Alan Hubbard

Britain’s pathetic Parliamentarians of every hue have got their political knickers in such a twist over Brexit that almost all other aspects of life and society in this country have been ignored or kicked into touch by the wallies of Westminster, not least sport.

Once the games we play and watch were given a reasonably high priority in Governmental thinking but not anymore it seems. Sport is now down there in the in the relegation zone along with crime and austerity. Only political correctness on TV is now considered worthy of debate should they take a breather from Brexit.

Quite a lot has been going on in sport these past few months from triumphs on the field to assorted aggro off it, but we’ve barely had a peep  from our Minister for Sport.

Yes, we do have one. Hands up, does anyone actually know who it is? Thought so.

Her name is Mims Davies, who may sound like yet another also-sang British entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, but she does happen to be not only the Minister for Sport - but the Minister for Sport and Civil Society.

Whoever dreamed that one up obviously hasn’t been out on the very uncivil streets in our society these days.

One of Ms Davies’ credentials for the job seems to be that she has run the London Marathon. Well, so has Mo Farah, my daughter and a bloke dressed up as Big Ben. But that doesn’t qualify them for the stewardship of our sport and its heritage.

No doubt Davies, a 43-year –old divorced mother-of-two who is the Conservative MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire is a very capable politician but I wish she would speak up for herself, and sport, rather more than she has. Her current profile is lower that a limbo dancer’s bar.

Mim Davies' main qualification for being Sports Minister appears to be that she once ran the London Marathon ©Mim Davies
Mim Davies' main qualification for being Sports Minister appears to be that she once ran the London Marathon ©Mim Davies

Yet what does endear her to me is that she is a fervent a Brexiteer who resigned from a committee chaired by the pipsqueak Commons speaker John Bercow, citing incompetence in his ability to tackle bullying and sexual harassment problems in Parliament.

Davies was appointed by Mrs May as Minister for Sport and Civil Society (and Loneliness by the way) at the re-constituted Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (popularly known at Westminster as the Ministry for Free Tickets) following another honourable resignation, that of the very able Tracey Crouch over a delay to the introduction of reduced limits on the stakes of fixed odds betting terminals.

Crouch had seemed to be doing a decent job but quit on a point of principle. What’s this?? A British politician with principles? Hallelujah! Is that a pig I see flying by my window?

The last we really heard significantly from the new incumbent was in February when she called for an urgent summit with football leaders in order to address issues relating to abuse in the sport. She suggested there should be a zero tolerance approach to problems concerning racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic chanting. However it seems that football cocked a deaf 'un, as they say. No surprise there, then.

Much of sport is ostrich-like, paying little heed to what politicians have to say, unless they put the boot in rather heavily by threatening funding cuts.

But it is hard for any Sports Minister to do so when the present Government has now downgraded the post from Minister of State. The governance of sport politically has lost it way, like so many other things under the Maybot. I suspect, despite her occasional appearances alongside hubby at Lord’s, the PM does not know a leg bye from the overdue goodbye the nation awaits. At least the umpire’s finger has been raised and she will be walking soon.

So let’s hope if the Tory Government is still in power, the chances of  which, as Muhammad Ali used to say, are slim to none "and Slim has just left town" at this stage of the game seem unlikely, sport gets a better deal from whoever takes charge of the party. No bias here, but Bojo does like his fun and games.

Should Labour win a General Election will Jeremy Corbyn pull on his number 10 Arsenal shirt and hand the sports job to the present Opposition spokesperson Rosena Allin-Khan, another unknown whose chief claim to making a name for herself has been to suggest that the George’s Cross has been tainted by Brexit and has become associated with "far-Right ideology".

Sir Dennis Howell is the Sports Minister by which everyone who followed him are measured ©Hulton Archive
Sir Dennis Howell is the Sports Minister by which everyone who followed him are measured ©Hulton Archive

Allin-Khan alleges that there was a "significant lack" of flags being flown during last summer’s World Cup, despite a survey finding that people’s pride in being English had risen on the back of the national team’s performance in Russia.

Ms Khan said: "I think that many people feel that flying a St George’s cross is synonymous with far-right ideology and that sometimes prevents them from doing so because they don’t want to be perceived as such."

If she ever takes office one wonders whether she will become one of the much-missed "Big Beasts" of the Sports Ministry. She, like Mims Davies, will have some hard acts to follow.

In my 50 years plus of surveying the Byzantine workings of Sports Ministers I have seen a good dozen and a half come and go like England batsman on a sweltering day at The Gabba. There have been the good, the bad and the pusillanimous. Several - mainly Tory tailenders - have been eminently forgettable but some have been outstanding.

The wonderful Sir Denis Howell was something of a political pioneer, setting standards few have even approached; simply the best. I would also cite his disciple, the deliciously feisty Kate Hoey for her tenacity, grit and all-round knowledge of sport.

Lord Colin Moynihan had been there, done it, and worn the Olympic medal. The "miniature for sport" as Howell once brilliantly dubbed him may have been small but he stood tall enough to cross swords with his bossyboots PM Margaret Thatcher; boxing buff Richard Caborn always fought his corner and was a super networker, while Sir Hugh Robertson, the most even-handed of them all politically - now chair of the British Olympic Association - successfully helped steer London 2012 through some choppy waters.

Many reckon Tom Pendry, who waited on the bench for what seemed an eternity before Tony Blair did the dirty on him and sent on shock choice Tony Banks instead, was the best sports minister we never had. His compensation was a belated peerage.

But I shall always have a soft spot for the late Banksy, the most open and outrageously outspoken of them all. He may not have been the best or most sensible of Sports Ministers but he was always a joy to deal with.

Tony Banks, left, was a Sports Minister never afraid to speak his mind ©Getty Images
Tony Banks, left, was a Sports Minister never afraid to speak his mind ©Getty Images

I have dined out many times on the true story of how, some years back when I was sports editor of The Observer I spotted a front page "exclusive" in the early edition of a rival Sunday newspaper which reported that an anti-boxing MP’s proposed bill to ban punches to the head had the full support of the Sports Minister, Tony Banks.

So I rang Tony at home that Saturday evening and asked him if this was so. "Course it’s bloody not," he sniffed.

"Okay," I said, "so can you give me an on-the-record quote?"

"On the record?" he queried, "It’s effing bollocks."

I am not suggesting that whoever sits in the Sports Ministerial chair whenever Brexit is either done and dusted, or ditched, should be similarly forthright but whoever is, for goodness sake let the nation know that we do have a Sports Minister who speaks up, and puts up, for sport.