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David Owen: Can Marion Jones make the transition from drugs cheat to basketball star?

It promises to be one of the curiouser sidelines of a crowded sporting year.

Can Marion Jones make it as a top basketball player?

The disgraced former sprinter announced last year that she planned to return to professional sport and hoped to sign a contract to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Reaching the summit of two different sports in the modern age is notoriously difficult, as athletes ranging from basketball legend Michael Jordan to cricketer Sir Ian Botham could probably testify.

Jones’s age - at 34 she is no spring chicken - could also count against her.

In a sense, though, she has already achieved the distinction once, having won a national basketball championship with the University of North Carolina in 1994, where she played point guard.

Her "Illustrated Autobiography" Life in the Fast Lane - a book not without value, in spite of being notable chiefly for including the statement, "I have always been unequivocal in my opinion: I am against performance-enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them", printed in red capital letters around 1.6 cms high - contains a vivid description of the dramatic finale to the decisive match against “mighty Louisiana Tech”.

"It was one of the most remarkable moments in basketball I've ever witnessed, let alone had a hand in," Jones concludes.

"It took days for it to sink in that we were the national champs."

I took advantage of a recent trip to North America to ask a coach who has worked with Jones what he thought her prospects were of pulling off a late comeback.

His message basically was that there was no reason why she shouldn't, though he did seem to wonder about the effect that an old foot injury might have.

His point, if I understood correctly, was not that it would hamper her on-court, but that it might make it tougher for her to build up that part of her body into the sort of shape she would need to be in to withstand a physically arduous sport.

Ironically, Jones originally picked up the injury in basketball practice.

As she relates in the book, a team-mate landed on her left foot while diving for a loose ball.

"I knew it was broken right away…

"The X-rays showed a break in the fifth bone of my left foot…

"The UNC surgeon, Dr. Tim Taft, who was famous for preserving Michael Jordan’s knees, performed the surgery.

"Afterward, my fifth metatarsal was held together by a metal screw."

There was worse to come.

"I hadn't been on my feet long when I was doing some drills on a trampoline with some of the other track athletes and came down a little awkwardly, heard a tiny crack and felt an immediate stab of pain.

"The X-rays confirmed that I had indeed broken my left foot again…the same bone in the same place, and I'd managed to bend the pin.

"I had to have surgery again, to have the pin removed and replaced by a bigger pin, have bone marrow from my hip inserted into my foot to encourage the bone to heal, and have another cast fitted.”

Ouch.

The book also contains, in Jones's account of her final year on the UNC team, what amounts to a salutary reminder about the possible physical consequences of playing when not in absolutely tip-top shape.

"I'd gained about ten pounds,” she writes.

"I must have weighed 153 or 154 pounds - and I kept getting little nagging injuries."

The young Jones was able to dunk – not bad for someone who stands 'only' 5ft 10in (1.78m).

"We used to play a little trick to get us an edge," she recalls.

"Imagine you’re playing us, we’re all warming up and suddenly the crowd goes wild.

"You turn round and see four of us dunking the ball again and again and again.

"What could be more intimidating than that?

"You wouldn’t know that I’d just sprayed a little sticky stuff on my hand just for warm-ups so the ball wouldn’t slip."

Finally, the book - published in 2004 - makes clear that the idea of a WNBA career is not just a passing whim, though Jones presumably would not have foreseen the circumstances under which she would be making last year’s announcement.

"I would love to see how I’d rank among the best female basketball players in the world," the chapter on the Lady Tar Heels concludes.

"I don’t know if, by the time 2008 comes around, I’ll have the spunk for it any more or if I’ll even want to deal with traveling and being away from home so much.

"But it is a little personal goal of mine to resume that part of my career someday.”

"Someday" may be just around the corner.

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


Steven Downes: A new era for swimming could spell bad news for London 2012

Imagine the outrage had every sports drug cheat in the past decade worn the logo of their pharmaceutical supplier across their chest as they broke the latest world record or claimed another gold medal.

Yet that’s effectively what happened in swimming for the past 10 years, with the use of a different kind of performance enhancing substance: the very swimsuits the athletes have been racing in.

When Germany’s Britta Steffan smashed the 100 metres freestyle world record in Berlin in June, she did not speak of her excitement or delight at her achievement. She spoke instead about her "hydrofoil" suit.

"This material can destroy the sport," Steffen warned.

It has needed a decade of repeated warnings from top swimmers such as Steffen and their coaches for the aquatics world body, FINA, to take action. In the face of a £10 billion-a-year global swimsuit industry, which provides massive sponsorship for the sport, FINA, was paralysed. The swimmers, their coaches and even the manufacturers were plunged into an eddy of confusion.

Eventually, last summer, FINA was forced to make the decision to ban suits using hi-tech materials from competition with effect from January 1, 2010.

"It's going to be fun next year, when swimming is back to swimming," Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer the world has ever seen, said after the ban was announced last July.

Phelps, the winner of a record 14 Olympic gold medals, was speaking shortly after he had lost the final of the 200m freestyle at the World Championships in Rome. It was the American swimmer’s first defeat in a major individual race since 2005. His conqueror, Paul Biedermann of Germany, wore a hi-tech suit. Phelps, as if making a point, did not.

The skin-tight, whole-body suits, costing around £300 each at retail and rarely lasting competitive swimmers more than a couple of months before they snagged and tore, were made of polyurethane or neoprene. They almost gave the swimmer the drag-free skin and buoyancy of a dolphin, but also worked by compressing the muscles, helping to delay the onset of fatigue during races.

The more buoyant a swimmer is, the easier it is for them to travel over - rather than through - the water. Some suit makers even called in NASA scientists to assist with some space-age technology after it was established that their smart fabrics can stimulate the central nervous system and influence heart rate, lung and other vital functions during races.

Phelps was one of a brave few who opted not to wear the go-faster suits in Rome, where the pool bubbled like a boiling cauldron as record after record was broken: 43 world records fell in just eight days.

In the past 12 months, swimmers set more than 140 world records; since 2008, when Speedo launched its market-leading polyurethane suit, more than 250 world records were set. Only Grant Hackett's 1500m freestyle world record of 14min 34.56sec, set in a "normal" pair of fabric trunks in 2001, has survived the hi-tech onslaught.

Britta Steffen’s progression demonstrates exactly how swimming’s very own technological arms race skewed the sport’s emphasis from the efforts of the swimmers to the size of the budgets of the suit manufacturers.

Last June, the 25-year-old (pictured), literally buoyed by the latest suit, touched out in 52.85sec. When the German won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in August 2008 in an earlier version of the body suit, she was 0.27sec slower - which roughly represents about 50cm, or an arm’s length, in the pool.

Such has been the transformation of the world rankings that what was the men’s 50m freestyle world record that stood in 2008 [21.64sec to Alex Popov of Russia], was not even in the best ever 20 performances a year later.

In 2007, Fred Bousuet, of France, could manage no better than half a second slower than Popov's best. Yet in April last year, clad in a new Jaked1 suit, Bousuet raced down one length of the pool 0.70sec faster than Popov ever did. That represents a whole metre quicker than Popov managed to swim. But could Bousuet really claim the title of "the fastest man in the water", or was it his suit?

The fact is, we may never know. For while the suits have been outlawed, the records achieved by swimmers wearing them still stand, and it seems unlikely that when FINA meets in Bangkok this week it will decide to delete any performances achieved in the now-banned suits.

That could mean that there will be few, if any, world records set when the swimming races are staged in London at the 2012 Olympic Games.

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


Tom Degun: Is the only thing that can stop Usain Bolt Usain Bolt?

Olympic gold medallist and Youth Sport Trust Ambassador Jason Gardner can rightly be considered one of the very best sprinters to have represented the United Kingdom. 

The "Bath Bullet" is one of only three Britons ever to break the magic sub-10 second barrier over 100 metres - and the only one never to have failed a drugs test - while he also boasts the ultimate prize of an Olympic gold medal after his blistering start in the 4x100m relay at the Athens 2004 Games helped bring the British team victory ahead of the hot favourites, the United States, featuring the former Olympic champion and world record holder Maurice Greene.

Add to that two World Championship medals, three World Championship indoor medals over 60m and give European Championship indoor titles over the same distance, including four gold medals, and Gardener's credentials stack favourably well against the majority of the world’s top sprinters over the last two decades.

But not all of them.

For on August 16, 2008, at the Bird’s Nest Stadium; one man from Jamaica leisurely turned up at the Beijing Olympics and instantaneously turned world of sprinting on its head, an event Gardener recalls only too well.

"I was very fortunate to be in the Bird’s Nest stadium on that fateful night," Gardiner told me from his home just outside Bath.

"I was actually right on the finish line just 30 or so metres away and I was having a fantastic time as the atmosphere in the stadium was electric.

"I was excited as the guys lined up on the blocks as it was great to be watching a 100m final with no regrets.

"I didn't miss being on the line as I know how hard all the athletes there had to work to get there and it wasn't like I was watching the final after having been knocked out in the semi-final.

"So it was a great feeling to be able to sit back and just watch a sprint final as spectator and not as an athlete.

And at nearly 30m away from the finish line, Gardener was nearly as close to Usain Bolt as the seven other competing athletes were when the phenomenon crossed the finish line.

"I remember the gun going off and the Usain absolutely flying ahead of a world-class field.

"Then, with the race was won at around the 70m mark, he simply started celebrating as he strolled across the finish line in a new world record.

"It was unbelievable to watch what he did in person and when I saw that race and saw the time he had run, I was utterly flabbergasted.

"Following on from that race, it wasn’t that surprising to see what he did in the 200 metres and the relay later that Games and what he did in Berlin [at the 2009 World Championships] a year later when he smashed both sprint world records again.

"He has changed the rules of sprinting and while there use to be athletes like me on the 100m start line who were very serious and athletes who use to aggressively prowl up and down like Maurice Greene and Dwain Chambers; Usain just jokes around and now everyone is starting to copy him.

"I think Usain has changed the face of the sport and he has certainly surpassed the boundaries of what I thought I would see a human being achieve in my life time.

"With the title of ‘the world’s fastest man’ he has cross-over appeal so that even people not interested in athletics or even sport want to watch him and he has a fan-base that spreads across the world.

"He transcends the sport and after high-profile drug cases have tarnished athletics and left people disillusioned with the sport, Usain has almost single-handedly restored the credibility of it."



Looking ahead towards London 2012, Gardener believes that perhaps the biggest obstacle preventing Bolt from retaining his Olympic crown is in fact Bolt himself.

"You have to ask what the motivation for Bolt is now that he has achieved practically everything in the sport.

"He is the triple Olympic Champion, triple world champion and the world record holder in the 100, 200 and 4x100m relay.

"What else does he want to do?

"That is the key question but if he still wants to keep breaking records and is motivated to do so; he will prove very difficult to stop in the coming years."

However, Gardener does feel there is perhaps a challenge to Bolt’s domination.

"I have got to mention Tyson Gay, " he said.

"With Usain about, many forget just how good Tyson is.

"He ran a phenomenal time of 9.77 in Berlin and then bettered it to match Bolt’s Beijing time of 9.69 seconds at the end of last season.

"Tyson is an absolutely phenomenal athlete and don’t be surprised if he goes on to provide a real challenge to Usain in the coming season."

Gardner - perhaps surprisingly - also tipped young British prospect Simeon Williamson to become a major player in the sprint division.

He said: "At this stage, it is not fair to put Simeon in the same category as Bolt and Gay because he hasn’t yet broken the 10 second barrier so he is around half-a-second behind those guys which is huge in sprinting terms.

"But he impressively beat Dwain Chambers at the UK Championships in Birmingham last year which was a fantastic achievement and now he has moved to Jamaica to train with Bolt and co which seems like the place to be if you’re a sprinter right now.

"He is only 23 so he is still very young and once he breaks that 10 second barrier - which I am sure he will - he can go on to do great things and I think London 2012 could come at just the right time for him."

Talking of London 2012, Gardner (pictured) said he is delighted to see the form of British athletics improving at just the right time for the Games and feels that the Berlin 2009 World Championships signalled the start of a turn around in the fortunes of British athletics.

"Prior to Berlin, we had been going through a slump for far too long and relying on the old guard for any decent talking points in athletics over the last decade.

"It has been hard for many to accept that our former genuine medal contenders like Linford Christie, Colin Jackson, Sally Gunnell, Jonathan Edwards, Denise Lewis and our 4x100 metre and 4x400m relays teams of the past had gone.

"That was a golden generation for British athletics and once it stopped, things dried up for Britain in terms of medals.

"But a lot of money has been pumped into UK Athletics and it is great to see some of these guys and girls coming good on their fantastic talent.

"It was great to see Jessica Ennis and Philips Idowu claim their medals at the start of the Championships and I think that really inspired the rest of the team to go on and do well.

"There is a little more resolve about the team now and they are getting the British public interested in athletics again which is great to see."

Gardener also feels that the popularity of athletics in the United Kingdom will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

"A combination of factors is making people in Britain excited in athletics again.

"Obviously the fact that Britain is doing well in the sport again and that London hosting the 2012 are huge pluses and then there is obviously Usain and what he is doing for the sport here and around the world so the future looks bright."

As for Gardner’s future; he is happy to pass on his wealth of experience to future generations of British athletes and believes that his work as an Ambassador for Youth Sport Trust will allow him to do just that.

Gardener said: "I know how difficult it is being a talented youngster [Gardner was a world junior champion at just 18] and of the overbearing pressure and expectation that it can bring.

"I also know how difficult the transition from juniors to seniors is and when I first started my sprint career; if I wanted to be the best in Britain I had to be the best in the world because Linford Christie was the main man at the time so that put even more pressure on me.

"At that time, it would have been priceless for me to talk to an athlete who has been there and done it all and whose experience and knowledge I could have learned from.

"That is why I am passionate about my role for Youth Sport Trust as if I can give young kids advice that will go on to help them in the future, that is fantastic.

"There are lots of difficulties for young athletes with school, competition and socialising and if you make it as an athlete, there is the temptation of drugs and things like that too so if by listening to me these guys can go on and make the right decisions for themselves; that is crucial.

"You can’t buy experience at top level sport, it is absolutely priceless and you should make the most of it at every opportunity.

"And if young athletes can make the most of my experience, I will be very happy."

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames.biz

Alan Hubbard: Boxing glad to see the back of 2009 but there may still be trouble ahead

2009 was not the most auspicious of years for amateur boxing, as I am sure the sport would be the first to admit. Not quite, as Her Maj might decree, an annus horribilis, but things did not go too well, particularly on the fiscal front. Boxing may have found itself backed up against the ropes but in the best traditions of the ring it knows there is only one thing to do: Punch your way out of it.

Which hopefully it will at elite level under new performance director Robert McCracken, whose professional nous acquired both in the ring and the corner suggests he knows what he is about.

The earlier loss of six of the eight Olympians and the departure of popular and successful head coach Terry Edwards is now troubled water under a bridge of sighs - or would have been had not two of the Olympians and Edwards decided to take legal action against the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE). The boxers sued when bonuses promised before Beijing remained unpaid.

Edwards instructed m'learned friends to take the necessary action following remarks made on a BBC Five Live interview given by ABAE chief executive Paul King that he had been sent a letter informing him that these bonuses had been dropped. Edwards said he knew nothing about it. All three have won their cases, Edwards receiving some £80,000 and an apology and, as insidethegames reported this week, DeGale was awarded £20,000 for his gold medal and Jeffries £5,000 for his bronze. With costs, the already cash-strapped ABA are likely to have shelled out well over £150,000.

Unfortunately for them there is more to come. Having seen the his fellow medallists suitably enriched, bronze winner David Price is now seeking his pay-out. The giant Liverpool heavyweight has instructed his solicitor accordingly and tells us: "Now that James and Tony have got their money I'm not going to let five grand pass me by." So it looks as if the ABAE, already having paid a price, are now going to have to pay yet another Price.



While talking to Price (pictured right), who has now had four winning fights with Frank Maloney after his deal with David Haye's Hayemaker organisation went belly-up following the demise of TV backers Setanta, he confirmed that he had been approached to take part in the proposed new World Series of Boxing, from which the British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA) have now withdrawn. It happened after he had made his pro debut and he was told it could be arranged for him to return to an "amateur" status in order to participate as they were looking for big names. 

He admitted he was tempted but says: "No definite offer was put on the table and after weighing things up I decided staying pro was the best thing to do. What concerned me is that while I thought it a good idea I was not convinced it was going to work. For
something like this to succeed you need major television backing. And if someone like Carl Froch, who is a world champion can’t get on terrestrial television, what chance has a new and untried amateur boxing tournament?" 

That of course is the question, and Price is not alone in having his doubts. The former world featherweight champion, Barry McGuigan also says he is not sold on the idea, and sees little future for it even though he attending the launch of the proposed London leg of the inter-city tournament recently when ABA president, Richard Caborn, in welcoming AIBA chief Dr C K Wu, spoke glowingly of an event designed, among other things, to offer young fighters an alternative to turning pro by paying them substantial prize money yet still enabling them to compete in the Olympics. 

That House of Commons reception must seem something of an embarrassment now that BABA have decided to pull out, especially for Caborn and Paul King, who is on the AIBA committee and enthusiastically backed the World Series.

But I can understand BABA chairman Derek Mapp’s decision not to take the financial risk [AIBA wanted €75,000 – about £66,000 - as an up-front deposit] after the shortfall of funding from UK Sport for pre-Olympic preparations. BABA wanted and expected £1.8 million and received only £950,000. Mapp is right in deciding to concentrate available funds on reorganising both the men's and women's programmes, as there is some good young talent to nurture – notably among Britain’s impressive ladies who punch.  Unfortunately hopes of hiring a Norwegian coach for the women have had to be abandoned in the financial climate.

Also, not everyone in amateur boxing was as enthusiastic as Caborn and King about the series. Opposition to it was one of the reasons that led to the departure of Kevin Hickey after his brief spell as performance director and had Terry Edwards still been in charge he certainly would not have backed Britain’s participation. All the professional promoters I have spoken with say it hasn't got a prayer – but then they would, wouldn't they?

Nonetheless, AIBA are to be applauded in attempting something innovative, though reservations must remain until we know that substantial TV and sponsorship deals are in place.  At the moment, the greatest interest would seem to come from Asia and Eastern Europe. In America, amateur boxing has virtually died a death after some disastrous Olympics and a number of other Western European capitals seem reluctant to sign up. 

While personally I would like to see it succeed, I have my doubts about the interest it would create here. Serious seduction would need to be made for TV to show it and budgets are tight at both the BBC and ITV. It would have been perfect for Setanta of course, but "The New Home of Boxing" is no longer with us and Sky's boxing diary is already rather full. The best option might be ESPN, which really has yet to take off in the UK, but how many would subscribe to watch?  And there could also be problems in finding a suitable venue with most major arenas heavily booked over the next couple of years. 

The World Series is well conceived, aiming to give amateur boxing a much needed higher profile, some oomph and personality but I fear there are too many other sporting attractions coming up like the Commonwealth Games, World Cup and Olympics as well as world title fights involving David Haye, Amir Khan and Carl Froch among others for it to grab a decent share of public attention.  However I do hear that AIBA representatives will be coming here to explore other avenues for a possible London franchise. I wish them luck.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics and scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire, and is a former chairman of the Boxing Writers’ Club.


Mike Moran: January 4 - The day that nearly destroyed the Olympic Movement

It began as a sort of wind shear, a sudden gust, on an otherwise unremarkable day, but it grew into a violent storm that almost destroyed the Olympic Games.
 
On this day, 30 years ago - January 4, 1980.
 
During a speech to the United States, President Jimmy Carter voiced the first hint of a US boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow in retaliation for the startling invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union on December 23, 1979.

"Although the United States would prefer not to withdraw from the Olympic Games scheduled in Moscow this summer, the Soviet Union must realise that its continued aggressive actions will endanger both the participation of athletes and the travel to Moscow by spectators who would normally wish to attend the Olympic Games," said Carter. 

By January 20, on "Meet The Press", Carter announced that he would not let American athletes participate in Moscow unless the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler hinted at denying American athletes passports for Moscow after suddenly waking to the fact that the US Government could not technically order the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to stay home. The Administration also proposed that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) move the Games from Moscow to another city.

But it was on January 23, that Carter dropped the hammer.

"I have notified the US Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow."

The next day, the US House of Representatives voted 386-12 to support Carter's call.

The USOC, deeply troubled and split by divisions among its member groups and athletes, went to Lake Placid for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games and enjoyed the brief, brilliant gift of seeing its ice hockey team defeat the Soviets in the Olympic semi-finals and then win the gold medal, completing the "Miracle on Ice" (pictured).

But, on April 12, 1980, the USOC voted to stay home and not send a team to Moscow, following an impassioned speech in Colorado Springs to its House of Delegates by Vice President Walter Mondale and painful support from USOC President William E. Simon, who told his colleagues that they must support the President of the United States in his call for the boycott since it was an issue of "national security".

The Carter team convinced 60 other nations to sit it out in Moscow, hundreds of American athletes saw their careers and Olympic dreams end forever, the USOC nearly went bankrupt, the Games went on, and the Soviet Union won 195 medals in a lopsided orgy of success that was repeated in Los Angeles four years later by the USA when the Soviets and 14 other nations returned the favour with their own boycott.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics attracted 140 nations nonetheless, and turned into a huge financial success, establishing a blueprint for corporate support and success for future Games, and four years later, the world returned to the 1988 Games in Seoul and ushered in a new era of prosperity and popularity for the worldwide Olympic Movement.

The USOC, which had taken a gutsy step to assure the LA Olympics against a shortfall with a commitment of $25 million (£15 million) it did not have, gained a huge financial windfall from the surplus of the Games and regained its health and stability.

Much has changed since that fateful day three decades ago in the Olympic world.

Soviet armed forces finally fled Afghanistan on February 15, 1989, and the Berlin Wall crumbled on November 9 in that same year.

America has not hosted the Games since 2002 and has seen two of its most famed cities, New York and Chicago, defeated in attempts to host the world's most visible and important sports event since 2005.

The USA has become a winter Olympic power, and our summer Olympic teams have won the medal race in Atlanta, Sydney and Beijing.

There is no Soviet Union or East Germany to compete with.

And, in 39 days, the U.S. Olympic Team will enter the Opening Ceremony in Vancouver, followed three weeks later by the US Paralympic Games team. World-class athletes with disabilities will enjoy the same brilliant spotlight.

There will be a US Olympic women's ice hockey team seeking its own Miracle against powerful Canada on its home ice.

The coach of that USA team of women is Mark Johnson, a hero of the 1980 victory against the Soviets in Lake Placid with two goals.

Russia will host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in its resort city of Sochi. London will host the 2012 Olympic Games, the first time the city has been the host since it welcomed the post-war world to the resumption of the Games in 1948.

It might have been different now had good people and events not stepped up in the days after January 4, 1980, to save the Games and the future for the world's best athletes.

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.

Park Yong-sung: Lee should be allowed to work on behalf of Korea

"We have gotten the reinforcements of a 1,000 soldiers and 10,000 horses."

The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games Bid Committee must be relieved after former Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was pardoned.

Not just the committee but also Gangwon Province, sports circles and many citizens who dream of hosting the Winter Olympic Games must share the same feeling.

As a leader of the sports industry in Korea, I extend my gratitude to the Government for making the critical decision to grant a special pardon.

As the Government’s announcement stated, Lee's pardon provides a condition to reinstate his currently suspended IOC membership and creates a better chance to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. It was a decision for the national interest in an effort to pursue the great undertaking of the nation to bring an international sports festival to Korea.

Making a third bid to host the Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang is waging a hard fight against strong competitors Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France.

Munich is a well-known cultural city, and Annecy is an international city with a well-established infrastructure that is located just 20 minutes from Geneva. Germany has three IOC members and France has two.

In particular, German IOC member Thomas Bach is very influential and is often mentioned as the next IOC President.

Since the hosting of the Olympic Games is decided by the vote of the IOC members, it is very important to persuade them of the benefits of coming to Pyeongchang. Of course, the Olympic host is determined based on subjective assessments, such as the facilities and the environment necessary to hold the Games.

However, what affects the outcome more than the visible elements is to be able to move the hearts of the IOC members. And only the IOC members can play such a role effectively in persuading other members.

As the rules of conduct for the International Olympic Committee have been reinforced, it has become increasingly difficult to make contact with the IOC members. Therefore, the IOC members themselves are crucial to communicating with fellow members.

Currently, Korea only has one member, Moon Dae-seong, on the Committee aside from Lee, who voluntarily suspended his duties. Moon is an athlete member elected at the Beijing Olympics last year with not much experience on the IOC scene.

As Korea makes an all-out effort to host the Games, we desperately need the contribution of Lee (pictured), who has been a veteran IOC member with significant influence within the organisation, and Samsung, which has been one of the Top Olympic Partners (TOP) since 1996.

As the chairman of the National Olympic Committee, I have met with many IOC members, and a large number of them, including members of the Executive Board, have told me that Lee Kun-hee's pardon would have a positive impact on Korea’s sports diplomacy as well as the development of the international sports scene since he has made so many critical contributions to sports.

Lee is an indispensable figure not only for the hosting of the Pyeongchang Winter Games but also for the future development of the international status of Korean sports and within global sports.

Of course, reinstatement of Lee's IOC membership will not directly lead to a successful bid for Pyeongchang.

However, his involvement improves the chances considerably.

Lee is expected to actively participate in the IOC assembly to be held in Vancouver, Canada, next month, and Pyeongchang's bid for the Winter Olympic Games will be considerably boosted.

We have only a year and half until the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is decided at a IOC session in Durban, South Africa, in July 2011.

Now that Lee has been pardoned and reinstated, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games Bid Committee, the Korea Olympic Committee and two IOC members, Lee Kun-hee and Moon Dae-seong, can promote a systematic and effective campaign to successfully host the international sports festivity as the Government and its citizens fully support the bid.

Park Yong-sung is the President of the Korean Olympic Committee. This article first appeared in the JoongAng Daily.


Alan Hubbard: A Tory Government will put London 2012 under greater financial scrutiny

2010 may be two years off 2012 but for the organisers of the London Games it will be a watershed, and a critical one in many ways. Once football’s all-consuming World Cup mania is done and dusted next summer and England’s traditional quarter-final exit has been mourned, the full focus will be turned on how preparations are going for the biggest sporting show this country has ever staged, or seen.

It is only then that the full impact of having the Olympics here will really hit home and Seb Coe and co will be constantly under the media microscope. Not only from us, but the Government.

Ah yes, the Government. At the moment the likelihood is that there will be a change of colour in the Westminster strip, or so the opinion polls tell us. So what will that mean for 2012?

The Conservatives have always been supportive of the Games - more so actually than Labour were at the beginning of the bid, or even when London actually won it. Gordon Brown, then the bean-counting Chancellor, is said to have held his head in his hands and muttered "Oh my God, what have we let ourselves in for?"

You would think with two Tory Peers (the m'lords Coe and Moynihan) on the 2012 board, alongside London’s mayor Boris Johnson, and presumably a new Tory Olympics minister, that any transition would go smoothly and there would be a greater rapport with a new administration.

But will that be the case? Despite any new political affinity with 2012’s main players you can expect a Tory Government to put the Games under closer financial scrutiny knowing they will be the fall guys if things go wrong. And already, in Opposition, they seem far more concerned about legacy, as Hugh Robertson, the current Shadow Sports and Olympics spokesman, has already demonstrated. He is far from happy at this aspect of the Games.

But will the first rate Robertson get the job or will be either promoted to higher office (he is close to David Cameron, having been one of his main backers for the Tory leadership) or is he destined to become another Tom Pendry, gazumped by a surprise choice, as the now Lord Pendry was by Tony Banks when New Labour took office in 1997?

Thankfully the latter seems doubtful, for although there will be many who covet what  is a plum post in the run-up to 2012, few, if any, have Robertson’s quality, qualifications or grip of what is happening within LOCOG.

What Cameron could do is make the job of sports and Olympics Minister a full Cabinet post, which would then give Robertson the status he deserves. It is what the role demands, so important will it be in the run-up to 2012.

Changes of Government have not done previous Olympic host cities much harm - indeed it saved the Athens Olympics of 2004 from impending disaster, bringing in a right wing administration with which the dynamic diva Gianna Angelopoulos could actually work in harmony.

So you mighty think a Conservative Government would bring greater harmony to those occupying the LOCOG eyrie at high above Canary Wharf. Yet intriguingly there could be some differences with 2012’s true blue brigade though Tory boys Coe, Moynihan and Johnson insist they take a non-political stance. For as I have indicated, they will want to take a long, hard look at the balance sheet of an over-stretching budget and will insist any outstanding differences over venues are settled expediently.

Then there is the future of Tessa Jowell (pictured with Gordon Brown), the current Olympics Minister, who is well-liked in Olympic circles, both within LOCOG and the IOC.

Although she would be out of office - and could even lose her Dulwich seat if  a Tory swing is substantial enough – I believe Coe would like want to keep her on board in some capacity.

Tessa is looking distinctly happier than most ex-Blair Babes these days.

Not only did she survive as Olympics Minister in the last Cabinet reshuffle, but Brown, who demoted her from Culture Secretary when he took over as Prime Minister, has brought her back into his inner circle as Cabinet Office Minister – no doubt as a reward for speaking up for him while others were putting unladylike boots in.

However, her joy could be short-lived if Labour are kicked out at the next election but the Westminster rumour mill suggests she would love to stay on with 2012 and Coe, who has always got on well with her (as indeed he did with another Labourite, Ken Livingstone), might incorporate her as some sort of global ambassador. He remembers that it if was not for her there might not have been a London 2012 at all, for it was Tessa who constantly ear-bashed then PM Tony Blair until he agreed to back the bid.

The 62-year-old Jowell has certainly become a more knowledgeable Olympics addict since the time soon after London finally decided to hid when she talked enthusiastically to some of us at a DCMS reception about her first meeting with IOC President "Peter Rogge.".

But while Coe might welcome her on board, Boris Johnson, whom she so vigorously attacked during his Mayoral campaign, may not be quite so keen. And Robertson would certainly want absolute assurances that she would play a strictly non-partisan game, which is why, knowing which way the wind is blowing, we will see the Olympics Minister keeping a lower political profile in the opening months of 2010 if she still wants to be part of 2012.

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


John Goodbody: FIFA is heading for trouble over its lax anti-doping programme

Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789 that nothing can be certain in this world except death and taxes. One could now propose another certainty. One day, a footballer will be found positive for a performance-enhancing drug in an important match and FIFA will at last have to confront the inadequacy of its disciplinary programme for doping.

So far, both the world governing body and UEFA have been desperately fortunate. Leading players, who have undergone adverse findings, have been suspended for only a few months with FIFA saying at the time that it did not have the regulations to intervene.

The leniency of bans in the past has made football a laughing-stock in the international sporting community.

In 2001, there was a spate of positive drugs tests for nandrolone, the anabolic steroid, following nine players having adverse findings for drugs in the Italian League .

One of these was Edgar Davids, the Juventus and Dutch international mid-field player, who was suspended for just five months and fined £30,000 following a league match against Udinese - and much of the ban ran over the summer, which fortunately for him and his club was when the Italian League was not being held. Frank De Boer, the Holland defender, who underwent a positive doping test also for nandrolone in Barcelona’s UEFA Cup match against Celta Vigo on March 15, was free to play again on August 31 of that year.

These ludicrously short suspensions contrasted with those of two years for the same substance in other sports, such athletics. FIFA explained that it could not intervene because it was obliged to follow the decision of a constituent member.

The truth was that FIFA had not anticipated such cases and was found wanting and powerless when they occurred, a shameful situation given the fact that it is, by some way, the most powerful international federation as well as controlling the world’s most popular sport. Fast forward eight years and we have recently had another case in football, where the game has been exposed to ridicule.

Since 2001, FIFA has signed up to the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), albeit reluctantly. Yet, it did not intervene in the case of two CSKA Moscow defenders, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich (pictured in white), who both were found positive for a stimulant after their club’s 3-3 draw with Manchester United in the European Champions League on November 3.

This was presumably because FIFA felt this was the responsibility of UEFA, the governing body for European football.

Two weeks after the match against United, the two Russian players took part in a 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg, the German champions, a performance that helped ensure that CSKA - as well as United - and not Wolfsburg went through to the knock-out stage of the tournament. They were found positive for "non-specified" stimulants on the WADA list and Wolfsburg were unhappy (something that is scarcely surprising) that CSKA were not docked the points for the match against the Germans.

Instead, just before Christmas, the players were both banned for one match and the club was fined €25,000 (£22,500). CSKA's excuse was that both players were given a cold remedy, containing the stimulant, while fighting colds on international duty and the CSKA staff had failed to list the medication on the list given to UEFA officials before the game with United. It was, said CSKA, a "clerical error".

Under UEFA rules, a club "may" be suspended from that competition or future competitions if more than one player from the same team commits a doping offence. Wolfsburg could well feel hard done by but with the disciplinary decision made at the same meeting as the draw for the knock-out stages, there is no chance of a successful appeal against UEFA's decision, however justified it might be.

But what fascinates me is the future. When a blatant and serious doping offence is found to have been committed by a player in a match, say a European Champions' League match in the knock-out stages, are we seriously being told that if only one player is involved, then the result will stand? Here is where UEFA and FIFA lay themselves to ridicule. If the opposing club to the one, whose player is found positive, loses the match - and millions of pounds, where is the fairness in that? There isn't.

In many other team sports, such as athletics and swimming relays or rowing, the team fielding the guilty competitor is stripped of any medal they may have won, as has occurred to the United States sprint relay teams in which Marion Jones, who has admitted taking drugs, was a member at the 2000 Olympics.

In football, a winning team, whose player has been found positive for drugs, is guilty of cheating, just as if that player had handled the ball. The fact that the rest of the team did not know about the drugs is not relevant. The result is a fraud. And it is appalling that FIFA cannot see that. Such a scenario will one day come to haunt FIFA. It should act before it is too late.

John Goodbody covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games, and first reported international football in 1962.

Mike Rowbottom: Muirhead inspired by the memory of Rhona Martin

The following images will, surely, be on your TV screen in the run-up to the Winter Olympics: businesslike Scottish lassie plays the bagpipes; plays a curling shot; plays the bagpipes...

Eve Muirhead, who will soon be demonstrating her prowess on ice in Vancouver, has been involved in the most Scottish of sports for as long as she has been inducing sound from the most Scottish of instruments - that is, since she was eight.

In between times she has dedicated herself to another pastime not unknown north of the border – golf.

If  Muirhead didn't already exist, the Scottish Tourist Board would surely have had to invent her.

Scottishness, however, is not the key element of this young resident of Blair Atholl. The key element is competitiveness.

So she doesn't just play the bagpipes. As a member of the Pitlochry and Blair Atholl Pipe Band she has competed successfully at national championships and finished fourth in the World Championships.

And in golf, too, Muirhead has had success at national level, although she has made the decision to put that particular sporting ambition on hold. "Golf and curling go together well as summer and winter sports, but in the last year I've been concentrating on the curling," she says.

While curling, like bowling, has acquired a far more youthful demographic in recent times, the job of skipping a team - that is, deciding on the strategy and delivering the four final, decisive stones of each game - has traditionally been the domain of the experienced older hand.

Jackie Lockhart, the 44-year-old mother-of-two who will also be competing in Vancouver, fits that profile to perfection. And yet the woman who skipped the British team to a world title seven years ago will only be second-in-command when it comes to the task of trying to emulate the famous Olympic victory achieved by Rhona Martin and Co at the Salt Lake Games of 2002.

Muirhead (pictured) will be the skip – at the age of 19.

Ewan Macdonald, a member of the British men’s team at the 2006 Winter Games who will be renewing his Olympic ambitions in 2010, acknowledges that the appointment goes against the general trend within the sport.

"It's quite unusual to be named skip at her age," he says. "But Eve is a great player, and she handles herself really well under pressure. She’s a one-off, that’s for sure."

Muirhead’s ability has already earned her the unofficial title of the world’s best young player as she has won three successive world junior titles, the last two as skip.

On the subject of her forthcoming Olympic challenge, she delivers her words as she does her stones - with authority

"If you are good enough, you are old enough," she says. "I'm very lucky to have someone as experienced as Jackie in the team. It's great to be able to ask someone like her what she thinks during a match.

"We have a fantastic relationship as a team. You have to have that to succeed. There's no point in just me and Jackie getting on."

She admits she took a little time to settle into her latest role.

"I was definitely a bit nervous at the start, being so young, and skipping players who were a lot older and more experienced than me."

But ultimately, you wonder, is she comfortable in following her own counsel, even if it isn't the one recommended by her team-mates? There is no hesitation in the response.

"Yes," she says. "That’s the role of the skip - you've got to make decisions. And they have to be the right decisions."

Muirhead may be confident, but she is anything but arrogant. Asked to assess the strength of the challengers awaiting her team in Canada she is painstakingly respectful. "China are the world ladies champions, so they will obviously be tough to beat," she says. "The Japanese too. And Canada is a great curling nation. We also have to look out for Switzerland and Sweden, who are the Olympic champions. There are no weak teams."

Matching the deeds of Rhona Martin’s team of 2002 (pictured) will be a huge task.

Muirhead recalls being allowed to stay up as a 12-year-old to watch the 2002 final on television - her father, Gordon, had a confirmed interest in the result, having won a silver medal at the 1992 Winter Games when curling was introduced as a demonstration sport.

"Rhona’s win was such a great inspiration to myself, and to the sport," she recalls. "Six years later I've got the opportunity to go out there and have a shot at gold myself."

Muirhead was able to draw directly on Martin’s experience at the last World Junior Championships, where the Olympic champion was head coach.

"We were able to talk through tactics every day," Muirhead says.

So will she be bringing the Rhona style to her forthcoming Olympic matches?

Well, no.

"It's more a case of putting together a game plan based on the opponents you are playing," she says. Firmly.

While Martin may be an inspiration, this young Olympian is clearly following her own path towards glory...

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames


Craig Beaumont: London 2012 will help make it easier for gay sportsmen like Gareth Thomas

Much of the country has faced cold wintry conditions over the last week.  But there was one story that really stood out in sport – rugby player Gareth Thomas, a major sportsman, "came out".

Why is the notion of a gay sportsman so surprising? It’s almost 2010 – this should be no big deal, surely?

Over the years there have been major advances for gays and lesbians in society, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the areas of jobs.

A competitive jobs market works both ways, and prospective employers have had to look for ways to differentiate themselves. Many modern companies and other organisations are already getting recognition for their diversity work that they then use in their recruitment as powerful statements.

In sport, there has been a mixed picture.

As an out gay man in London 2012, I'm very proud of what my organisation is now doing. As the Organising Committee of the Games we will now double in size each year, so new colleagues and new teams start work all the time, all from diverse backgrounds and bringing different life experiences and talents to the table. I helped out at a gay recruitment evening a few months ago, where LOCOG set out its stall. A strong Diversity Board has been set up to devise our best-in-class approach, and a Head of Diversity and Inclusion makes sure that it's implemented.

The proof this works is on Monday morning, making my coffee when colleagues often ask how my weekend was, how my boyfriend is, and what we spent the weekend doing - just as others are asked about their spouses and families.

Clearly Gareth Thomas (pictured) did not enjoy the same situation, and neither do other sports men and women still in the closet.

It's even worse for thousands of children and young people across the country still facing prejudice and bullying at school.

So when Gareth came out as gay last weekend, he was courageous. But, in his own words, "until somebody breaks that category [stereotype], then sport and life in general can't really evolve".

The important thing for me is that he's not alone. Donal Og Cusack, an Irish hurling player, came out earlier this year. Matthew Mitcham, the Australian diver, did the same before the Beijing Games in 2008 and Nigel Owens, a rugby referee, juts before that. John Amaechi came out as the first "out" NBA basketball player, and he now sits on LOCOG's Diversity Board.

Each of these has their own inspiring story, as any web-search will show. They follow Australian rugby star Ian Roberts and Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who came out in 1995 and the trail blazed by Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in tennis. Later, Billie Jean would be the first openly gay coach of an Olympic team and Martina would compete at the 2004 Athens Games.

Gareth said "to try and make change is a difficult thing", but that's exactly what the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games can do. Our vision is as bold as it is simple - to use the power of the Games to inspire change.

Pride Sports, LGBT sports clubs and sportspeople at both grass-roots and elite level know how rewarding sport can be in an environment where diversity is celebrated so they can focus on performance and enjoyment.

This will be crucial for all our athletes in 2012, and when LOCOG dissolves after the Games I hope we contribute to a legacy of greater inclusion in sport.

Only this week, LOCOG was the first winner of the 'Gold Standard' from Diversity Works for London, and we are the fastest organisation in the UK to achieve the Equality Standard for Sport.

I'm just one man, but I'm one from many openly gay men and women helping to stage the Games. As the team gets bigger, and as we recruit thousands of volunteers for the Games themselves, the friendly diverse face of London 2012 will become clearer.

By 2012 I hope that the barriers facing people like Gareth Thomas will seem that bit more surmountable.

Craig Beaumont is the manager of the London 2012 Government Relations team. He was formerly the Public Affairs Manager for Visit London. This article first appeared on the London 2012 website.


Alan Hubbard: UK Sport funding announcement smacks of spin

UK Sport have valuable and often thankless task as the cash dispenser to Olympic sports - thankless, that is, in having to fend off those governing bodies who play the Oliver Twist card and ask for more.

As a Government agency, UK Sport have a clear responsibility to be the guardians of money that comes from both the taxpayer and the Lottery and by and large they do a decent job, as you would expect under their admirable chief executive John Steele. But, as they say in show business, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

And some sports are far from ecstatic at what they have been given in the latest funding round. In the case of two of them cycling and boxing, there has to be a deal of sympathy.

Yet I find myself caught in a web of ambivalence for in the past I have been critical of UK Sport for not giving a little less to the already well endowed and more to those who desperately need more money to get within breathing distance of the podium in 2012. I felt they have been over-generous to the elite because of a target-driven philosophy emanating from Downing Street that is all about winning, rewarding those sports which have achieved success in the belief they are more likely to do so again. The carrot for success and the stick for failure.

So when the changes to funding packages were announced recently there seemed something of a U-turn, awarding less favoured sports including water polo, weightlifting and shooting, hitherto badly hit when funding was slashed after Beijing, given a gratefully-received financial leg-up. I applauded the announcement that some of the £6.5 million of new funds from a successful Team 2012 sponsorship scheme would now be made available to those sports which had previously missed out. Hooray!

But hang on a moment. Closer examination suggested that some dextrous spinning had been applied in a manner more from the school of Alastair Campbell than Baroness Sue Campbell, who heads up the UK Sport show.

For, in the best traditions of New Labour, the bad news seemed to be buried. Not mentioned was the fact that some of Britain’s most successful Olympic sports would actually lose funding, among them cycling which saw a reduction of half a million pounds.

Dave Brailsford (pictured), the mastermind behind Britain’s wheelie revolution, angrily warns that 2012 is now in danger of becoming the "have-a go-Games" with an emphasis of participation over performance.

"This could have a material influence on our programme and affect performance," he argues.

"While I understand and support UK Sport's position in increasing funding for some of the smaller sports it’s a shame it has come at the expense of those with a track record of delivering medals."

There has been a similarly peeved cri-de-coeur from Derek Mapp, chair of the British Amateur Boxing Association. For while UK Sport announced increase of £950,000 what it didn’t say that this was half of what boxing expected, deserved and needed, especially with the advent of women into the Olympic programme.

I agree with the former world champion Barry McGuigan who calls it  "a devastating blow for my sport." Like him I was at the House of Commons bash a few weeks back when the Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell hailed boxing’s Olympic triumphs. So did he former Sports Minister Richard Caborn, President of the ABA, who, waxed long and lyrically about our prospects for London and the support boxing needs as a sport which helps combat youth crime fight crime  by instilling discipline and sportsmanship. Caborn claims to be in boxing’s corner so why hasn’t there been a peep for him about this funding low blow? 

McGuigan points out that only the cyclists outperformed the boxers in terms of medals returned for pounds spent in Beijing, yet the sport received only an third of the money given to the swimmers, sailors and rowers.

At a time when amateur boxing is making a welcome comeback, notably in schools, both Mapp and McGuigan are right to protest. Mapp has had to pick up the pieces and regroup, after the defection of three quarters of then Olympic squad to the pros and the arguably mistaken sacking of Terry Edwards. He has now installed pro trainer Robert McCracken as performance director and head coach and McCracken now faces having to drastically revise his podium squad programme, as well as that of the women, who include a couple of genuine medal prospects.

McGuigan, who has just opened his own boxing academy in Leicester, may occasionally spout a bit of blarney, but he also talks a lot of sense. Yet he is one of those bright and articulate sports people who never seem to get called upon by Government to assist its sports objectives in an advisory capacity.

Others like Tessa Sanderson, David Bedford and the street-wise former karate world champion Geoff Thompson, who runs the independent Youth Charter in Manchester, come to mind. Is this because they are too outspoken. Governments, notably this one (no politicking here because I voted for them) seem afraid to call on sports personalities who speak their mind and put their heads above the parapet. Maybe this is why Dame Kelly Holmes apparently has "jumped ship" and become available to back Tory sports projects.

But back to the vexed question of funding. On a different note it is worth highlighting the situation of one of our outstanding hopes for 2012, the tiny teenage weightlifter Zoë Smith (pictured), a phenomenal record breaker (over 200 to date) and already the Commonwealth Youth champion.

The 15-year-old schoolgirl from Abbey Wood in South East London astonishingly has had her funding suspended by her governing body World Class Lifting (WCL) following a dispute over her coaching programme - she is currently mentored by her personal coach Andy Callard while WCL apparently would like her to be under their supervision in Leeds.

But Zoë’s parents understandably do not wish her schooling to be disrupted and she has made outstanding progress with Callard in Dartford. UK Sport, who emphasise that that the decision has been taken not by them but World Class Lifting, to whom funding is handed out for onward distribution to individuals. "They want her to take the same route as other athletes on their programme." (I suppose you may ask what world class lifting there is in Britain for them to govern other than Zoë).

UK Sport tell us that while they have no say in what WCL do they would be happy to be involved in any discussions to help resolve the issue "as Zoë clearly could be one of GB’s successes in 2012." However since we contacted UK Sport last week there seems to have been a welcome softening of attitudes by WCL, who have been in touch with Callard, and a solution may be nigh. Good news for Zoë and a sport which hasn’t exactly covered itself in Olympic gold dust. Zoë could rectify that.

Let’s hope. Britain’s cash-hit cyclists and boxers can also get that few pounds in weight off their minds.

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


Karim Bashir: Working can be good for the athlete and the employer

Elite athletes are required by their funding contracts to dedicate their time to their sport, and this has proven to be hugely successful in terms of medal return.

However these athletes cannot spend their whole time training which means that there is often a lot of downtime for them. Some of these athletes are encouraged to take up a part-time job or enrol in a course, which is not only beneficial from a psychological point of view, but can also provide them with a foundation for their life post-sport.

Sadly, many athletes are not given the opportunity or aren’t aware that it is a possibility. 

Look at the figures: There are1,500 National Lottery funded athletes; the size of Team GB for the Beijing Olympics was 313; and the number of Beijing Olympic medals won was 47.

Some of the Beijing athletes have continued in sport full-time, some have been taken off funding and some have retired. 

Realistically that means only a few can "cash-in" on Olympic success, and even the medallists are finding this tougher as there are so many more of them!  So where does that leave the rest of them at the end of their sports career? They are left to start their professional careers from the beginning, in some cases over the age of 30. Getting a job during your sports career is a no-brainer for an athlete as far as I’m concerned. 

So why should employers look to bring athletes into their workforce? I’m certainly not suggesting they do so purely for altruistic motives. Why should a bank, a consultancy firm or a small business employ an athlete over and above anyone else especially when it means that employer knows that sport has to come first for those athletes?

Well, I believe strongly that there are four very good reasons, all of which drive revenue, potentially raise profits and ultimately make the working environment a much more interesting place.

Firstly, athletes are performance driven; goal setting is in their make up and what employer doesn’t want driven employees? The performance plans given to the athletes creates a mindset of high motivation; failure drives them to work harder to "win". Not only is this good for the individual but in my experience highly driven people motivate the people around them.

Secondly, an employer who is willing to be flexible enough to allow an athlete-employee to train and compete as and when necessary will create an environment of loyalty. Athletes tend to be pretty loyal anyway. They prove this in their dedication to their sport but this often spreads down to loyalty to their coaches and clubs. This loyalty can also manifest itself in the ability to operate in a team. 

I have seen first hand how a group of athletes all trained separately prior to being funded and there was only competition between them. Now that they are funded they have to train together and that has created a tremendous bond between them which has meant that in that particular sport the bar has risen dramatically as they all work as a unit to get better. Best of all the competition is still there. I’m sure there are many cases of this being replicated in other sports.

Another benefit for the employer is the fact that athletes have the ability to diversify and adapt to ever changing circumstances. The impact of Lottery funding ensured that all sports took a good look at themselves and were urged to be the best. They still are. This meant a lot of change in a short amount of time and has had a huge effect on the athletes themselves. 

Admittedly some athletes who were deemed to old or not good enough were left by the wayside but those still involved may have had to move hundreds of miles to be part of the set-up. 

Some talented youngsters were fast-tracked by their sports which must have been very disturbing to what they considered normal.  But, just look at the results. This year has generated some incredible performance across a vast number of sports. The successes we saw in Beijing have been replicated by those sports this year but we also have seen major advances in other sports. This ability to adapt and still stay on top or continue striving for the top in my opinion is a major attribute that any employer would look to have in their work force.

Finally, there is a natural benefit for a company to be associated with a successful athlete. As I stated earlier only a few will get medals in 2012; that’s the nature of competition. However by employing an athlete, a company may well contribute to breaking down the financial stresses of competing at international level and that in itself could push them over the line and put them on the podium.

Also we cannot ignore the ever-more complicated sports marketing world. Staying ahead of the competition and ensuring that your company has a sports marketing solution that works for you and is protected is very difficult. A mix of employment and sponsorship for athletes competing in Olympic and Paralympic sport is a concept that has not been fully embraced yet in this country. 

I believe it is the future.

Karim Bashir is a former British international fencer who is the founder and managing director of Catch Sport, an online sponsorship brokering service which is free to use for athletes from all sports. For more details click here


Mihir Bose: The Olympics has taught FIFA a lot about marketing

So you thought hosting the World Cup was just a series of (possibly) great football matches? Think again. FIFA has made it clear to all countries bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups that they must agree to a host of conditions which seem far removed from the beautiful game.

These conditions include bidding countries, not only agreeing to provide security for the tournament and immunity for FIFA from any legal issues that might arise, but also to open their borders with no restrictions on visas for all FIFA-approved individuals.

FIFA staff have to be given work permits; and, most important of all, bidding nations must make sure that the taxman does not impose taxes on the money FIFA makes from the tournament.

This makes FIFA sound more like a car manufacturer, a Toyota or a Honda seeking to open a new car factory. Such a manufacturer would shop around various countries looking for the best bargain and, in return for promising to create employment, would wrest all sorts of concessions from the government concerned.

In these days of bust, when car manufacturers are busy closing plants rather than opening them, it is significant that a sporting product can be so aggressively marketed. It also underlines how, despite the recession, top-class sport particularly the World Cup, has not lost its appeal.

To be fair, from the moment of the very first World Cup, it was never merely a tournament about the best players in the world kicking the ball. Promotion of the country hosting the event and an awareness of its business potential was always part of the Cup’s DNA. You can trace this right back to Uruguay in 1930 when the South Americans beat off the challenge of Sweden, Holland, Hungary and Spain to stage the first tournament.

Uruguay was keen to use the World Cup to celebrate 100 years as a free country. Realising travel to South America was not an attractive prospect for European teams, it offered to meet all the competing nations' travelling costs and expenses and to host the tournament in a brand new stadium: The Centenario in Montevideo. In the end, only four European teams were tempted: France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia, the last of which, of course, no longer exists.

Uruguay was so upset by this snub that it did not travel to Europe for the next two World Cups. Not that this bothered the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini who used the 1934 competition to advertise fascism. As General Vacaro, President of the Italian Federation, declared: "The ultimate purpose of this tournament was to show that fascist sport partakes of a great quality of the ideal."

However, what has changed in the last two decades is that FIFA has become very conscious of the commercial worth of its World Cup product. So every effort is made to make sure that it is described as the "FIFA World Cup" lest anyone go away with the impression that there is any other kind of World Cup. FIFA also rigorously controls the images the tournament generates, very aware of how valuable they are.

In all this, football has borrowed from the Olympics and, like the Olympics, when it comes to hosting the tournament what FIFA is granting the host nation is a very limited franchise, even more restricted than the one McDonalds might give one of its franchisees.

The Olympics were, of course, the pioneers in this field. Their openly proclaimed marriage between sport and mammon began in 1984 when Los Angeles rescued the Games from what looked like a terminal disaster after the 1980 Moscow boycotts.

The momentum really gathered after 1996 when the problems at Atlanta, particularly the way the Americans marketed the Games, made the International Olympic Committee realise it must make sure it protects its precious Olympics brand.

The Pierre Coubertin-inspired principles of the Olympics do mean that all this money-making comes with a fine sounding covering of Corinthian declarations: winners only getting medals not cash, the stadia having no advertisements, athletes not being allowed to blazon their sponsors' names and logos. But we know that a medal winner, particularly of the gold variety, can leave the podium and immediately translate the win into a lot of money from sponsors. Also Olympics seek out top companies as sponsors and protect their investments with tough anti-ambush marketing strategies. They even require host cities to make sure they present a "clean look" city shorn of hoardings so that the only advertisements are those of the sponsors.

And, because the Olympics’ mantra is that the athletes are at the heart of the Games, host cities also have to agree to fairly strict conditions when constructing venues such as the Athletes Village. These even specify the height of the houses the athletes will stay in during the Games. You cannot build gigantic tower blocks as the IOC has laid down the time an athlete should be allowed to get from his room at the village to the venue. So rigorous are some of the conditions that the London Mayor Boris Johnson has been struggling to come to terms with them.

FIFA does not go quite that far and has never felt any such need to hide its desire to make money. It could justifiably say that the World Cup arose because, as the French who invented it argued, the wholly amateur football tournament at the Olympics was not enough to cater for the needs of the professional game.

But, where FIFA is now breaking new ground in recent World Cup bids, and again borrowing from the Olympics, is promoting the idea that FIFA is like a state. Not a state which commands any territory or has an army but a state which is like the sports version of the Vatican.

I am not suggesting for one moment that even Sepp Blatter (pictured) would see himself as a Pope-like figure but he certainly conducts himself as if he expects to parley on equal terms with heads of state and governments.

When he communicates to countries which are hosting the World Cup, he writes to the President. I am told that, in recent times, when he has received replies to his communications with the South African President from the President's minions, Blatter has not been best pleased.

It is this development of FIFA as a sporting state that leads to requirements such as for visa-free entry to accredited personnel. And why not? If an Olympics' accreditation can stand in for a visa why not a FIFA one for the world's most highly sought after sports event?

I have no problems with all this. All I would say is that bidding country contracts, including the fine print, should be public documents. If football is to be run as a commercial enterprise, as it undoubtedly now is, then let us know the commercial details. That is surely not asking for too much.

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. He writes a weekly column for insideworldfootball, insidethegames' sister publication.


Alan Hubbard: I hope London 2012 is not ruined by tunnel vision

At around 4am one Sunday morning just over a year ago David Haye could be spotted strolling the streets of south east London carrying the world cruiserweight title belts he had just unified by knocking out Enzo Maccarinelli at the O2 Arena. No, he wasn’t walking back to happiness, but to his home in Bermondsey because there was no other means of transport.

He couldn’t be driven there because the partially-closed Blackwall Tunnel, that vital lifeline to Docklands, was clogged up with traffic and had been for hours. And of course the Jubilee Line had ceased to operated, as it often does, well before the O2 event had ended.

As the Hayemaker, now of course the WBA heavyweight champion, will tell you, Blackwall is no tunnel of love - more of despair. I was among those stuck amid other cars, taxis and lorries for four hours getting home and the memory of that has given me tunnel vision about the 2012 Olympics, and it is not a good one transport-wise.

Ok, so I know we are all supposed to cram on to the tube when the Games open, but the Blackwall Tunnel and its environs, which include not only the O2 and ExCel, both Olympic venues, but the Olympic Park itself, remains a key access route for many coming from other parts of London and the country – not to mention deliveries of supplies for the Olympic Village. But it only takes one car to stall, and the result is chaos.

That happened a few weeks ago on a Saturday morning (actually it was an overturned lorry) and the tunnel was closed for the weekend. Fans getting to football grounds in East and South London were heavily delayed. So were the footballers of Gillingham who were late for the kick-off at Leyton Orient.

How many times do we hear on the London news that the tunnel is closed because of an accident or for "essential roadworks". And this also applies to the Limehouse Link which can be equally catastrophic as I know from personal experience in travelling to the Independent's former offices in Docklands from South London. 

Yes, there will be Olympic Lanes for competitors and officials. Let's hope they work but my concern is that we are not quite as disciplined as the Chinese (who obeyed implicitly in Beijing, probably fearing the death penalty) for you can bet there will be those who get frustrated and try to sneak down them just as they do bus lanes now. And to hell with the fine.

Last week the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) said that 75 per cent of the Games transport programme is now in place.
The work they have done certainly looks impressive. The ODA chairman John Armitt assures us: "We are on track for completing the transport improvements needed for the Games and legacy." That’s good news. And I have no doubt that Seb Coe and his highly professional team will produce the greatest sports show this country has ever seen - on time, (if not on budget), a memorable spectacle that will be brilliantly organised and orchestrated. I just hope that too many don’t have to struggle to get there.

Sure, the tube service we are promised, with those new state-of-the art high speed Javelin trains, seems excellent - on paper. But Bob Crowe and his merry men have yet to do their worst. Will the Games be held to ransom around three weeks before they open? They are a perfect target to be hijacked by threats of strike action on the tubes and trains just as BA might have been over Christmas but for the High Court ban. Ominously, Crowe is the General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union which covers a multitude of possibilities for industrial action affecting 2012 – including the Thames launch service which will ferry spectators to the O2 and other Games sites.

If I was Seb, right now I would be sending out invitations to Crowe and other union leaders to be guests in the VIP box at the opening ceremony and guarantee tickets for any other events they wish to see. Judging from his bonhomie and Have I Got News For You avuncular Bob is not averse to a bit of public pampering so such a "sweetener" might not be amiss in crucial circumstances.

Having said all that about potential travel problems, I do feel that boxing, having won its bout to stay within the Olympic radius – and I understand AIBA’s reasoning - has missed out by not moving to Wembley instead of the Excel. While the Excel has staged pro and amateur boxing it is a barn-like arena, rather soulless compared to Wembley where atmosphere oozes from its doors. It is  a traditional home for boxing, having hosted famous fisticuffs from World championships to the ABA finals over many years.  

Indeed, I have always felt disappointed that with the massive investment in Wembley the Stadium itself should be so underutilised during the Games. Why are we not employing the best stadium in the world for something other than the football finals? Football is a relatively minor part of the Olympics. I understand the stadium was once under consideration for the closing ceremony - a pity this now won’t happen and that we are not going to Wem-ber-lee, which is far easier to get to than the O2 and ExCel - and you don’t have tunnels to get stuck in.

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


Mike Moran: My plan to get the USOC back on track

In 1894, two years before the launch of the Modern Olympic Games in Athens, a pair of American business and sports leaders, James E. Sullivan and William Milligan Sloane, gathered in New York and created the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

Over the next 115 years, the USOC has risen to prominence and prestige among the world's National Olympic Committees, the richest and most powerful of the family, and American athletes have dominated the Summer Games and the US have hosted the Games eight times, the most among all nations.

But, that was then, this is now, and the venerable USOC has arrived at the most challenging crossroads in its history.

It is about to undertake yet another major review of its governance structure (its seventh since the 1978 passage of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act by The Congress), another search for a chief executive.

There have been no less than 13 since that 1978 restructure - an average term of 2.4 years for each leader - and under the leadership of chairman Larry Probst, the 12th person to assume the role in those 31 years, the ongoing turmoil has engulfed the organisation again in conflict.

But what can happen in the next few weeks and months can alter that trend and shape the USOC's future indelibly for the best. The USOC announced recently that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will chair an independent advisory commission to assess the organisation's controversial governance structure with the task of recommending changes, if needed, in the size, structure and operating practices of its 11-member Board of Directors.

Probst and his Board have named a search and screening committee for the next chief executive officer with a timetable of nailing down the next professional staff leader by the end of the year. The names of its membership offer a great mix of men and women who have a clue about the Olympic Family, its athletes and its mission, which offers hope that the next CEO will not be another corporate product with no background in, or understanding of, the complex mission or emotions of the USOC and its vital National Governing Bodies (NGB) and Member Organisations that form the foundation of its existence.
 
It includes USA Hockey chief executive Dave Ogrean, representing the NGB Council, Olympic diving great Micki King, representing the US Olympians, Board member Mike Plant, an Olympic speedskater and the most vocal Board member demanding change, and two current athletes.

In the aftermath of events that began with the jaw-dropping ouster of Olympian and chief executive Jim Scherr in March as well as the ill-timed announcement of a USOC television network that angered the IOC, the debacle in Copenhagen that saw Chicago shoved out in the first round of the 2016 Host City election, and the contentious struggle over the agreement reached by Colorado Springs to keep the USOC in the city for the next 25 years, this is a golden opportunity to make things right and get the ship off the shoals.

Already, the Board has responded to intense criticism from the National Governing Bodies with concessions that include an outreach and engagement process with the key constituent groups that invites representation and transparency, an element sorely lacking in the last restructure in 2003 that resulted in the downsizing of the Board after the implosion of 2002-2003 that led to embarrassing Congressional Hearings and a media circus.

So, though my view and advice have been devalued and unrequested by the organisation I served for almost 25 years as its chief spokesman and voice since my retirement in 2003, I offer some respectful suggestions:
 
1. Select a man or woman as CEO who truly understands the Olympic Family, has a sports and business background, leadership skills which recognise professional talent with respect, and who can walk on the same path in our world as the pro sports commissioners, the NCAA, and become the face of the USOC in media appearances and gatherings of the companies that sponsor the USOC and the millions of Americans who want to support the effort.

2.
Give this individual the challenge and the freedom to hire a great staff, carry out the blueprint and build a team that makes the nation proud. Leave the CEO alone to do the job without interference, micro-management and politics.

3. Recognising clearly the fact that the USOC has been the recipient of a controversial $53 million commitment by the city of Colorado Springs and its residents to retain its national headquarters for the next 25 years and build it a gorgeous new downtown headquarters and improve training facilities.tackle these humble recommendations:

4. Commit to holding every one of its major events in its hometown for the future as a gesture that brings the city and its populace in distressed economic times a return on the investment it has made, including all Board meetings, the Olympic Assembly of over 1,200 people, its Olympic Media Summit prior to each Games, the US Olympic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, annual sfficial sponsor and supplier meetings, and the resumption of the US Olympic Academy.

5. Undertake an outreach and public relations effort in the city as soon as possible, with the goal of restoring the USOC's image and profile in its hometown. Visit schools, take seats on the boards of local charities and important business organizations, host community events and festivals at the Olympic Complex, and get out to meet the citizens. Colorado Springs embraced the USOC in 1978 and welcomed it as its new national headquarters when no other city wanted it. The city has been a warm and generous host since, and deserves better. 

6. Reach out aggressively to those individuals who have made significant and crucial contributions to the growth and the history of the USOC, and who make up the rich deposit of the organisation's institutional memory, but virtually ignored or avoided in the last few years, led by Bill Hybl (pictured here with George Bush). Once again, Hybl has stepped to the plate to come to the rescue of the USOC with the announcement that the El Pomar Foundation will provide the millions to complete the commitment by Colorado Springs to complete the new headquarters building and the other improvements. This is on top of Hybl's prior rescue efforts that begin with the creation of the first USOC Ethics Committee in 1991 after a huge scandal, his service as President twice, and the establishment of special independent commissions that bailed out the USOC after the '91 mess and the 1998 bid city scandal..

7. Enlarge the Board of Directors to include direct representation from the vital constituent groups that are the foundation of the organisation - the National Governing Bodies, the Disabled in Sport groups, the Olympians Alumni organisations, and former Presidents, chairs and CEOs. Yes, like Hybl.

8. Task my old Media and PR division with once again taking the Chair and CEO out on the road to communicate openly and directly with the crucial news media. Go to USA Today, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Sports, Sports Illustrated, Associated Press, the network Morning shows, the Foreign Press Center in Washington and others to deliver the message and provide access.

9. Rebuild the important personal relationships with reporters, columnists, broadcasters, bloggers and others in the media who shape image. Return every call and e-mail, grant access to leadership, respond with a voice when required, not text messages and vapid corporate-speak, canned responses.

10. Understand and embrace the obligations to the media and the men and women who cover the Olympic Movement at a time when budgets and the economy are threats to newspapers and magazines, and which require new, imaginative and cutting-edge media relations that recognize and take advantage of new media opportunities and methods of communication which evolve almost weekly. 

11. Read the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act from cover to cover. It will outline the mission of the USOC, which is simple. It does not require millions of dollars spent frequently in some vague search for the USOC mission. It's right there. Cherish and support the athletes and their National Governing Bodies. Support and foster amateur sports and fitness among Americans. Create opportunity for everyone in sport, promote the Olympic ideals and principles, and make Americans proud of the best of our youth that reach for their dreams. 

It's not rocket science. 

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.