Duncan Mackay

Whoever wins the election on May 6, sport can expect some fundamental changes in the way it is governed.

I understand both Labour and Conservative parties have plans to shake up the system - and particularly the FA and Premier League’s administration of professional football - which go beyond the sketchy proposals made in their respective manifestos.

Government-backed organisations such as UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sports Trust can also expect some serious reform, as can their overlords, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, particularly if the Tories gain power.

A strong Labour influence in these bodies has been of some concern to the Shadow Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, who also pledges to restore Lottery funding for sport to its original level of 20 per cent. This has fallen from £460 million ($707 million) to £217 million ($334 million).

The election will pose fresh questions about the role of the sports ministry. Labour undoubtedly would retain Tessa Jowell as Olympics Minister to finish the job she has tackled so zealously. There is no doubt Jowell would be gutted not to be associated with a project which  she force-fed Tony Blair into backing when London’s bid was initially orchestrated.  

So should the Conservatives win. it is likely that LOCOG chairman Lord Coe, a Tory peer with whom she has forged a harmonious working relationship, would offer her some sort of ambassadorial role with 2012, though the Tories would insist this has to be strictly non-political.

If Labour are returned to office, some feel that the likeable but low-key Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe will have to raise not so much his game but his profile to keep riding shotgun with Jowell through to 2012. There are plenty of wannabes waiting on Labour’s subs’ bench who covet his job, seen as a plum junior ministerial post with of one of the best seats in the house at any major sporting event.

In any Conservative Government Robertson. who has twice turned down offers from David Cameron of promotion to higher office on the Opposition front bench, would want to combine the jobs of Olympics and Sports Minister, which he has been effectively
shadowing for five years. At 47, Robertson is understandably politically ambitious, and overseeing the delivery of the 2012 Games should surely make this a Cabinet position.

All three main parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, pledge support for the bid to stage to stage football’s 2018 World Cup and a Tory victory would see David Cameron undertaking a Blair-like glad-handing role.     

As a lifelong, but currently rather disaffected Labour supporter (the lying over Iraq and the return of lying Mandelson et al), I would not be unhappy at seeing Robertson (pictured above left) as Sports Minister. For a Tory he’s not a bad bloke - one of the most decent and fair-minded politicians I have encountered. The ex-Army major who saw active service in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War and Bosnia, has a good grasp of what sport is about at all levels and he certainly would not be kicked around by the footy fraternity.

Of course there is now a Third Man to consider. Nick Clegg turned the opinion polls upside down with his virtuoso performance in the party leaders' TV debate, at least enough to concentrate our minds on a hung parliament, bringing the strong possibility of a Lab-Lib coalition. One of Clegg’s bargaining chips could be that his sports spokesman Don Foster, who the party consider the Vince Cable of sport, is given the job. While Foster didn’t exactly do a Clegg in the recent tri-party debate between sports spokesman organised by the Sports Journalists' Association, he was engaging, profound and well-informed.

Sport has never been particularly high on the political agenda - and it certainly isn’t in the party manifestos - but in the forthcoming election surely it should be with all the international events ahead here including a possible football World Cup and, of course, the Olympics where security and finance will be of paramount political importance. 

So what of the nitty-gritty? We know that Government funding for sport is likely to be cut whichever political party is in power.  As Robertson said: "Personally I wouldn’t cut exchequer funding for sport but none of us know what expenditure cuts there will be."

Both Foster and Robertson are in favour of a reformation of how lottery money is taxed and distributed, Foster describing it as "ridiculous" the way £120 million ($184 million) a year is taken out of the lottery through taxation. 

The Conservatives are anxious not only to reduce the left-wing influence on the current quangos but to curb some of the high salaries paid to executives.  

In the three party manifestos, Labour devotes more space to sport than its rivals, 550 words or some 1.8 per cent of the entire content. The Tories have just 123 words and the Lib-Dems 96. In fairness to the Tories and Lib-Dems, much of the Labour sports coverage is devoted to what they have done in the past and how the present Government is responsible for investing in sport to an unprecedented degree. Labour pledges to invest in a new national network of school sports coaches and give every child the opportunity to do at least five hours of sport every week. 

They also promise to work with the governing authorities to ensure that "professional clubs" (ie. football clubs) are accountable to their stakeholders and are run transparently on sound financial principles with greater involvement of communities, supporter representation and the development of proposals to enable supporters to buy shares in their clubs. However, these are somewhat watered-down from pledges on club ownership given in the pre-election leaflet. One suspects Robertson will have the bottle to impose tougher regulations.

What the Lib-Dems manifesto promises is merely to "use cash in dominant betting accounts to set up a capital fund in improving local sports facilities and supporting sports clubs, and closing loop-holes that allow playing fields to be build upon without going through the normal planning procedures." And, er, that’s it,more or less.

Although the Tory manifesto takes up little more than of a quarter of one page of it’s 131 pages, it does place emphasis on Olympic legacy, the restoration of the Lottery to its original four pillars and the promotion of a new national Olympic-style school competition which presumably would replace the UK School Games, one of Gordon Brown’s personal pet projects.

So who has the X-factor in this party game of sports politics? A question worth considering alongside the issues real politics before dropping the voting form into the ballot box in a fortnight’s time. 

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