlessly gazumped over the chairmanship of Sport England after apparently being given to understand the job was hers and that it just needed to be rubber-stamped by 10 Downing Street.

Her rejection smacks of a shameful piece of political skulduggery for which Cameron himself must shoulder the blame.

He could easily have overturned the hastily revised recommendations from apparatchiks not to appoint her after an interviewing panel had said she was the best candidate and instead listened to both Lord Sebastian Coe and his own Sports Minister who know far more about sports politics than the Whitehall desk jockeys - or the apparently compliant Culture Secretary Maria Miller - ever will.

david cameron 230413David Cameron has bowed to Tory peer pressure in not selecting Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson as the new Sport England chair

Instead, he also bowed to those anonymous Tory Peers who whispered in his ear that the ex-wheelchair athlete would be "too political" because her trenchant views on cuts to welfare disability benefits, legal aid and sports funding had got up their toffee noses in House of Lords debates.

I thought Cameron had more bottle than that; maybe he was just showing his true colours. Tory blue.

We have been left with an embarrassing botch-up. Sorry, stitch-up. Embarrassing that is for both Tanni and supportive Sports Minister Hugh Robertson who was left to make the relevant announcement yesterday that the new Sport England chair was to be Nick Bitel.

As it happens, Nick is a good bloke who has served Sport England well as a Board member for a decade and will do a decent and astute job. The well-respected sports lawyer has a terrific track record, brilliantly running the London Marathon - in the administrative sense - as its chief executive since 1995.

Rather ironically, one of his referees for the Sport England role was Tanni herself, with the former Labour Sports Minister Kate Hoey another.

Nick Bitel 230413Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was one of Nick Bitel's referees for the post

But by not appointing Tanni Sport England miss out on acquiring a much-needed inspirational figurehead who would have lifted a worthy but anonymous organisation from public indifference.

Although considered by the Government a more vital cog in the sports wheel than UK Sport, whose concentration is on elitism rather than grassroots and legacy, its work has been very much overshadowed by Baroness Sue Campbell's high-powered team.

An interview panel headed by Sir Keith Mills originally recommended Tanni replace fellow left-leaning peer Campbell as chairman of UK Sport (Tanni has applied for both roles) with Nick Bitel proposed as the new chair of Sport England.

But the Sports Minister instead favoured ex-sailing chief Rod Carr - subsequently appointed - or ex-modern pentathlete and financier Mark Hanson as chair of UK Sport and Lady Grey-Thompson as the new head of Sport England, with Bitel as vice-chair.

It now seems that under pressure from prejudiced Tory Peers and those meddlesome mandarins whose actual knowledge of sport, one former Sports Minister once told me, is at best scant and at worst negligible, the PM decided to block Tanni's appointment, opting instead for Bitel at Sport England and Carr at UK Sport.

I understand that the Government were disappointed that high-profile personalities such as Sir Keith Mills himself and the retiring FA chairman David Bernstein had not applied for either of the respective vacancies and had even considered re-advertising them. But neither Mills nor Bernstein indicated an interest.

Sir Keith Mills 230413The Government are said to have been disappointed that the likes of Sir Keith Mills did not apply for the job

Amid this shifting political maelstrom, it must at times have seemed for Tanni like Fifty Shades of Grey-Thompson.

Whitehall sources now say it was Grey-Thompson's lack of experience in chairing major organisations or handling big budgets - Sport England's is £300 million ($457 million/€352 million). But it is generally believed that the 43-year-old crossbencher's outspokenness on social issues led to intense lobbying from Conservatives who were uncomfortable that some of her views were not compatible with the Government's.

She had expressed serious concerns that disability benefit cuts risked undermining the 2012 aim of widening access to sport and that it was important to acknowledge that the Disability Living Allowance enabled people to do things everyone else took for granted. "Without it I really do worry that people will be ghettoised and isolated," she had declared with a vehemence that clearly rattled the Tories.

This week Baroness Billingham, a shadow spokeswoman on Culture, Media and Sport, said of Lady Grey-Thompson: "The only reason that she has been critical is that the Government have been hopeless...I am sure the Tories wanted someone who is more compliant and is not so critical of their policies."

Former Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said he believed Lady Grey-Thompson was "the best person for the job". The Labour MP, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary group on disability sports, said: "She is a strong presence in the world of sport, not just on the track but also as a leader for athletes and administrators. No-one should be penalised for disagreeing with the Government." Quite.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 230413Many believed Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson to be "the best person for the job"

This could be interpreted as a snub not only for Tanni but also for the advancement of women in sport and Paralympic sport.

With the exit of Baroness Campbell from UK Sport, we now have both Government sports quangos headed by able-bodied men.

And where were the black candidates we wonder?

Tanni has accepted the decision with the grace and dignity you would expect of her. She merely admits her disappointment at missing out yet has every right to be furious at a recruitment process that has been so badly mishandled.

She says: "I do, of course, respect the Government's decision, and having worked with Nick Bitel on the Board of the London Marathon and LLDC (London Legacy Development Corporation) I have no doubt that he will do a fantastic job. Needless to say, I will continue to offer any support I can to Sport England and those other organisations that make sport more accessible in our society."

But privately she is hurt that the Government chose not to distinguish views on social issues from her ability to run a sports organisation. 

I don't buy the claim by DCMS "insiders" that her "lack of commercial experience" hampered her candidacy. "She's a great athlete and a great Olympian (sic) but in terms of commercial experience she has never run anything."

Hang on a minute. Isn't that what they handsomely pay the chief executive to do? And in the admirable Jennie Price, Sport England has one of the most proven capable operators in sports administration.

Jennie Price 230413In Jennie Price, Sport England has one of the most proven leaders in sports administration

Here is Tanni's CV: A former non-executive director of UK Athletics, sits on the Board of the London Marathon, the Board of Transport for London, LLDC and is chair of the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation Commission on the Future of Women's Sport.

Vice-chairman of the Laureus World Sport Academy and a trustee of the Sport for Good Foundation. She is also a Council member for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and an International Inspiration Ambassador. In July 2011, she was announced as the President of the Leadership 20:20 Commission on the future leadership of Civil Society.

Last year she spearheaded an £8 million ($12 million/€9 million) Sport England programme and has chaired a UK Athletics drugs advisory board. She also happens to be an accomplished communicator and an undeniably iconic figure in the world of sports as one of Britain's most decorated Paralympians with 11 gold medals. What more do you want, Mr Cameron?

No, this is a ham-fisted piece of politicking, which has damaged the Government's credibility in British sport.

A bit of own back for expressing views they did not like.

They say revenge is sweet. This one has left a distinctly sour taste in the mouth.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.