By Alan Hubbard

Alan Hubbard_22-11-11I am not sure if Tanni Grey-Thompson has ever met Sepp Blatter – or  even desires to do so – but I would like to be the proverbial fly on the wall should they ever have a conversation which embraces the FIFA poobah's growing list of apparent prejudices.

Slippery Sepp – hard to say whether he or the Houdini of Twickenham, Rob Andrew, has the thicker coating of Teflon – is not unfamiliar with isms.

His current misadventure with racism was famously preceded by a chauvinistic flirtation with sexism when he suggested that women's football would be more aesthetically appealing if players wore kit that revealed rather more flesh ("tighter shorts and low cut shirts"). As befits a bloke who once rejoiced in the role of President of the Society for the Preservation of the Suspender.

Then there was the infamous flippancy towards homosexuality, banned in Qatar where the World Cup is heading in 2022. Just refrain from participating while you are there, was his sage advice to any gay football followers.

So far Blatter, whose gaffes make even Prince Philip seem politically correct, hasn't enlightened us with any views on disability, but doubtless he is quite capable of plonking his well-shod foot in it should the subject ever arise.

Which is why I hope the newly-ennobled Baroness Grey-Thompson is around if and when it does. No one is better qualified to insert the flea into his shell-like.

The peerless Paralympian has always been one of our most courageous sports personalities, both in her endeavours and achievements in sport but also in forthrightly expressing her opinions.  Elevation to the House of Lords has given those views even greater gravitas.

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This was admirably demonstrated at an illuminating Sports Journalists Association Ladbrokes lunch last week where, in times when prejudice is high on the sporting agenda, she revealed concerns about what she perceives as a growing and disturbing antipathy towards the disabled. "There has been a massive increase in hate crimes towards disabled people," she said.

"There seems to be a feeling that many are just work-shy welfare scroungers, happy to live on benefits, which is quite wrong. They are an easy target in this economic climate."

Her hope is that next year's Paralympics will change people's perceptions "because they will show what disabled people can achieve. Ninety per cent of those athletes taking part won't even know about disability benefits because they've been too busy making something of their lives."

And it is not just for that reason that Tanni has high hopes that the 2012 Paralympic Games will be an unprecedented success. "Every four years the event gets better and better. I used to think it was my job to speak up for the Paralympics but it just isn't necessary any more.

"These days the public get it, as we have seen from the huge demand in tickets. (Ironically she didn't get anything herself in the first ballot).

Here, too, is one influential member of the sporting elite who unequivocally backs Lord Moynihan's fight to preserve the British Olympic Association life ban on druggies.

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Tanni, who led a UK Sport anti-doping review, says: "If anyone serves a doping ban they should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics. It is something we must stand firm on.

"It would be a backwards step to weaken our stance. Dwain [Chambers] is a really lovely young man but what really troubles me is that when he was given the opportunity to take the direction he did, why did nobody stop him?"

"You can say it's not fair, but sport itself isn't always fair. It's not fair when you are clean and have to compete against athletes who may not be. There was a view for a while that disabled athletes didn't cheat, but regrettably some do, and have been caught, though I can say hand on heart I have never competed against anyone who I thought was at it.

"We have to ask ourselves what we want our sport to be. We want it to be exciting and interesting but we also want it to be clean. I am not saying this is a fight we can totally win because there will always be those who do every single thing they can to take that extra step."

History has shown that famous former competitors do not always make a successful transition from sports politics to real politics, but I have always felt Tanni was one was one who would.

Now the First Lady of Paralympic sports has become the second lady of sport to sit in the House of Lords, following UK Sport chair Sue (now Baroness) Campbell, who like her, is known to have Labour leanings but sits as a cross-bencher.

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"I know Sue quite well and I'm learning a lot from her," Tanni tells me. "I found it hard when I was asked to define my political views because I am a bit right of centre on some things and a long way left on others."

So the ermine cloak has been wrapped around her as a People's Peer, despite being an ardent Labour supporter all her life. "It wasn't an easy decision," she admits "My political views may be mainly left of centre but I think there are a lot of advantages of being a cross-bencher because you can vote with your heart. In any case, I believe sport should be non-political.

"To be honest, as a cross-bencher I'm not sure what I am allowed to do politically. I am still on a learning curve.

"My passions are sport, women in sport and disabled people, and they kind of end up not being political, so I can put a bit of a different spin on things. I have not gone in there to start speaking on matters of which I have no previous experience, but I am an ex-athlete, I am a mum and I have a disability so all that combines to give a different perspective.

"Health is one debate that immediately jumps out. And not just regarding the many problems regarding disability (she has been in a wheelchair since she was seven, having been born with spina bifida). Change also needs to be instigated in issues ranging from assisted suicide to care in the home and the legacy of London 2012.

"It was a deep desire to help make positive changes that first drove me into politics as a student (she has a degree in political sciences from Loughborough University) and this still burns as bright as ever. I've had many challenges in life and sport but going into the House of Lords is probably the biggest.

"But even now I start to giggle when I hear someone call me Baroness Grey-Thompson."

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Born 41 years ago in Cardiff, Tanni has won an unparalleled 11 Paralympic golds, set 30 world records and won six London Marathons.

Since retiring from competitive sport four years ago she says she is busier than ever. "I am fortunate that I have found so many things to do in life to replace athletics. Nothing can ever be the same after you have competed at such a high level but all this gives me a great buzz – something that is meaningful and, I hope, productive. Life's chaotic these days, but then it always was."

She says it is fortunate that her husband, Ian, is able to work from the family home in a village just outside Darlington and is in a position to look after their nine-year-old daughter Carys. A doctor of chemistry, he now works in sports science and coaching. "He knew that I was going to have to spend a lot of time in London so it is good that this has worked out really well. He loves coaching and I like what I do. It was a really good point for both of us to think about what we wanted to do with our futures."

Ever combative, she has long been highly critical of the way sport is administered. Has lording it with the political aristocracy mellowed her? "I doubt it," she says. "I still get frustrated at the hierarchical order of British sport, the school of 'We'll do it this way because we've always done it this way'. They could do so much more, not with money but with attitude. Sport needs people at the top who really understand what it is about."

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Tanni, more than anyone, has raised the status of disability sport to the level where there is genuine public enthusiasm and support.  "The London Games will be fantastic for both Olympians and Paralympians. I sit on a couple of 2012 committees and I think we have got the balance exactly right between the two Games. I thought I would be asking questions all the time about the Paralympics but I've never had to do that, not once, everything seems to be answered, which is great. You don't want to have people sitting there thinking, 'Oh God, it's her again'."

It is one thought she hopes is not echoed when, as Baroness Grey-Thompson, she wheels her way into the House of Lords debating chamber four times a week. For you can be sure she will have a lot of sensible things to say for herself – and for sport. We can only hope that in his FIFA fiefdom a certain Swiss overlord will listen and learn from this remarkable lady.

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