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Steve Grainger: We need to increase the number of youngsters progressing from school sport

Anyone involved in sport knows it has the power to unite, inspire, motivate and challenge people like nothing else.

Last weekend I went to the cinema to see the new film "Invictus"– this is a great example of the power of sport as it portrays the true story of how Nelson Mandela, as President of South Africa, used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite the country in the wake of apartheid.

1995 was the year that also saw the Youth Sport Trust established with a mission to improve the lives of young people through PE and sport. Over the last 15 years we have made significant progress and begun a serious attempt to create a world-leading PE and sport system.

Our journey began with the creation of our TOP programmes - simple easy to use resources and equipment, backed up with training to support primary teachers in the delivery of quality PE. In 1996 we were delighted to be asked by the Government to support the first 11 specialist sports colleges. These schools, of which there are now 501, have gone on to be pioneers in how PE and sport can be used to raise achievement and aspiration across the curriculum.

Building on the early success of specialist sports colleges we went on to create, in September 2000, the first 33 School Sport Partnerships - families of schools working together to create more opportunities for young people to access sport. By September 2006, after unprecedented Government investment in PE and school sport, every maintained school in England was in one of 450 School Sport Partnerships.

This system has been responsible for a transformation in opportunities for young people to participate, perform and lead/volunteer in sport.

The national network of Partnership Development Managers, School Sport Co-ordinators and Primary Link Teachers have now been joined by a national network of Further Education Sport Co-ordinators, one in each FE college, and a team of 225 Competition Managers. Together with the Directors of Specialism in sports colleges this new infrastructure of people, which didn’t exist when Sydney staged the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics, look forward with eager anticipation to the events that await us in London 2012.

As we move closer to London 2012 there is little doubt that the profile of sport will move to an all time high. With a growing understanding of how sport can make a major contribution across all agendas – including in education, public health and community cohesion, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to seize the moment and create a lasting legacy.

We know that when PE and sport is good the gains for young people and for our society at large are significant - improved health, more confident young people, improved academic performance and better behaviour. London 2012 gives us a fantastic opportunity to turbo charge the great work that has already been initiated and through this to create irreversible change in our sporting system - the Youth Sport Trust is ready to lead this charge.

Whilst we will invest time and resource in London 2012 related activity over the next two and a half years our real focus will be levering the system change beyond 2012 – ensuring that sport is embedded in our schools for ever and that there are enough coaches, clubs and competitive opportunities to cater for the demands of the millions of young people who will be inspired to take up sport as a result of London 2012.

We remain committed to working in partnership and will seek to strengthen our relationships with local and central Government, national governing bodies of sport, corporate organisations and, of course, sustain and grow our links with sports colleges and School Sport Partnerships. 

Our vision for the future of PE and school sport is based a number of key building blocks. These include making sure there is greater investment in initial teacher training to enable primary school teachers to teach high-quality PE.

Schools also need to think creatively about how they structure, stage and present competitions, so that they do not exclusively serve the most talented young people while leaving others on the sidelines.

And there is a real need to develop junior sports clubs on school sites to increase the number of young people progressing from school to club sport.

We have come such a long way in the last 15 years and have a solid base from which to build.

As the organisation responsible for supporting the rapidly expanding school sport movement, the Youth Sport Trust’s commitment to building a brighter future for young people through sport is as strong as it was in 1995.

To borrow the words of Mr Mandela: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand."

Steve Grainger is the chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust

Kim Cheston: Vancouver has given me an appetite for London 2012

As the official communications services partner of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, BT is dedicated to maximising its Games-time experience. To facilitate this the company has sent several representatives to Canada to learn as much as possible from the official communications services partner for the Vancouver 2010 Games - Bell Canada. I am one of the lucky people that were selected to work for Bell on secondment from BT.

During my secondment, I have been based at the Main Press Centre (MPC) working as an Assistant Venue Telecoms Manager. In this role I am responsible for managing a team of communications technicians through the deployment and management of all communications and networking services throughout the Games.  

Communication services are absolutely critical to the media and therefore the on-site Communications Team plays a critical role in the smooth operation of the Venue.

I arrived at the MPC in early January and my first impressions were of the large size of the venue. During the installation phase, the team were walking in excess of 15,000 steps per day. On my first day, whilst being shown the layout of the venue, I was walked through a completely empty room. 

Only five days later I went back into that room and was very impressed to see that they had turned that empty room into a fully kitted out McDonalds restaurant. I even went into the back of it and all the fryers, food prep, cash tills, and everything else was fully operational and ready to go.

Teams were working 24/7 and within a short time of my arrival, the venue went from being a construction site to being fully operational press centre, with the look and feel of the Vancouver Games. 

The Games are absolutely everywhere in Vancouver and the general public are really getting into the spirit of hosting this event. 



There are free shows, art installations, and entertainment all over the city and it’s all contributing to an amazing atmosphere. The Games are really changing the face of the city and I am sure Vancouver will benefit from this event for decades to come. The only surprise for me is the weather; I didn’t expect to see daffodils coming up in Vancouver city centre!

Outside of work I have been fortunate enough to attend several Olympic Games events - the dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, a preliminary men’s hockey game, and the launch party for the Bell Ice Cube. The Opening Ceremony rehearsal was particularly impressive, and throughout the show I found myself thinking of London and wondering what we would be doing for Opening Ceremony when it comes to our turn.

So now the Games have begun and in return for all of the hard work, tiring days, missed meals, and time spent away from friends and family, the Bell Team at the MPC are now in the privileged position that we are well prepared. Days are spent doing site checks, talking to customers, attending venue meetings, resolving very occasional trouble tickets, and watching Olympic events on television.

Trust me: we deserve the downtime after the installation phase. Being part of the team here is a massive commitment, involving lots of hard work and sacrifice, but is extremely rewarding in lots of ways.   

Now my fellow BT secondees and I are looking forward to London 2012. I look forward to BT’s chance to part of the most famous sporting event in the world.

Bring on 2012!

Kim Cheston works for BT, a Tier One sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. To find out more click here.


Mihir Bose: The IOC could teach FIFA a lot about how to run an organisation

The child outstripping the father in any sphere of life is always news.

Olympic Games always bring up this comparison for, after all, it was the success of the 1924 Olympic football tournament that prompted the French to organise a football World Cup for professional players.

We have come a long way from that but the Winter Olympics provide a useful point of comparison.

Ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced a two year gap between Summer and Winter Games, the Winter Olympics have, in effect, provided a curtain raiser for the World Cup. And, as you would expect from a starter, it is nothing like the main course that follows.

If you find this hard to accept, name me a memory from Nagano 1998 that matches, let alone surpasses, the brilliance that was the World Cup in France a few months later, more so as the story had the ending everyone wanted: the creators of the World Cup finally winning their first ever trophy. Or Salt Lake 2002 being more vivid than Korea-Japan 2002, let alone an image from Turin.

This was a Winter Games that left hardly a trace and was no match for the World Cup in Germany a few months later. That tournament not only created sporting memories, even if the Zidane head butt in the final is one we could have done without, but taught the Germans how to combine a love of football with a display of nationalism - exuberant and expansive but not threatening to other nations.

How interesting that in the Vancouver Games the Canadians are trying to use sport to generate nationalism and, as of now, are struggling to do so. Perhaps, when they devised their now much lampooned "Own The Podium" campaign, they should have consulted Franz Beckenbauer and got some tips on how to combine sport and nationalism. For all the images Vancouver has provided, I am sure that, when in little over four months from now many of us hacks reassemble in South Africa for the first World Cup in that continent, the images both on and off the field will be more vivid.

Whatever happens, and regardless of the outcome on the field, there is one prediction I can make with some certainty. There will be many a day when the winter in South Africa will prove a whole lot colder than the amazingly balmy weather we have been enjoying in Vancouver these past few days.

Football can also claim that, for all the figures produced by the Olympic authorities of the millions watching the Games on television, the World Cup as a single sporting phenomenon reigns supreme. Nothing comes close to the world becoming a global village via television than on the night of a World Cup final.

However, the contrast between the Olympics and football does not always show the world’s favourite sport in the best possible light.

It is a truism to say that organising an Olympics, even a Winter one, is on a scale that no World Cup has to cope with. In that sense the Olympics are not so much about sports but about organisation: transport, hotels, movement of people from one venue to another mostly in one city or, as with these Winter Games, over a couple of locations. A football World Cup’s organisational needs are much more limited.

This need for a finely honed organisation may explain one crucial difference between the Olympics and the World Cup. Over the years, the Olympics Movement has built up a structure and leadership which is far superior to anything seen in world, let alone regional, football.

But what about the dreadful corruption crisis of a decade ago when it seemed that the Olympic Movement might not survive and led to several members being expelled?

Yes, that was a dark night for the Olympics. But the IOC worked hard to unearth unpalatable facts and, not only restore its image but in the process become a much more transparent and accessible organisation, streets ahead of FIFA in that respect.

And, what is more, the IOC worked out its leadership succession in a way that FIFA just cannot manage. A failure which has caused, and continues to cause, much division in world football.

It is interesting that for long periods both organisations were ruled by similar monarchs. Joao Havelange may have usurped the FIFA throne six years before Juan Antonio Samaranch (pictured) but in many ways they are from the same mould.

Both made identical, and game changing decisions, to hitch their organisations to Mammon.

Both were, and remain, hugely controversial figures, worshipped by their acolytes but also generating much adverse publicity.

Yet Samaranch, after surviving the corruption scare, managed to ensure that his chosen successor Jacques Rogge took over. True, immediately after the election the gifted, but mercurial, Dick Pound threw his toys out of the pram and another contestant Un Yong Kim was jailed in his native South Korea. However Rogge, after a few uncertain steps in his early days, has proved a more than worthy successor to Samaranch. Also it seems the succession to Rogge is clear.

If the way Thomas Bach won re-election as vice-president is any guide then it seems that, come 2013 and Rogge's departure, Bach will have a much better right to own the IOC podium than the Canadians will have after these Games.

Like Samaranch, Havelange also anointed a successor in Sepp Blatter but, while Blatter remains in charge, his reign has been very different to that of Rogge. He had to fight a turbulent election in 1998 to defeat Lennart Johannson whose stated mission was to dismantle what Havelange had built.

Even after 1998 Blatter always seemed to be fighting bush fires to retain his Presidency, most notably in 2002 when the Europeans allied themselves with Africa in a vain attempt to unseat him.

He may face yet another challenge next year with former allies like Mohammed Bin Hammam, once so loyal he left a sick child to join his campaign, making hostile noises. Even former friends like Michel Platini are not as close or loyal to Blatter as they once were. What is more under Blatter there seems to be a purge of FIFA officials every few years if not months, sudden and wholesale changes with little or no explanation for such upheavals.

All this emphasises that FIFA is a more intensely political place than the IOC, something of a sporting United Nations General Assembly full of characters of varying abilities, some of whom have turned out to be very shady, with little or no policing of their activities from the centre.

True, the IOC, as befits a club, is self electing: existing members vote to accept or reject new ones. FIFA, for all its many deficiencies, has elections and what is more its regional elections are based on geographical confederations which can often be very unpredictable. Samaranch may have gone but most of the IOC members are from his era and still see him as their mentor. Some in FIFA do see Havelange as their guru but there are many who do not and the organisation is full of factions pursing their own agendas and creating a shifting mosaic of alliances.

Yet all of this still does not explain the difference in the calibre of the people running the two bodies. The people running the IOC, right from Rogge downwards, are in general men and women of merit and substance. If organisational merit were an Olympic sport then there is no question that the IOC would win and win so easily that the final score-line would be intensely embarrassing for FIFA.

But am I not ignoring the problems Vancouver has had? Yes, but those problems reflect the weaknesses of the local organising committee not so much the IOC. The football child may have out grown its parent since 1924, but this is one area where the Olympic parent still has a lot it can teach football. The problem is that the football child shows no great desire to listen.

Mihir Bose is one of the world's most astute observers on politics in sport and, particularly, football. He formerly wrote for The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph and until recently was the BBC's head sports editor.


Alan Hubbard: On why he is pleased the Panathlon is bouncing back

Ever heard of the Panathlon? No, not the pentathlon. The Greeks had a word for it – they usually did for most things. It means a group of sporting disciplines.

The Panathlon was the brainchild of the late sports publicist Mark Barker, which featured 10 activities specially adapted for schools. These included chess and orienteering as well as more orthodox pursuits like athletics, badminton, cycling, darts and five- a-side football.

It was believed to be the first such project of its kind in the world, a sort of mini-Olympics for 250,000 kids  - both able-bodied and disabled - in inner-city areas, and highly successful it was too for a decade, from 1995-2005 until it ran out of sponsorship.

A plea for help from the Government was kicked into touch by the then Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, despite an earlier public promise to try and save it, in a game of political football which saw some £6 million prioritised for the introduction of the UK School Games.


The Government and their various sports quangos declined to fund the Panathlon, despite its obvious worthiness, perhaps because it would have distracted from the UK School Games when actually it would have complimented them at a relatively insignificant at cost. This despite a motion signed by numerous MPs of all parties, tabled by the shadow sports minister, Hugh Robertson, and supported by former Labour sports minister Kate Hoey and Lib Dem sports spokesman Don Foster.

Teachers and pupils sent a 5,000-strong petition to the PM, to no avail, no doubt because the UK School Games was perceived as his baby.

The original Panathlon Challenge had been born out of concern for the alarming decline in competitive sport in schools nationwide. The schools were picked because of their lack of sports facilities or a comprehensive sports programme. 

Ashley Iceton, a former Sports Council development officer who helped Barker devise it, believed the event added a vigorous, positive voice to the contentious debate about school sport. "We specifically targeting inner -city schools and kids from deprived areas where sport is not always high on the curriculum," he says. "The idea was to recreate what has been largely lost in school sport - competition and inter-school rivalry. We set out the fixtures, provide the equipment and the officials and all the pupils and staff had to do was turn up."


Alas, the Panathlon Challenge as such went to the wall. Then entire venture seemed a basket case. Panathlon  RIP. But the good news is that thanks to Iceton’s perseverance and hard work and the commercial endeavours of chairman John Hymers, it managed to struggle on with its disability aspect, thanks to a couple of charities, providing opportunities in sport for disabled youngsters, for which it has won a Sportsmatch Award.

The even better news was that it was eventually thrown a lifeline - by football. Funding of £240,000 from the Football Foundation meant that disabled kids in London could be given more sporting opportunities. Even playing an innovative new sport called Powerchair Football, in which the ball is pushed by a bumper fitted across the front of the wheelchair. And now there is more to cheer.

The old-style Panathlon was always backed by Kate Hoey and in her new capacity as London’s sports commissioner she has persuaded Mayor Boris Johnson (pictured) to chip in some £83,000 from his Sports Legacy Plan which will go towards helping disabled athletes, some of them severely so, aged between eight and 18 to compete in the sports of boccia, new age kurling, polybat, football, table cricket and athletics, culminating in an All London final in June.

Iceton says of the Bojo bonus: "Then aim is not to unearth future Paralympians but to get physical activity into kids who otherwise would get no competition."

I have always championed the Panathlon - falling out with Caborn, who suggested the schools should fund it themselves, in the process - because of the tremendous enthusiasm shown by those who participate in times when the grass roots are not always greener.

I thought the Government’s steamroller tactics quite disgraceful, and the one blot on Caborn’s otherwise impressive record tenure as Sports Minister.

So to see it bounce back in this way is truly heartening, and its achievements should not be overlooked in times when we are satiated by big-time sport , its big money and its scandals.

Some of the things the Panathlon has delivered since September include:

 Over 150 teachers and community coaches trained in disability sport

 35,000 worth of new disability sports equipment provided

 £25,000 worth of coaching grants

 25 new special schools involved for the first time – with around 250 new competitors

 Six multi-sports events delivered involving 20 London boroughs and over 500 competitors.

Should there a change of Government the hope is that the Panathlon, which has the endorsement of great Paralympians such as Tanni Grey-Thompson and Danny Crates, could be incorporated in the proposed Tory plans - backed by Dame Kelly Holmes for a new-look "Schools Olympics."

Meantime there should be more encouragement for the Panathlon and Iceton- to keep up the good work. He tells us: “With the mayor’s investment this year, we have doubled the amount of coaching and competitions that around 1,250 disabled young people will be getting. Outside London we are operating this year in Kent, Essex, Liverpool and Plymouth - all for a budget around £250,000.

"I've had enquiries from Yorkshire, Humberside and Cheshire in the last month but we have no charity funds to cope with this demand. However, we could do so much more if we had some more investment - I'm still hoping that a kind hearted commercial partner with an eye on getting some good publicity (like a bank?), may see the benefit in the run up to 2012."

Fingers crossed. Because the continuing survival of the Panathlon is a victory for sport’s Little People over bloody-minded bureaucracy.

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.

David Owen: IOC should do something to make Winter Olympics more accessible

Take a quick look down this list. These are the 30 countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD, the rich nations’ club, based in a château in Paris’s swanky 16th arrondissement.

Now take a look at the medals table from Vancouver (an event under the aegis of a body based in a château in well-to-do Lausanne).

What do you notice? An awful lot of overlap, isn’t there?

If I can translate this similarity into numbers, as I write this after completion of 44 events - ie about halfway through the 2010 Games - athletes from a total of 26 countries have won medals; of these, 16 nations can boast gold medallists.

Of those 26 medalling nations, 18 – close to 70 percent – are OECD members; as are all but two of the 16 with a gold medallist in their population.

It is actually oversimplistic to typecast the OECD as a ‘rich nations’ club’.

As its website makes clear, the body “brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economy”.

This rules out China and most of the oil-rich Middle East, while the countries of the former Soviet Union have only really been able to aspire to membership in recent times.

Other than those, the vast majority of the wealthiest traditional-style industrialised economies are in there.

In fact, the OECD three years ago agreed to invite five countries, including Estonia, Russia and Slovenia, to open discussions for membership, while offering something called “enhanced engagement” to China.

Factor those into our little calculation and we account for 22 of the 26 Winter Games medal-winning nations, including all 16 of those with one or more 2010 Olympic champions.

What is my point here? To illustrate the extent to which the Winter Olympics – far more than the Summer Games - is the preserve of the privileged few.

Vast expanses of the globe – South America, Africa, India and southern Asia – are so far off the pace as to be, to all intents and purposes, excluded.

And no I don’t think you can put it down simply to a lack of snow and ice.

Last time I checked, athletes from Nepal, or for that matter Chile (the newly-minted 31st  OECD member) have yet to become regular recipients of Winter Olympic medals.

Yet shortage of snow should not be an issue for them. 

You can also argue that elite-level winter sports are the preserve of the relatively well-off even within some of the lucky few countries who can aspire realistically to Olympic silverware.

Take my own country of Great Britain.

A recent conversation with Oliver Jones, formerly chairman of Snowsport GB, the skiing and snowboarding governing body now in administration, revealed that aspiring skiing champions have historically had to pay a portion of their costs.

According to Jones, so-called ‘development squad skiers’ - those on the first rung of the ladder that can take talented youngsters to the Olympic podium - have historically been asked to pay about £10,000 a season towards their overall costs.

It is only a small part of the total - and it is a figure that generally comes down the higher up the rankings they climb - but it strikes me that it must seem an awful lot to a kid from a housing estate.

Says Jones: "Skiing is unfortunately a relatively elitist sport - it isn’t accessible to all.

"And given the pressure on corporate sponsorship and public-sector contributions, it is only going to get worse in the next few years.

"From cheap flights to construction of new winter sports facilities in the UK, huge strides have been taken to allow more and more people to get involved in recreational skiing.

"However, anyone wanting to become a ski racer needs to recognise that, on the journey to the World Cup and the Olympics, they will probably need to fund themselves more than ever before."

Does any of this matter very much, other than to budding British skiers?

Well, if it ever wants to develop the Winter Games into a truly inclusive global event on the scale of the Summer Olympics or football’s World Cup, then it ought to matter to the International Olympic Committee.

For now, what we have in Vancouver is essentially the prosperous at play.

• Would golf have got into the Olympics if Tiger Woods had pranged his car a few months earlier?

My guess is no; its passage onto the list of sports to be played at the 2016 Games was less clear-cut than rugby’s, in spite of a video message to IOC members from its then untarnished star.

If they have done nothing else, Woods’s recent travails have underlined the risks run by any enterprise whose fortunes are tied to the fate of one individual.

The received wisdom is that his sport needs Woods back on the fairway as soon as possible.

I think a better scenario for golf’s long-term health would be if he sat out the season, giving others an opportunity to clamber out of his shadow, and THEN came back to mount his assault on Nicklaus’s record.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938


Sebastian Coe: Vancouver 2010 can teach London 2012 plenty

We are halfway through the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games and what a fascinating few days we have had. I'm here in Vancouver with around 50 of our London 2012 team, and it's an important learning opportunity for us.

When the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games end next month, London 2012 is the next host city, and, as we say in London, the next taxi off the rank.

So, we are here to look and learn, and soak up every last piece of knowledge to help us with our planning - and the golden rule of staging an Olympic and Paralympic Games is that you can never plan too much.

I'm constantly being asked what lessons we've learned already. The simple answer is that it's too soon to take everything in and analyse it all. We'll do that in earnest when we get home and download with the team.

But my initial observations are that VANOC has done a great job in delivering a Games for the people.

Wherever you look in this beautiful city, Canadians are full of excitement and pride, and are joining in.

The venues are full to bursting with knowledgeable sports fans keen to cheer on not just the Canadians, but all the Winter Olympians.

The Live Sites around the City are fantastic - buzzing with noise and full of fun. Members of my team are talking about the success of the Live Sites are how they are engaging with the public and are natural fan zones for sports lovers.

The volunteers are brilliant. I've met tens of volunteers, from the moment of arrival at the airport, to the amazing day I ran with the torch, to the people who help us find our way to meetings and venues. They are helpful, friendly and full of good old Canadian hospitality. They are doing Vancouver and Canada proud.

So, lots for us to learn, and lots more still to see and do in this great city. Thanks for the welcome, and have a great Games.

Sebastian Coe is the chairman of London 2012


Michael Butcher: Norway's 100th gold medal leaves them laughing at Sweden

It was not looking good for Norway after three days of competition in Vancouver. Not a single gold and their star cross country skier Petter Northug had suffered humiliation in the 15 kilometresm, crossing the line 41st, less than a minute ahead of Britain's Andrew Musgrave. The whole country was beginning to wonder whether this was going to be their worst Olympics ever and the much-vaunted 100th gold would remain a dream.

The headlines reflected the Scandinavian angst, forecasting yet more black days as the first week wore on, but along came Marit Bjørgen to lift the curse with sprint gold and the nation breathed a sigh of relief. Just one away from the 100th gold.

With two biathletes in action on Thursday there was a strong likelihood that the ton would be reached and the viewing figures from that evening back home reflected the anticipation.

When Tora Berger lifted gold in the women's 15km, 1.3 millions Norwegians were glued to their television, cracking open the brennevin. That represents about 30 per cent of the population, the equivalent in Britain of 20 million viewers.

Broadsheet daily Aftenposten cemented the euphoria by plastering a full-page splash of Berger (pictured) across the front cover, pushing the international news to an insignificant side-bar. But then, like the proverbial London bus, no sooner had the 100th gold been placed around Berger's neck than Emil Helge Svendsen claimed the 101st in the men's 20km. And that was when all hell broke loose. In an attempt to be up-to-date, news editor Ole Erik Almlid ditched the Berger pic for one of Svendsen.



Norwegian culture is proud of its sexual equality and the substitution of a woman lifting historic gold - the first Norwegian woman in history to lift a biathlon olympic title - to be replaced by a male taking an anticlimactic 101 was more than the populace could bear.   The country is famous for its storms, but the maelstrom of protest on Facebook, Twitter, abusive telephone calls and mailbox messages was unprecedented.

"The biathletes got it right, we got it wrong," sounded the apology from Almlid. "I prostrate myself," continued the breast beating that would have done Tiger Woods proud. "We simply showed poor judgment."

In the country of snow, ice, mountains and glaciers, the winter Games have a special significance. Norway often looks with envy on the rest of the world, suffering from an inferiority complex and a fear that it is not where the action is. This is why the Winter Olympics is so important, because for once every four years Norway can compete on its own terms with the rest of the world.

What was making the whole country nervous this time was that neighboring Sweden, was doing so well. Gold from Charlotte Kalla in the 10km cross country and Bjørn Ferry in 12.5km biathlon pursuit had the Norwegians looking with envy across the border at the “søta bror” or “dear brother” as the Swedes are sarcastically known. The press even suggested they should celebrate Swedish success since they had none of their own to cheer.

Over in the tabloid Verdens Gang (VG) they were busy getting their own back on the Swedes after Berger had defended the country's "honour and glory". One of the pre-race favourites, Sweden's Helene Jonsson, was "completely broken and had tears streaming down her face and was utterly inconsolable" gloated VG's man in the mixed zone. The postmortem over Northug's spectacular failure in the 15km also features a Swede, Perry Olsson, who is still eating humble pie even though he is also credited with Bjørgen's two golds.

After languishing out of sight in the lower reaches of the medals table in the early part of the week, Norway is now back in its rightful place pushing for top spot with a total of ten, five of them gold. Now they can look forward to the rest of the Games and look down their noses at Sweden in a lowly 11th. But whatever they may go on to win, there will be no feeling as sweet as that 100th gold, 86 years and 19 days after Thorleif Haug took the first.

Michael Butcher is a freelance sports journalist who has lived and worked in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Iran. He was sports correspondent for The European and has contributed to all the major British newspapers. He has attended every summer Olympics and athletics world championships since 1988


Mike Moran: Criticism of Vancouver organisation will soon be forgotten

Here we go into the always predictable Bermuda Triangle Of Olympic media coverage.

It usually starts about this time, maybe a bit later, but here it is again. We’re about six days into Vancouver, and there’s a modest segment of the 5,500 journalists, bloggers, web pundits and TV personalities doubling as writers on the side who are carving up the Games' organisers about the glitches and moguls that they are encountering.

I’ve read the small cadre of the usual rippers, laptop narcissists and enjoyable humorists this week as they battle Olympic boredom and lack of the usual amenities with their coverage, and yet, I’ve seen this script a whole lot over 14 Games in my career in person.

It’s not necessary here to recap the problems, we have read and heard about it daily across scores of forums, but they are the same issues that plague every Olympic Games I have been part of - weather, transportation, bad ice, timing, equipment malfunctions, even an Olympic cauldron surrounded by a chain-link fence that keeps the public away, but nothing in my career could ever compare with beginning the Games with the unspeakable tragedy, the death of an athlete.

I don’t know how you recover from that if you are the organisers or the IOC, no matter the statements, the moments of tribute, nor the genuine, heartfelt display of sorrow.

British journalists, ever ready to pounce on misfortune, have suggested that these Games are "the worst ever," one moaned. “It is hard to believe that anything will surpass the organisational chaos and naked commercial greed of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta or the financial disaster of the 1976 Games, which bankrupted Montreal, yet with every passing day the sense of drift and nervousness about the Vancouver Games grows ever more noticeable," they wrote.

Organising committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade, who probably would like to take a mulligan on one statement made to the media, told the assembled scribes that "It’s a little bit like lost luggage, it’s not whether or not your luggage gets lost, it’s how you deal with it.."

For the sake of full disclosure, I was no stranger to making awkward statements as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) spokesman at 13 Games, including one in Nagano following the departure of our NHL hockey players after trashing their rooms, throwing furniture over the balcony railing and burning some clothing.

Trapped in a hallway outside my office, I was asked if the incident was "embarrassing" to the UOSC. Always quick to respond by nature, I said: "Of course it’s not embarrassing to the USOC, we’re not babysitters here for American professional athletes."

Not so good as it turned into a savage sound bite and quote, and I caught hell for that for a week. After all, these athletes had not only embarrassed the USOC, but a nation.

The IOC has had its share of issues already, with its demand that our men’s ice hockey goaltender Ryan Miller remove a sticker on the back of helmet that read "Miller Time" since it could be viewed as a popular slogan for an American beer, not a reference to his own last name. Then, backup goalie Jonathan Quick was forced to remove his helmet sticker that read "Support Our Troops" which as you might imagine, was a hot button on numerous cable news shows and radio talk shows.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, we came up with an idea, along with our athletes, to honor the memory of those who died in the horrific tragedy in New York on 9/11 by having our delegation carry in the tattered World Trade Center flag during the parade of nations in the Opening Ceremony. We even flew in two of the New York Port Authority policemen and a firefighter with the revered flag and a role in the event. But, when the IOC learned of our plan, they informed us that we could not, under any circumstance, carry out the plan, because it was a "political statement" forbidden by IOC rules.



This made its way quickly into the vortex of the New York radio talk shows and tabloid world, and within hours at a midnight meeting with our leaders, the IOC reversed itself and invited us to indeed bring in the flag as part of the march of nations. The IOC had misjudged the emotions of a nation, and when that flag made its way to the base of the poles that would carry the flags of the IOC, the host United States, and one other, where President Bush, the IOC President Jacques Rogge and Games chief Mitt Romney stood and waited, it was one of the most emotional and inspiring moments in our history.

But back to my original point, there is always a point in the Games where there is a lull in the action at the venues, where some small segment of the media turns its gaze to the glitches and problems, and for awhile, it dominates the reporting and the mood of coverage on a worldwide basis, such is the case now.

This happened in my first Games in 1980 at Lake Placid early in the event, when transportation was an issue (some 5,000 fans were stranded atop Whiteface Mountain one late afternoon when buses failed to show up on time and the temperatures dropping). For almost a week, Lake Placid press chief Ed Lewi and his wife drove reporters back and forth to venues in their own cars when media transportation fizzled. And all this after a lack of snow right before the Games resulted in the first use of artificial snow in Games history.

And you know what? These issues were soon forgotten in the wake of the US ice hockey team’s improbable "Miracle On Ice" and Eric Heiden’s stunning triumphs in all five men’s speed skating events.

The truth in Vancouver is that these Games can be magnificent. The genuine warmth and generosity of the citizens of Canada and the thousands of volunteers is compelling, the city is a gorgeous marvel of seafront and mountains, the athlete performances are riveting, NBC’s ratings are superb, the athletes love the Olympic Village and there is a very comfortable security presence and a lot of just plain courtesy.

It is impossible to stage an event of the magnitude of the Olympic Games in any city on earth without glitches. There is no other event of this size and scope, and its dependence on volunteers, luck and the ability to patch and mend when it’s needed. All this over 17 long days and nights, with the scrutiny of the world on your shoulders and national pride at stake.

In the end, as it will be in Vancouver, it’s all about the athletes of the world and their triumphs and small setbacks as they chase their dreams.

Mike Moran was the chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003. In 2002 he was awarded with the USOC's highest award, the General Douglas MacArthur Award. He worked on New York's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and is now director of communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation.


Neil Wilson: The Vancouver Olympics are playing second fiddle to Whistler

Sorry, Vancouver, but you’re second best. The real Winter Olympics, the one the IOC always decree must be on snow and ice, is here in Whistler.

We have snow. We have ice. We have brilliant blue skies, crisp air and a party atmosphere of festival and fun that the big city 78 miles away cannot come close to replicating because of its size. And I have been in both places, so I speak from experience.

Yesterday's ladies downhill was just perfect. An overnight freeze, a course crisp, bumpy and fast, and slopes awash with the red of the local supporters.

But it is at night that this place comes to life, heavy rock, sound and light shows, floodlight snowboard acrobatics and, of course, al fresco eating and drinking.

It comes at a price. An Olympic price. My condo is costing $360 (£219) a night! Coffee and scrambled eggs off the Village Square for breakfast, $20 (£12) before tip. And that is the price of a taxi for no distance at all.

And if you fancy some skiing – powder snow delectable, views stunning - a ski pass for three days will set you back $292 (£178), making European Alpine resorts look like Ryanair value.

How can we complain? This is a Premier League resort, and they are taking advantage of hosting an Olympic Games that they first invited here for 1976. It’s a one-off, and, of course, the place is broke.

It owes its creditors a cool $1.4 billion (£853 million) which is why the event locals will be watching most closely tomorrow (February 19) is the auction of most everything that is saleable.

What the hell! Enjoy it why we can. They may owe money but everything works. The  buses are brilliant. The shuttle runs past my place every 10 minutes 24 hours a day, and this morning when the perfect conditions for skiing brought out crowds laden with equipment and one arrived full, two more that were empty followed in seconds.

The one big mistake here was the Whistler Sliding Center. If you design one to be that fast, you have to design it to be novice proof. Driver errors are guaranteed on every bob track but there never should be room for death by misadventure.

But that was the responsibility of the international federation, not the locals.Their passion for these Games has been awesome, a sheer determination to enjoy every minute and to participate in every one if they can.

Where else would 1,200 'weasels', as snow-packers are known, be prepared to get up at three in the morning to work the course when the snow-machine were feared to be too heavy?

Winter Olympics do not always work. The IOC’s past judgement has been questionable on their locations. And now that the size and the entourage of Winter Olympics are increased, I doubt it will ever be possible to return to the likes of Lillehammer, the best of the nine I have attended.

Newspapers in Britain may be asking whether Vancouver is the worst-ever - that scribe was obviously not in Lake Placid! - but it would be a travesty of the truth to level that accusation at Whistler (and from my short experience there Vancouver, too). Whistler is pushing to be the second best I have ever attended.

And now, excuse me. They are tuning up on the big stage in the Village Square. There is partying to be done.

Neil Wilson is Olympic and athletics correspondent of The Daily Mail. These are his 19th Summer or Winter Olympic Games.

Chris West: London 2012 inspired my research idea

In the summer of 2008, both my masters degree and my research position in Paralympic sport at Brunel University were coming to an end. By then I had developed such a passion for Paralympic sport that I had decided I wanted to pursue a research career in this field.

Good research is heavily dependent upon funding, so it was lucky at this point, when I was seeking out potential funding sources for my further studies, UK Sport launched the Ideas4Innovation Awards.

The aim of the programme was - and still is - to fund and assist in any kind of research that potentially creates a direct benefit for Olympic and/or Paralympic sports and athletes. The research can be about anything from a novel training aid or rehabilitation technique to a specific piece of equipment, as long as the ultimate aim is to help win more Great British medals in 2012.

I proposed to UK Sport that if I was awarded the ‘Ideas4Innovation’ research grant, I would be able to assess the effectiveness of a novel training device for spinal cord injured Paralympians, that would have the potential to significantly enhance their athletic performance. 

Fortunately, I also met all the other pre-requisites for the prize aimed at students (the New Researchers Award), such as having preliminary data in the area I was proposing to study and being in my first year of post graduate research. So in June 2008, I submitted my application. The application process itself couldn’t have been easier. The form itself was straightforward to fill out and the team at UK Sport were happy to give out pointers throughout the process.

A few weeks after submitting my application, I was informed that I had been selected as a finalist for the ‘Ideas4Innovation Award 2008’ and that I was required, along with seven other finalists, to pitch my idea to a panel of experts at the UK Sport head office in London.

The judging panel consisted of: Professor Greg Whyte, a renowned sport scientist and former athlete; Dr Scott Drawer, Head of Research and Innovation, UK Sport; Glenn Hunter, Sports Science and Medicine Consultant, UK Sport; Dr. Ken van Someren, English Institute of Sport national lead for physiology and Alasdair Wylie,senior design engineer at Frazer Nash Consultancy.

The presentation itself went well. However, it was followed by some tough questions from the judging panel, ranging from physiology and ethics to design and application of my training device. On August 1, after an agonising wait, I was informed I had won the ‘UK Sport Ideas4Innovation New Researchers Award 2008’.

Since I won the award and have been able to commence with the research, I have completed an initial study to test the concept of my training aid, with some very exciting and encouraging results. I am now in the process of a follow up study to determine the effect of the training aid on specific markers of athletic performance. 

Having the financial assistance of UK Sport and access to their network of experts has allowed me to work with a wide range of Paralympic disciplines, including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, athletics and adaptive rowing, all of which have the potential to benefit from my training aid. I hope to continue working closely with UK Sport in the future to further develop the training aid, which I believe could boost the chances of some of our Paralympians winning medals in London in 2012.

I would encourage anyone who has an idea that may benefit elite performance, no matter how abstract that idea might be, to apply for the UK Sport Ideas4Innovation programme. Over the past 18 months of being involved with elite athletes, coaches and fellow practitioners, I have developed a wide range of technical and inter-personal skills, which will be invaluable in pursuing a career in elite sport. 

Furthermore, the initial work that I have completed with the support of UK Sport has allowed me to continue my academic progress and I am now completing a PhD in the area of Paralympic Sport at Brunel University under the supervision of Dr Lee Romer and Professor Ian Campbell.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are drawing ever closer, and the opportunity to be part of it is a truly rewarding experience.

Ideas4Innovation has been awarded the Inspire Mark by London 2012. Applications for UK Sport’s 2010 Ideas4Innovation Awards are now open. The New Researchers Award is aimed at final year and first year post-graduate students and the Garage Innovators Award is open to any British resident with creative and cutting edge ideas. If your idea has the potential to benefit Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic performances in London in 2012, UK Sport may invest up to £25,000 in further research and development. To apply, download a simple application form at www.uksport.gov.uk/ideas4innovation. Applications close on July 9, 2010.


Steven Downes: On the ethical dilemma of using pictures of the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili

Seeing is believing.

It will be 21 years come April, but I still remember that bright, spring Saturday afternoon in the days before live, televised football, when BBC radio and Grandstand were a sports desk’s nearest thing to a "multimedia" link to the outside world, and when football reporters had to rely on a shared telephone in the press box at grounds.

It was just before three o’clock, and I had arrived in Wapping for my shift on the sports desk at the Sunday Times when someone called us over to the office’s TV set. Bob Wilson, in the Grandstand studio, looked perplexed, confused, and then they cut away to start showing live pictures from Sheffield and the FA Cup semi-final.

I can’t be certain now, but I am sure I heard the television commentator, distanced from the subject of his cameraman’s pictures, making the same assumption as we did as we saw football fans climbing over barriers and police constables jogging over towards them. This was the bad old days of football, so what were you to expect?

But it did not take long to change our minds, as we saw more pictures, and looked closer, at the solitary, ill-equipped ambulance weaving across the pitch, of the fans with a mate on an advertising hoarding turned into a makeshift stretcher. Something was very wrong.

By 4pm, and what was going to be an FA Cup semi-final sports section was being re-drawn, making way for as many on-the-spot reports, and pictures, that we could get to reflect the real horror of what happened that day at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough Stadium. The face of the young lad, in agony, pressed against the wire fence, hoping someone could get him out of there, is the image that was flashed around the world and stays with me to this day.

As they say, a picture tells a thousand words, and images do remain, seared into a person’s memory, long after the words arranged around them in a newspaper have been recycled into the following day’s chip paper.

Vietnam was the first television war. But it is a photographic still from Trang Bang in 1972, of a small girl, naked, her clothes burnt off her by napalm, her arms outstretched in agony, that has become one of the iconic images of the 20th century.

It is said that because the American public saw the Vietnam war on TV, the US withdrew from the conflict sooner than they might otherwise. Today’s media coverage from Iraq and Afghanistan is much more measured, far more controlled.

It is without doubt that the public outcry in 1989 after seeing the images from Hillsborough, where 96 people died, finally saw action to remove fencing and end the cattle-shed-like facilities endured by football fans.

Four years earlier, 56 fans had been killed in a fire at Bradford City. But that was a match in the Third Division against Lincoln City, so there were fewer press photographers and television cameras present to record what happened, to show the real horrors. The resultant Popplewell Inquiry made important recommendations, but it was the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report that really changed football grounds for the better. Might that also be because the public, through television and newspaper pictures, saw so much more for themselves?

The question is worth considering following Friday’s death of the Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Today’s instant news access, via television and the internet, has many advantages, but what it no longer affords the media is the luxury of time. Time to review and consider the correct course of action, to make the right judgement.



Should TV stations have shown the footage of Kumaritashvili hurtling out of control, up and over the luge course’s banking? Should newspapers have used the picture, distributed around the world from the AFP news agency, of the deadly moment that the Georgian was thrown off the track? Should insidethegames have used a picture of paramedics attending the stricken luger?

In an instance such as this, the role of news media organisations, including this website, is profoundly different from sports bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, which on Friday quickly exercised its almighty copyright claims to deter YouTube from running clips of the horrible accident.

Mark Adams, the IOC spokesman, said they were trying to restrict the footage to "occasions where it is absolutely required as part of a news story. Where there is a need for news to use it is one thing, otherwise this is not a spectator sport". Which sort of begs a question as to why such a self-evidently dangerous sport as luge is on the Olympic programme at all.

But sports bodies such as the IOC do have a duty of care to the athletes and their families and friends. The job of media outlets is to report the news, however uncomfortable that may be to the IOC.

It is a pity that the IOC, and the Vancouver organisers, did not act as promptly, and with similar discretion, in the months before the Games to take precautions to avoid such a tragedy ever happening. When I first saw the pictures in my living room in London, I was astonished that the ever-cautious Canadian organisers could build a luge course with a series of body-breaking steel pillars within reach of an 80 miles per hour icy bend.

If the danger was so obvious to me, why had it not occurred to the course designers and international federation long before they were forced to place a few flimsy crash mats around the pillars, but too late to save Kumaritashvili’s life?

The IOC’s flexing of its copyright muscle did nothing to deter the major TV broadcasters, CBS, Fox and CNN from showing clips, often repeatedly. Even the BBC used stills in its news coverage. One news director in California explained (excused?) his channel’s usage by saying, "We felt we had a fair use argument and the public should see the potential dangers on the track."

And while the North American TV networks, including US Olympic rights-holders NBC, presaged their coverage on Friday night with a warning from their bulletins’ newscasters, they did not escape criticism, as the blogosphere was suddenly abuzz with the news of this previously unheard of competitor, from a country few knew existed, in a sport hardly any had ever previously watched.

"You have ruined my Games by embedding that image into my mind as the first thing I will recall and perhaps the only thing I will recall that occurred in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympic Games," one blogger commented. It took until Sunday, 36 hours after the accident, before NBC confirmed it would no longer run the clip.

The question many raised was whether such graphic pictures would have been shown on network television, in newspapers or on websites if the competitor had been American, Canadian or British.

An American colleague had to explain to one of her friends that, in this case, Kumaritashvili was not from anywhere near Atlanta, but from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. It is probably true that such distancing from the victim of the accident saw some western news outlets less cautious than they might otherwise have been.

For instance, on Saturday, in the Wales v Scotland rugby international in Cardiff, winger Thom Evans suffered serious neck and spinal injuries (pictured) that required emergency surgery overnight. Yet the BBC’s live coverage of the incident, and later news bulletins, did not linger on the bone-crunching tackle, but instead utilised more discreet pictures of Evans being carried from the field on a stretcher.

Perhaps therein lies the balance and judgement required. Images do stay with us - whether it is Dan Marino’s or David Busst’s leg that is being shattered while in footballing in action, or now Kumaritashvili’s final moments, we remember them because we saw them.

We all, also, need to consider whether our own reactions to the use of such pictures might be just a little holier-than-thou, when in fact, we are just as likely to turn and stare at the next motorway accident that we pass on the road.

Earlier this week, the BBC aired a fascinating documentary, fronted by former Olympic athletics champion Michael Johnson, which tried to discover what it was that makes downhill skiers literally risk their necks each time they jump out of the start gate.

Franz Klammer, the 1976 Olympic downhill champion, summed up how he felt when he entered the start hut before a race: "I shit my pants."

There followed 30 minutes of gut-wrenching admissions of fear, interspersed with crash after bone-shredding crash, from Hermann Maier’s cartwheeling catastrophe in Nagano 12 years ago, through every fall suffered by a leading downhiller in the past 20 years. Some of them more than once. This was the epitome of car crash TV.

Johnson’s conclusion at the end of all this is that the very reason we bother watching downhill ski races is because of the intrinsic danger involved. Just as with Formula 1, or luge racing, the reason people watch is because they are waiting to see a crash.

Rob Steen lectures in sports journalism at Brighton University, and he makes the distinction between news coverage and the misuse of stories for more sensationalist reasons. As he points out, avoiding using pictures of an incident is not going to make that event "unhappen".

"Newspapers carry pictures of bleeding and dying people in war zones all the time, so I'm not  sure whether broadcasters should be disempowered from doing so, however distasteful it might be," he says.

Steen’s students are told that it is important for all publications to exercise cool, mature judgement in using such pictures, something which often only comes with experience. In many respects, in selecting which pictures to use, and how to use them, the editor’s test must be whether the images they choose will shock or sadden their readers.

If it is the former, utilising someone’s misery and pain crassly to drive sales or traffic, then clearly the wrong choice has been made. It is at times such as this that "exclusives" or being first with the news, counts for very little. 

Steven Downes is a sports journalist who has won awards for his writing and investigations, both in print and on television. The co-author, with Duncan Mackay, of the acclaimed athletics book Running Scared, Downes has also edited Athletics Weekly, been swimming correspondent of The Times and for five years was business editor at timesonline.co.uk. He is now secretary of the Sports Journalists' Association of Great Britain

David Owen: Sochi 2014 should name luge track in honour of Kumaritashvili

A second major international sports event in rapid succession has been disfigured by death.

At first glance, there seems nothing whatever in common between the attack on the Togo football bus in Angola and Nodar Kumaritashvili’s terrible accident at the Whistler Sliding Centre yesterday.

Both incidents, though, raised many immediate questions:

Why were the Togo squad travelling by bus through a volatile region? Should the walls at the exit of curve 16 have been higher to begin with? And what about that metal pillar?

They also, frankly, illustrate what sports authorities are up against in an age when athletes routinely strive for every last ounce of competitive advantage in what are often dangerous pursuits and sports events are more than ever potential targets for those with political grievances.

On the one hand, we, the sporting public, expect powers-that-be to deliver exciting spectacles in a carefree, party atmosphere; on the other, woe betide them if they let their guard slip.

The two incidents have also highlighted how profoundly the deaths of athletes or members of their immediate entourage nowadays resonate, even in a world in which tens of lives can be ended in an instant by a train crash or suicide bomber, tens of thousands by an earthquake or tsunami.

I am old enough to remember when death, though still shocking, was almost taken for granted as what the French call a "fatalité", an almost inevitable consequence of taking part in certain sports.

Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Gilles Villeneuve, François Cevert, Ronnie Peterson…The litany of motor-racing drivers who met untimely ends in the 1960s, 70s and 80s seems staggering today.

At the time I thought of it as very sad, but something that came with the territory.

With digital media now facilitating saturation coverage of even comparatively minor sports events, I think the impact of athletes’ deaths, on the mercifully rare occasions when they do occur, is going to intensify further.

It is getting easier all the time, via proliferating social media, for fans all over the world to kid themselves that they are involved in a personal relationship with their heroines and heroes.

Vancouver has been referred to more than once as the first Twitter Olympics.

Well, imagine if poor Kumaritashvili had been one of the growing number of athletes who have taken to ‘tweeting’ their every move.

The sports industry now owes it to the Georgian luge athlete to make sure that he did not die in vain.

And that means doing more than flying flags at half-mast during the Vancouver opening ceremony.



Kumaritashvili, of course, came from a nation in a frequently troubled part of the world - the Caucasus.

It is a country that, moreover, was involved in clashes with Russia, its giant neighbour, the last time the Olympic ‘family’ gathered for the Games in Beijing in 2008.

Russia, in turn, is in a special position at these Vancouver Games, since it will host the next Winter Olympics in 2014 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, maybe 50 kilometres up the coast from the border with Abkhazia.

I think Russia should make what would be a potentially far-reaching reconciliatory gesture by announcing forthwith that the luge venue to be used in the 2014 Winter Olympics will be named the Nodar Kumaritashvili track.

How about it Dmitry?

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938


Alan Hubbard: Let's get ready to rumble in Vancouver

After some half a century in the sportswriting game you expect to be asked:  "What is is the best event you’ve ever covered?”  For me, the answer is easy.  I’ve seen Olympics and World Cups, Commonwealth Games, some really great moments in sport but the greatest, well, that’s easy.  For it involved The Greatest – Muhammad Ali knocking out the ogre that was George Foreman as dawn broke over Africa in a massive stadium built in a jungle clearing in Zaire, back in 1974.

As Ali  landed the telling eighth round punch and big George twisted and spun to the floor a terrifying electric storm broke, torrential rain cascading down, drenching us and our notes and typewriters (yes, those were the days) as in front of me Harry Carpenter roared into his BBC microphone. "Oh my God, he’s won the title back at 32 !"

As we drove back into the capital Kinshasa muddy roads were turned into rivers as young kids splashed and sparred, excidedly yelling  "Ali bomba-ye,  Ali-bomba-ye !"  "Ali kill him, Ali kill him !" An unforgettable, epic night.

And the worst event ever?  That’s easy, too.  It was the Winter Olympics of 1980, in upstate New Yorks at Lake Placid, Hicksville at the best of times, the Games were organised - or rather disorganised – by the local vicar, one Rev Bernard J Fell - and what a nightmare they were for the media.  Forty below, snow three feet deep and buses that never ran on time, if at all, and rarely stopped to pick you up anyway.

We trudged around despondently from hostel-like accommodation, most of us in cell-like, window-less rooms to a cramped, inadequate media centre that apparently was once some sort of reform school, with no doors on the toilet cubicles.  The memory still sends shivers down the spine.  Oh unhappy days!  Although I have enjoyed Winter Olympics since, notably in Albertville and Lillehammer, I have to say I am not sorry to be giving Vancouver a miss.  But I trust my colleagues are enjoying decent facilities and a warm reception in one of the most civilised and hospitable cities in the world. 

Interest in this country when the Games get under way is unlikely to dominate the February footy, comprehensive as the BBC 2’s coverage will be but not just for aficionados of the white stuff it will be compelling viewing – remember how millions stayed up to the early hours to watch Rhona Martin and her magic broomstick sweep to glory in Salt Lake City.

Because of Britain’s lack of facilities, winter sports have always been the poor relations, but an Olympic gold is an Olympic gold, whatever the discipline, even for a nation which has always preferred contact with ice to be confined to the tinkling of cubes in a glass.  So here’s hoping the ensuing fortnight may offer just a little more than cold comfort.

Selling the downhill has always been an uphill battle in Britain, where interest in winter pursuits has only really been defrosted by Torvill and Dean, John Curry and Robin Cousins giving us a twirl and by Martin's curlers, who turned stones into gold eight years ago.

UK Sport’s target of three medals for the 52 strong squad, the largest since 1992 may seem ambitious, but in fact on current form it is hopefully rather realistic.  Definite medal prospects are bob skeleton girls Shelly Rudman, silver medal winner in Turin four years ago, and last year’s world silver medallist Amy Williams; the brilliant bobsleigh pair Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke, the reigning world champions, plus the men’s curling team - also world champions, skipped by David Murdoch.



And there are reasonable chances of podium places for the women’s curling team, now led by 19-year-old Eve Muirhead who has won the world junior championship three times, Rudman’s partner, Kristan Bromley, the intrepid madcap professor who is a former world champion in the men’s skeleton, snow boarders Zoe Gillings and Lesley McKenna plus the experienced Chemmy Alcott in the women’s giant slalom and speed skater John Eley.  Ever hopeful are T&D’s successors, the seasoned Scottish siblings John and Sinead Kerr (pictured), though they failed to emulate the European bronze they won last year in the recent championships.

Actually, for a non-Alpine nation in which a few snowflakes can stop a railway in its tracks, any single-figure placing would be an achievement and these are expected to come mainly on ice where we have had those skating successes, a bobsleigh gold back in 1964 and the curling triumph in Salt Lake City where Alex Coomber also bobbed to bronze.

Few will recall that Britain actually won the ice-hockey gold medal in 1936.  More likely to be remembered is how The Eagle dared in Calgary, the last time the Games were held in Canada 22 years ago and the world chuckled at Eddie Edwards as a True Brit buffoon with bottle.

Since the demise of Ski Sunday the seasonal chilblain-inducing antics of winter sportsfolk have been left for Eurosport's anoraks to savour, but now those activities which normally would be watched by one man and his St Bernard suddenly become global fantasies as viewers mug up on their moguls, half-pipes, two-man luge, giant slalom and Nordic combined, and nod knowingly as instant experts in furry ear-muffs debate the finer points of langlauf (cross country skiing).  Indeed, there seems little that cannot be done on snow and ice these days, from ballet to bowling.

Now the British Olympic Association take winter sports as seriously as those in the summer Games, preparing competitors with a thoroughness that is even the envy of some Alpine nations.  The days are gone when these Olympics. less than a third the size of the summer Games, were strictly for the teeth-chattering classes. 

Actually, 21 medals (eight golds, three silvers and ten bronze) overall passes reasonable muster for a lowland nation which grinds to a halt every time Railtrack's points get frosted up will be.  And there would have been 22 had the skier Alain Baxter not inhaled from a tube of Vicks back in Salt Lake.  In Vancouver, we must hope the sniffing is confined to the scent of the odd medal.

For me nothing will eclipse the Rumble in the Jungle, but we shall be watching the slipping, sliding and swooshing in the Rockies with fascination.  So let’s get ready to tumble.

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.


David Owen: My radical plan to save the Winter Olympics

The Olympic Movement has a couple of problems.

The Summer Olympics are too big.

The Winter Olympics are too small – by which I mean that large swathes of the globe, broadly countries where it rarely snows, are little interested in them.

Here in Britain, each edition of the Winter Games generally musters a compelling story-line or two: Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards, Alain Baxter, Shelley Rudman, the champion skaters of the 1970s and 80s and, of course, Rhona Martin and the Salt Lake City curlers.

But - unusually snowbound as we have been in recent weeks - many of us remain much more enthralled by the thrills and spills of rugby’s Six Nations Championship and football’s Premier League, which are the main competing February sporting fare.

From time to time too, stories emerge that appear designed to seduce the sun-kissed nations of the world to sit up and take more notice.

This year’s version is the tale of the ‘Snow Leopard’ – Ghanaian skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong – who will be in action in Vancouver/Whistler.

Probably the best-known example from previous years is the Jamaican bobsleigh team.

The frisson of interest that such stories provoke tends, however, to be pretty short-lived - scarcely surprising given the limited appetite of most national audiences for seeing their competitors outclassed.

It seems to me that there is a better way for the Olympic powers very considerably to broaden the appeal of the Winter Games.

What is more, the measure would potentially help with that other problem, by making the Summer Olympics less unwieldy.

The authorities should simply shift some of the indoor sports on the Summer Games programme to the Winter Olympics.

Yes, I can well imagine the caniptions the very thought of this would cause in the myriad associations and committees involved in organising Olympic sport.

But let’s consider one or two examples:

Take volleyball.

Incorporate this in the Winter Games programme and it should stimulate much bigger audiences - and hence more valuable broadcasting rights - in hot countries such as Cuba and Brazil.

Furthermore, fans of the sport would still have the beach volleyball competitions to look forward to at the next Summer Olympics.

Or how about cycling?

How much more excitement would there be now in Britain if Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton (pictured) and the rest of Dave Brailsford’s lycra-clad crew were about to take to the boards of a Vancouver velodrome in pursuit of more gold medals?

As with volleyball, cycling would not lose its seat at the Summer Olympics table because of its outdoor events such as BMX and road-racing.

Indeed, such a switch could make even more sense for cycling by alleviating some of the pressure that has forced it and a number of other sports to make particularly tough choices as to which events to include in, or omit from, the Olympic programme.

Weightlifting. Badminton. Hey, you could even talk to FIFA boss Sepp Blatter about inaugurating a five-a-side football competition, although securing the release of top players would be, to say the least, a delicate proposition.

I have no expectation that any of this will happen in the foreseeable future.

But I have yet to be persuaded of why it would not be a positive step.

In fact, if something pretty radical isn’t done to ginger up interest and win the Winter Games a genuinely global audience, it wouldn’t surprise me - in this football-obsessed age - if they didn’t eventually revert to their original role, and time-slot, as the warm-up act for the Main Event in the summer.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938


Alan Hubbard: Is Victor Conte right when he says boxing has a drugs problem?

Does boxing have a major drugs problem? Enter the ring Victor Conte of Balco infamy, the man who provided British sprinter Dwain Chambers and five-times Olympic gold medal sprinter Marion Jones, among others, with performance enhancing drugs. 

He has branded boxing’s attempts to catch the cheats at “inept” and claims drug use in the sport – and it must be emphasised he is speaking mainly about the United States - is rife due to lax regulation.

"The testing in boxing is virtually worthless," he claims. A view echoed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which called boxing’s testing "pathetic."

The problem is that professional boxing is one of the few sports not regulated by a single governing body. The USA has numerous commissions with different rules. The amateur game of course has AIBA who embrace WADA’s regulations. "I don’t believe professional boxing wants to know how rampant the use of drugs really is," says Conte. "Testing in boxing is completely and totally inept.",

He fears testosterone and EPO are both in regular use. By coincidence, the British promoter, Frank Warren commenting on how the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao mega-bucks fight had fallen apart because of Mayweather’s insistence on blood testing for the Filipino who has moved through the weight divisions to win six world titles, reckons there could be an increasing problem within boxing. (It has to be noted that Pacquiao is suing Mayweather’s camp for defamation saying they alleged he took performance enhancing drugs).

According to Warren, there is "a strong rumour" that one leading British fighter - and his trainer - have been taking human growth hormone. Obviously the fighter is not a member of Warren’s camp. "HGH adds bulk and if taken in excessive amount is seen by some idiots as the perfect pill for fighters who want to move quickly into higher weight divisions," says Warren. "I would like to see British boxers randomly tested for HGH."

One of the curiosities of the sequel to the Mayweather-Pacquiao spat is that Mayweather has now signed to meet Shane Mosley (pictured), a boxer who has previously admitted, albeit he says unknowingly, to drug use. Will Mayweather now demand he is blood tested too?  Or was his previous stance designed to avoid meeting Pacquiao?  It was Conte who first accused Mosley of taking PEDs when he utilised Balco’s services.



Mosley maintained that he believed the products he was using were legal vitamins though in May 2008, Mosley's former trainer told a grand jury that in 2003 that the boxer injected himself with the doping agent EPO as he prepared for a fight against "Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya, whose own preparations have now been called into question in a new book by the US author Thomas Hauser. 

In the USA the authorities have certainly soft-pedalled on boxing’s drugs issue, notably where famous names have been involved. Because he never tested positive Mosley has not been sanctioned and when world light-heavyweight champion Roy Jones did test positive for androsteniodene in 2000 he was allowed to keep his titles and was neither fined nor suspended. Five years later James Toney defeated John Ruiz -David Haye’s next opponent- to win the WBA heavyweight title but tested positive for the steroid stanazolol. He received only a 90-day ban.

This week Britain's trade paper, Boxing News joined the drugs debate under the headline "The Hurtful Truth" saying: "The Mayweather–Pacquiao fall-out opened a can of worms that boxing has never wanted to delve into too deeply." It warns that a high profile fighter could be seriously injured by another who has taken performance enhancing drugs. 

However there has never been a significant British boxer, amateur or professional who has failed a drugs test for steroid use and both the ABA and the pro game’s British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) insist they adhere to strict drug testing regulations. "The BBBC is fully compliant with WADA and carry out mandatory and random checks," says the Board’s general secretary Robert Smith while ABA spokesman Ron Boddy tells us that all the internationals, at all age groups, are randomly tested on a regular basis and there is random testing throughout all the championships, domestic and international.

UK Sport records show that since 2003 ten professional boxers have tested positive in Britain, three of them from overseas. Since 2005 four amateurs have failed tests, one of them for cannabis. Curiously, the highest profile boxer who failed to pass a drugs test in this country is a woman, Liverpool’s Jade Mellor, two-times ABA featherweight champion who was a 2012 Olympics prospect. 

This happened last July after she tested positive for a diuretic, claiming she took it to help make weight because of the onset of her period on the morning of her ABA final.  A masking agent was also present. Her appeal failed and she has been suspended for two years.

One certainty is that Britain’s past and present Olympic squads are all clean. "As a top amateur you were tested regularly," says the Olympic gold medallist James DeGale. "It was random, they can turn up day and night and when I won the Olympic gold I had both a blood and urine test.  It’s pretty strict."

In the light of the comments by Warren and Conte, let’s hope it becomes even stricter. For, more than any other, boxing is a sport that dices far too closely with danger without drugs being injected into its inherent risks.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist and boxing correspondent of The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics and numerous world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.