7 Days To Go To The Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Games

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Ben Ainslie: Sponsorship key to my Olympic campaign

Sponsorship is a hugely significant element in being able to sustain a bid for success in any sport so I'm extremely grateful to J.P. Morgan Asset Management who have agreed to extend their title sponsorship of my Finn sailing campaign until 2012.

They have supported me since 2007 and the importance of developing close relationships with key partners can't be underestimated at whatever level you're at because of the amount of flexibility it can give you in your campaign.    

As a kid coming up through Optimists I didn't really have any sponsorship except the odd local council or Sports Aid grant, which were obviously very welcomed and helped, but the parental support was massive.

When I was about 15, I started off, like most kids, writing what seemed like thousands of letters to people asking for sponsorship expecting the offers to come flooding in! I quickly realised in reality it doesn't work like that and, particularly when you're starting out, nothing beats working on the contacts you have like family and friends and pinpointing specific targets. The personal touch is everything and making people feel properly involved and valued makes all the difference.

My first real experience of that came when I was on the plane on the way to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and I got talking to a guy about what I was doing. He knew nothing about sailing and nothing about me but seemed genuinely interested. Shortly after a cheque for £500 arrived in the post to help my campaign, which was a really nice thing to happen and showed me how effective just talking to people can be.

After Atlanta I landed my first real sponsorship through an insurance company called Colonial who also supported three other British Olympians - swimmer Paul Palmer, athlete Denise Lewis and rower Greg Searle. For the first time I had the resources to give me a bit more flexibility when making decisions about my programme, for example l ike where and when I wanted to train.

Since those days I've always tried to build strong relationships with my sponsors as I want them to feel like they've been part of any success I've had. Also, it's important they understand that especially in a sport like sailing where there are so many disciplines and challenges, you may not always be concentrating on the discipline they are supporting you in.

J.P. Morgan Asset Management have been great in that way as they completely respect my commitment to Britain's America's Cup cause and know their sponsorship allows me to as good as leave my Finn campaign in the hands of my coach David Howlett, who is cracking on with making sure we're getting together all the equipment we want and are as prepared as possible for when I get back in the boat full-time.

I'm looking forward to a training week we've got planned in Valencia with Rafa Trujillo and a few of the other international Finn boys next month. It'll be great to check in with what they've been up to for the past 18 months as well as getting a bit more sailing fitness and race sharpness under my belt.

While I'm over in Valencia I'm hoping to catch what we hope will finally be the America's Cup Deed of Gift match between the holders Alinghi and the challengers BMW Oracle Racing. The whole America's Cup's been a huge frustration for the past two years as we've waited to see what was going to happen, discover when and where this race would take place and begin planning our TEAMORIGIN campaign in earnest for the 33rd or 34th America's Cup.

There's still wrangling over the Alinghi sails, which could still impact on the scheduling of the Deed of Gift match, and there's the real possibility that if Alinghi win the outcome will be challenged once again in the courtroom.

But I, like most people, just hope we can finally get a conclusion to this whole episode and move on. It is incredibly frustrating and ridiculous tha t we're still in this situation almost three years since the last America's Cup took place.

Earlier this month I was delighted to present the awards to the 2009 RYA Regional Young Sailor of the Year winners at the London International Boat Show and it was great to see Phil Sparks, who is someone I know from Lymington and who I spent a bit of time with when he was in Oppies, be named overall Young Sailor of the Year with his crew Ben Gratton.

Congratulations also to see my old mates Iain Percy and Andrew 'Bart' Simpson on winning the Star Worlds in Brazil. They'd never won that title together previously and it's great they've been able to keep their hand in before we all meet up again for TEAMORIGIN duty next month.

Ben Ainslie is Britain's most successful Olympic sailor of all time, in total he has won three gold medals and one silver. He is also a nine times World champion, eight times European Champion and three times ISAF world sailor of the year. Ainslie's next aspiration is to win the Americas Cup with TEAMORIGIN before bringing back a historic fourth gold in the London 2012 Olympics.

Steve Cram: Being the best you can is a 365 days a year job

With the start of the Vancouver Olympics fast approaching next week, as I prepare to fly out to cover the Games I can’t help but reflect on how far we have come and what lies ahead for performance sport in Britain.

Athletes competing at major events is nothing new, but what still inspires me is the work they put in 365 days a year - or there about - in order that they get the opportunity to represent, and perform, for their country.

Whilst luck will always play some part in the trials and tribulations of sport, it is the sheer commitment to excellence and the search for the winning formula in sport science and medicine which must keep sport progressing.

A far cry from my time as an athlete, sports now have access to not only their own experts but also those of the  likes of the English Institute of Sport (EIS). At the Institute expert practitioners are working with athletes every day to make each day matter and contribute to success - whether it’s minimising the risk of injury, analysing their diet or building specific areas of strength.

All those with an interest in significant events in history will have the dates of London 2012 inked in their diary, Outlook calendar or wall planner but those working with athletes will have many more milestones to hit in advance of that.  

Day in, day out, practitioners including the likes of physios, doctors and psychologists, part of the breadth of expertise at the EIS, work seamlessly with sports as part of the team. Each cycle, each competition, each training session develops experience and the application of science and medicine help sports work towards that winning formula for success - getting the basics right whilst also stretching the imagination to find that extra one per cent to make the difference on the world stage.

Beijing was undoubtedly a fantastic step forward for British sport, showing we have the potential across a broad range of sports for world class success. The EIS had provided some level of support to 100 per cent of medal winning sports indicating the progress of performance programmes in their ability to maximise the impact they can have within a cycle. Vancouver too will be a key Winter Games to measure the progress across winter sports.

With London 2012 fast approaching however, we must be ready to ride the challenge and advantage of a home Games and step up to the opportunity the Games bring in sustaining a viable high performance system as its legacy.

The Australians have exposed some of their challenges post-Sydney and whilst investment is never certain, retaining the expertise to foster and support talent is key to ensuring 365 days a year support to athletes.

The EIS has continually developed to shape its services to best support what sports need and the past year has been one full of change in order that it is ready to best support sports over the coming two years and beyond. 

As some of our finest experts travel to support athletes as they prepare at holding camps and compete at the Games this month, the majority will have done their work in preparing athletes, throughout the cycle and will be watching back home as they continue their support to other athletes.

I hope they too take time to reflect on the cycle of support leading into Vancouver and their work behind the scenes, however big or small, in contributing to a promising British line-up in Canada. I know I will be watching with excitement and proud of all the hours put in behind the scenes.

Steve Cram, the former world record holder for the 1500 metres and the mile, is the chairman of the English Institute of Sport

Alan Hubbard: Karren Brady is just the woman to get West Ham into the Olympic Stadium

As a long-time West Ham fan - I hesitate to say supporter because I am no longer a regular at Upton Park, but still cherish and relish the memories the halcyon days of Moore, Hurst, Peters and the cultured stewardship of Ron Greenwood - the recent appointment of Karren Brady as vice-chairman has me blowing bubbles again.

If anyone can help the hapless Hammers hit the nail on the head it is surely the feisty, busty first lady of British football, who once famously remarked that all footballers are interested in are booze, clothes and the size of their willies. Then she ended up marrying one and running a football club.

That club was Birmingham City, where she was managing director, but at Upton Park I have no doubt she also will show she is not a woman to be trifled with. Shortly after her appointment at Birmingham  she was travelling on the team bus to an away game wearing a virtually see-through top, which displayed her ample cleavage. 

"Hey Karren," one player cheekily called out, "I can see you boobs!"

"That’s good," she replied coolly. "Because you won’t be able to see them when I transfer you to Crewe." She did, too. 

Mother-of-two Brady was the first appointment of West Ham's new co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold, as she was at Birmingham. She may be officially part-time but we can be sure that off the pitch she will be running the show.

Soon after her arrival in Birmingham the club became known locally as 'Tit and Brum'. But she soon  set about getting results from one of the game's greatest under-achievers. Sullivan called her "The Sacker". She fired all but two of the backroom staff when she moved in, and then dismissed the eccentric but popular boss, Barry Fry and subsequently his successor, local hero Trevor Francis.

He went after failing to achieve Brady's ordered goal of Premiership status, but her recruitment of the former Manchester United player, Steve Bruce as his replacement then did the trick, and in they climbed into the all-important elite.

One of her victims, the furious Fry, labelled her "a bimbo". But she’s certainly more than that. She has brains as well as beauty and according to Fry, "is one hard bastard."

In 2002 she was listed by Cosmopolitan Magazine as "one of the 100 most powerful women in the world." It was her streak of ruthlessness that stopped Birmingham falling into football’s abyss. She also turned down the opportunity to take over as head-honcho of the Football Association, but is a now a member of Sport England’s board and part of England's 2018 World Cup bid team.

It is from this platform that she now enters a wider world of sports politics, or more precisely, Olympic politics. Her first declaration was that she would like to see the Hammers move into the London 2012 stadium and the football club re-named West Ham Olympic. The latter may be a pipe dream as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would certainly put the block on it, so touchy are they about the use if the Olympic trademark. But the relatively short move to Stratford surely is feasible.

The stumbling blocks are that West Ham would want to rent rather than buy the new stadium, and would also want to dismantle the running track that Seb Coe and co have pledged to the IOC is sacrosanct as part of London’s Olympic legacy.

I hope Brady (pictured) and her two co-chairmen have the wit and wisdom between them to work something out moneywise because in so many ways it would be ideal to have the Hammers, the club slap in the middle of London’s new Olympic heartland, occupying it. And it now seems that even the Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell is coming round to that way of thinking. She knows it makes commercial sense.

Some form of retractable or roll-over seating, a la Paris’s Stade de France, could be a solution, although I have never subscribed to the view that athletics tracks are a no-no at football stadiums.

Only in Britain, it seems. The combination works well enough on the Continent and there are few complaints from British fans when attending Champions’ League finals in Europe, which invariably are played on pitched ringed with a track and consequently more easily policed. 

"I am good at having ideas," say Brady, under whom Birmingham showed a profit for the first time in their history. So you can bet she will come up with something. Her prudence brought a much-needed sense of financial reality into the game, declining to pay over-the-top salaries to the stars. "It is not so much finding the money to buy players, it is funding the wages that causes the problems. The purchase of a player won’t bankrupt you, but paying him ridiculous money for five years will," she has said.

Fingers crossed, within a three or for years the foxiest lady in football will have the Hammers challenging for the Premiership title at the Olympic Stadium. Or bust.

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 and numerous World Cups.

Steven Downes: Why Sport England's figures on sports participation are flawed

It must be one of these things that comes with age. As you get older and more irascible, you start to hear yourself mumbling under your breath phrases that previously you had only ever read in Richard Littlejohn columns or voiced on one of the nastier phone-in radio stations.

So it was earlier this week, when to my horror I heard myself mutter "You couldn’t make it up" on reading that the proud Olympic borough of Tower Hamlets is spending public money in funding a series of special cycling classes specifically for women who wear the burka. And no, I wasn’t reading the Daily Mail.

My flabber was even more ghasted when I then read of another Borough close to the Olympic Park, Brent, which had actually set up an online virtual tour of the Council’s leisure facilities, presumably so that anyone feeling lukewarm about getting fit need never actually leave the comfort of their own living room.

Then there is the suggestion, apparently serious, from the head of one Government-funded sports agency, that to get more women taking part, every local council swimming pool should be compelled to install hair straighteners in the ladies’ changing rooms. 

Here we are, two years out from the London Olympics, and such has been the progress of John Armitt’s team at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the talk in British sport is less about budgets and delivery, it is already all about legacy, of seizing the Olympic initiative to turn Britain into a fit and active society for the rest of the century.

This is all fine and wonderful. The social and health benefits of more sporting participants are well versed: less obesity, less heart disease, less diabetes, and shorter queues for treatment at the NHS. Everyone’s a winner.

Sport England has set itself the goal of more than one million people taking part in regular sporting activity, inspired by the London Games, by 2013. And they are spending nearly £1 billion to do so.

Yes, a Government agency, heading into the teeth of probably the most drastic set of public funding cut-backs in a generation, is looking to spend £880 on every new sporting recruit that they land.

It is a little over a year since Sport England first announced that they would be investing £480 million in 46 national governing bodies, with 14 Olympic and Paralympic sports, including handball, taekwondo and wheelchair basketball, being funded for the first time to develop grassroots potential.

At the time of the announcement, Sport England’s new chief executive, Jennie Price, said: "Sport England has worked hard to ensure that our half a billion pound investment in grassroots sport delivers value for money and, most importantly, results." Them’s our italics.

Sport England states that "in delivering a lasting grassroots participation legacy, this country will be achieving something that no other host nation has succeeded in delivering". Too bloody right, for that amount of our money.

Let’s face it, given £880 million to get one million regular, new sporting participants, all we really have to do is stand on a street corner in the major cities, doling out one-year memberships of local fitness clubs. In fact, with those sort of numbers, we should be able to negotiate a bulk discount and save everyone some money. Job done.

But that certainly would not constitute Price’s "value for money", and nor would it produce a lasting sporting legacy. But the fear is that, effectively, is all that Sport England is doing.

What is deeply suspicious is the self-justifying manner in which Sport England is going about patting itself on the back for a job well-done. No one will ever really know whether an extra 10 million, or 10,000, people are taking up sport.

Why? Because the methodology is flawed.

Remember the scandal of the national immigration figures, when it was discovered that no one was actually bothering to do a headcount of people entering and leaving the country?

So it is with the Sport England participation project: no one is counting how many people are using sports facilities each week. Every local council, after all, runs a public pool or leisure centre. Each has to count the number of users it has, for every hour of every day of every week. Yet this information is not being used by Sport England.

Instead, the only measure of participation is through an annual online survey, which is sent largely to people already on the Sport England database (therefore self-selecting), and relies entirely on the veracity of the responses.

Thus, when the six-month update report was issued before Christmas, we were informed that canoeing had seen an uplift because of "a larger number of people taking domestic canoeing or kayaking holidays this summer".

"Appears"? Is this all guesswork? And are we to understand that a few holidaymakers going for a paddle during the summer is being included to bump up the participation figures?

"How many times each week do you take part in active sport?" was the gist of one of the survey's questions. Hmmm. It’s data of sorts, but virtually worthless.

Of course, Sport England’s number crunchers have certain problems in measuring participation. For instance, despite three decades of chivvying by Government quangos, the biggest Olympic sport, athletics, still does not have a mandatory national membership scheme.

Thus, Niels de Vos and his large staff at UK Athletics in Birmingham has no real idea whatsoever about the number of regular Joe and Joanne Joggers out there, running local road races or cross-country events each week.

The fact that UKA now distances itself from the athletics clubs, to concentrate almost entirely on the management of less than 200 elite, Lottery-funded athletes, does not help.

Had Sport England ever bothered to go to the sports clubs, and to the people on the ground who are dealing with membership, trying to fund the water rates, organising officials and coaches, booking venue hire and providing the teas, week-in, week-out, they might actually get a true picture of grassroots sport in this country.

Most clubs, in whatever sport, cannot ever find enough volunteers to referee all their matches, or coach all their kids, let alone fund the activities that might be required to help with any increase in participation.

Every scheme funded by Sport England through the 46 sporting governing bodies will, for argument’s sake, eat up enough cash to pay for around half-a-dozen administrators, at various professional levels. Yet just one of those salaries could be enough to provide a funding injection for one club for the next decade. And even when that funding runs out, the club would carry on functioning within its community, thanks to the goodwill of its members and volunteers.

After all, if you want to boost grassroots sport, why not directly fund grassroots sport: the sports clubs and schools?

In the last few weeks, I attended a couple of sporting events which have involved around 2,000 people at each. Neither received directly any public money, yet both were typical of the sort of events staged the length and breadth of the country every week, thanks to an army of sporting volunteers who receive precious little support from the outside their own communities.

The first event was a schools rugby match. Or rather, matches. Throughout the Saturday, two local schools, one private, one state – let’s say Cipriani’s old school against Sackey’s old school - staged no fewer than 26 games of 15-a-side rugby through every year group – that, of itself, represents nearly 800 lads involved in competitive sport on that one day alone.

All the matches were staffed by at least two teachers, while the host PTA laid on teas and refreshments.  By the time of the first XV clash in the afternoon, the attendance at the school playing fields was more than 2,000. The day’s sport wasn’t bad, either.

The following week, I watched a local 10-mile road race, an event founded during the first "running boom" in the mid-1980s. In the past 25 years, the organisers, the local running club, have managed to find sponsors to meet the bills and volunteers to man the water stations, and they now attract more than 2,000 runners, including a good proportion of women, to an exceptionally well-managed sporting event. This event has never received any direct funding help, yet every race entrant is "taxed" with a levy that goes to the governing body.

One running scheme that is receiving Sport England funding is something calling itself the Women’s Running Network.

Those familiar with the Sisters Network run by Alison Turnbull at what was then Running Magazine will know that that was operating from 1984. Simply, it was an out-and-out support network, pairing off experienced runners with newcomers, and it was widely adopted by many of the new running clubs with great success. Then, it was entirely self-funded.

Part of the Sisters Network’s appeal to newcomers was that it was informal and friendly, and not part of the forbidding bureaucracy of sport, which many newcomers find intimidating and off-putting, even at club level.

So what route does Sport England go down to boost participation in women’s athletics? Through a scheme run by the governing body, of course...

There are other sports participation schemes, sound in inspiration and construction, which are already making an impact. Yet a lack of "joined-up" Government – the sort of strategic overview which bodies such as Sport England ought to be taking – can see these initiatives easily break down.

The lack of swimming facilities in London has already been linked to the likely absence of any swimmers from capital’s swimming clubs at the 2012 Games. Anyone from inner London Borough Lambeth has virtually no chance.

Lambeth last year took advantage of a Government-funded scheme to offer free swimming sessions to the under-16s and over-60s. A real healthy initiative, it is also measured at the entrance to the council’s three indoor leisure centres (take note, Sport England). In the first six months of the scheme, there were 23,000 free swims.

From next month, there will be no free swims in Lambeth. All three of the Borough’s indoor pools will be closed at the same time – Brixton for the latest round of repairs, and the Victorian-built baths at Streatham and Clapham prior to demolition, one to make way for a supermarket. You couldn’t make it up, as Littlejohn might say.

More than 20 years ago, before the then athlete Sebastian Coe declared his political ambitions, he spoke to me about how sport in this country had been adversely affected by never being taken seriously politically. He talked about the absence of a sports lobby, something akin to the influential and powerful arts lobby that dominates the leader pages of our newspapers, the discussion sections of our TV schedules, and the seats of power in Whitehall.

The disparity is still evident today. While Tessa Jowell sits in cabinet as Olympics Minister, Britain alone among leading European sporting nations never to have offered a seat at the top table of Government to its Sports Minister. And when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport recently framed a policy-making initiative to increase grassroots participation across its entire brief, it outlined six areas of interest, only one of which is sport.

In July 2005, Coe, with his Olympic bid-winning speech in Singapore, finally gave voice to a sports lobby for Britain which might, just, finally reverse nearly a century of under-investment and neglect. Directing a good proportion of Sport England’s £880 million of precious investment towards the country’s beleaguered sports clubs and schools would represent a cost-effective way of making the nation fitter for the next 100 years.

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

David Owen: Champagne departure leaves Blatter weaker

As football movers and shakers head to Angola this week for the finale of the African Cup of Nations, some will still be mulling the significance of what happened the last time many of them set foot on the continent early last month.

At a landmark meeting of FIFA's ruling Executive Committee, as we now know, a discussion took place that led last week to the departure from FIFA of Jérôme Champagne, the body’s Director of International Affairs and a key ally for many years of FIFA President Joseph Blatter.

To be honest, some journalists had been tempted to dismiss the meeting, on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by South Africa’s former apartheid regime, as essentially a photo opportunity - a chance for FIFA dignitaries to bathe in the great man’s aura.

I might not have been entirely innocent of this myself.

How wrong we were.

Not only were the stories told with great dignity by former prison inmates genuinely moving and powerful, as I have already written on our sister, insideworldfootball.

But the meeting itself turns out to have been anything but routine.

I was there at the press conference that followed the meeting, still clutching my suitcase, having dashed across Cape Town from plane to boat with the assistance of Richard Lapper, the Financial Times's Johannesburg Correspondent.

More than that, as I realised with some embarrassment last week, I was chatting to Champagne, waiting for the press conference to start, at around the time his fate must have been being sealed.

With hindsight, you could have guessed from the FIFA President's demeanour that something was up.

"Blatter looks really shaken," my contemporaneous notes, written on one of those distinctive FIFA pads marked out like a football pitch, record.

At the time, though, I put it down to the special location and perhaps the blazing sun.

In retrospect, I think it likely that the rigours of what seems to have been a particularly tough meeting may also have played a part.

As well as the Champagne issue, I have been told that a bone of contention arose over an alleged cost overshoot relating to last year's under-17 World Cup in Nigeria.

This was won somewhat improbably by Switzerland, who beat the hosts 1-0 in the final.

Two sources have told me independently that the cost overshoot amounts to a hefty $30 million (£18.6 million).  

Returning to Champagne (pictured), my insideworldfootball colleague Andrew Warshaw has written: "It is understood the presidents of all six footballing Confederations met privately with Blatter at last month's Executive Committee meeting on Robben Island to express their displeasure with the way Champagne had been conducting himself."

One of them - Mohamed Bin Hammam of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - has since told me in a private phone call that, when an issue arose, "[Champagne] wanted to put himself between the confederations and the national associations within that confederation".

I have to say that this could be interpreted as Champagne doing his job.

It is my understanding that he acted, in effect, as the FIFA President's eyes and ears in the national associations.

FIFA's statutes require each confederation to "work closely with FIFA in every domain" so as to "improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally…particularly through youth and development programmes".

Confederations are obliged, moreover, to take any action considered necessary to develop football within their continent "with the mutual cooperation of FIFA".

It will come as little surprise, though, to serious students of the shadowy realms of world football politics to hear that Champagne's efforts were not universally appreciated.

To this extent, the most interesting question to think about with regard to last week's bombshell is not why Champagne was ousted, but why he was ousted when he was.

Well, one important thing to have changed recently is that Blatter has let it be known that he wants a fourth term as President.

It would greatly smooth his path to that ambition - and bear in mind he would be within shouting distance of his 80th birthday by the time it ended - if the Confederation Presidents a) did not run against him and b) marshalled support for his candidacy inside the national associations.

It could be, then, that the confederation bosses decided to try and make the most of this temporary extra leverage by ridding themselves of the unfortunate Champagne.

Of course, the $64,000 question for adherents to this theory is whether, having once got their way, the appetites of confederation presidents will be sated or whetted.

In short, does it make it more or less likely that Blatter will face a plausible challenger?

For now, I think, you could justifiably read the runes either way.

Perhaps the confederation leaders targeted a close Blatter ally because they lack the firepower/unity - or simply are not minded - to attempt to dislodge Blatter himself.

On the other hand, what has transpired leaves the FIFA President looking, to my mind, a weaker leader than he did a few months ago.

I can think of at least two possible challengers whose recent actions, as relayed to me, appear consistent with the sort of things you might expect a potential candidate to be doing.

I still would not be surprised, especially if the 2010 World Cup goes anything less than swimmingly, if Blatter ends up this time with a race on his hands.

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: Amir Khan defection shows loyalty is something they screw you with

It was the former fight promoter Mickey Duff who first coined the phrase "If you want loyalty, buy a dog." In the past few years it has also been running through the mind frequently of his successor as Britain’s leading boxing impresario, Frank Warren. First Naseem Hamed left him after winning a world title, then Ricky Hatton, followed by Joe Calzaghe - and now Amir Khan.

"Loyalty is what they f*** you" with is another phrase you will often hear not only in boxing but in all other walks of sport - and life, the media industry being no exception.

Football has also observed its share of something that seems to be increasingly endemic. Only recently we had the case of Burnley having their idolised manager Owen Coyle walk out on them to join near Lancashire neighbours Bolton. And how many athletes and swimmers have cut themselves off from the coaches who discovered and nurtured them as kids when they began to reach for the stars.

Of the many commodities that make up sport, loyalty is nowhere near top of the list. Neither is sentiment. Invariably the bottom line is always "how much more can I make?"

Warren says he feels "gutted and badly let down" while wishing him well, but one suspects he was almost resigned to Amirs’s exit after what had gone before with his marquee fighters. He is not the only promoter to have suffered in thus way - Frank Maloney famously lost Lennox Lewis after taking him to the world heavyweight title and he also helped construct the career of David Haye only to see him depart when the big league - and the big money - beckoned.

Warren says he had "a gentlemen’s agreement" with Khan’s people to continue being involved with his promotions, but the trouble with gentlemen’s agreements is that they are not worth the paper they are not written on. "I’ve learned my lesson," he says ruefully.
Not that anyone should feel desperately sorry for promoters. Like their fighters they are in it to make money, and most do very nicely, thank you. But in the Khan case I do have some sympathy with Warren, who invested a lot in the kid he signed as an 18-year-old Olympic silver medallist.

It was during the Athens Olympics, where Khan was Britain’s only boxer, that I first got to know him, having been deeply impressed with him as a schoolboy and junior. He was a nice lad then, and still is, which is why it is so disappointing that he has not been in touch with Warren since deciding to join Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden boy set-up in the United States. Even if it was just to say "thanks for all you’ve done Frank, but it’s time to move on."

It is perfectly understandable that he wants to further his career as profitably as he can but Warren will argue that it could have been done just as well with him as Golden Boy. After all, he has promoted in the US and has links there with a number of top promoters including Don King and Bob Arum.

The thing with Khan is that he has fallen in love - with America itself. Before he won the WBA light-welterweight title last summer he admitted to me that he had been seduced by the lifestyle in California, where he went to train in the Wild Card gym in downtown Hollywood with Freddie Roach – the wise move he made after sensationally being flattened in a few seconds by Colombian banger Breidis Prescott 15 months ago. This was a match that Warren had warned him against taking but by then Amir was already listening more to those around him more than his promoter.

"California Dreaming" was the headline above my interview with him in The Independent on Sunday and I guessed then that, with the final bout on his contract with Warren looming, we might see a parting of the ways sooner rather than later. Other promoters, both here and in then US, had been blowing in his ear - and more importantly those of his family and others involved in a career that Warren had skillfully exhumed after the Prescott debacle, making the fighter him several million richer in the process.

As the only journalist invited to Khan’s personal world title victory celebration party in Bolton I have come to know him well. He is one of the most genuinely likeable personalities I have encountered in  my half-century of sportswriting. Which I why, despite my disappointment at the way it has been handIed, I wish him good fortune in chasing his dream. Such is the paucity of talent in America, that, as De La Hoya says, with his dazzling hand-speed and charisma, he could become then new face of boxing over there.

Just as long as he remembers (in case he has already forgotten) that one more punch on the chin could bring a rude awakening. And in America, where they have all the time in the world for winners, there is no loyalty to losers.

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.

David Owen: FIFA need to follow Olympics and set clear World Cup bidding guidelines

First Africa, now Asia.

As our exclusive story this week on our sister website, insideworldfootball, revealed, some of football's six continental confederations appear to be exploiting the race for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to try to drum up some extra windfall cash.

First, it emerged that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had signed an exclusive sponsorship agreement with Qatar 2022 for its Congress to be held in Luanda in two weeks' time, as the African Cup of Nations nears its conclusion.

Then, insideworldfootball reported that CAF's Asian counterpart, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), was auctioning sponsorship of its 2010 Annual Awards.

This event is scheduled to be held on November 24 in Kuala Lumpur, just a matter of days before the victors in the World Cup race are determined.

It will be an absolutely critical juncture in one of the most hard-fought and high-stakes contests in world sport.

The perfect moment, or so one would have thought, for the AFC to maximise its earnings.

I wouldn't criticise the confederations for trying to make the most of a very rare opportunity.

The world economy - and, by extension, the sports sponsorship market - is still on its knees.

The World Cup race presents them with what must seem like the marketing equivalent of a tap-in from two yards for a striker suffering from a goal-drought.

And far from criticising, I would actually congratulate the Qatar bidding committee for its far-sightedness: this sort of tactical nous should convince any remaining doubters that the bid from the small but gas-rich Gulf state amounts to much more than an open cheque-book.

Even so, I think FIFA is going to have to do something about this.

As the International Olympic Committee appreciates better than most, such contests require scrupulous fairness if they are to retain their credibility.

Private events are another matter.

But if a bid's exposure at official functions - attended by FIFA Executive Committee members who constitute the electorate for the purposes of this competition - is to depend directly on the size of its promotional spend, then frankly the governing body might just as well rip up the rulebook and hold an auction to decide the outcome of the entire competition.

Such an approach would at least have the virtue of simplicity.

But I doubt it would do much for FIFA's image and would be greeted by a cacophony of protest from the vast majority of member associations, who could never hope to prevail in a contest where money was the sole arbiter.

Allowing the status quo to persist could also, I think, present FIFA with problems of a more practical nature.

If I were a confederation marketing director, witnessing what is currently happening, I'd be mightily tempted to plan an event for, say, November 26, while implementing a three-line whip to ensure the presence of my confederation's FIFA Executive Committee members.

Before you know it, you could end up with a farcical situation that could be likened to the way seaside developers build taller and taller apartment-blocks so they can always offer their new customers a sea-view.

I am sure FIFA recognises the importance of a level playing-field: why else at last month’s "Media Expo" in Cape Town would the 10 bidders each have been given the same-sized vegetable stand and the same-length video slot with which to market their wares?

So will world football’s governing body take action?

When I asked this week for its official position on the sponsorship deals, this - word for word - is the response I received:

"According to the rules of the Bidding Process accepted by all bidders in the Bid Registration, any of the bidders may attend and promote its bid at the occasion of a competition organised by a confederation, provided that the confederation agrees to such bid promotion and that FIFA is informed.

"There is no explicit prohibition contained in the rules of the Bidding process relating to the congress of a confederation.

"It is important to note that confederations are legally independent from FIFA.

"At the time of writing, FIFA has not received any formal complaint regarding this matter."

At once, my eyes homed in on the last sentence of that statement: FIFA has yet to receive any "formal complaint".

I think it would serve the whole competition well if one of the contestants would get around to filing one pretty darn quick.

That way, we'd all know where we stand on the matter.

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

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson: BBC have been great but Channel 4 will take it to another level at London 2012

Hosting the Paralympic Games on home soil is something that I always wanted to happen because of everything else I believe it could bring. The opportunity to continue to raise the profile of disability sport, to help increase participation, and also have a wider benefit for disabled people.  

LOCOG has always been ambitious in its aims and very clear in where they want the Games to be. London 2012 has already provided many positive steps forward. Cities bidding for these Games, had for the first time, to bid for both Games.

And now for the first time the Organising Committee was able to sell the television right whereas at previous Games they were sold by the International Paralympic Committee. LOCOG don’t make any money out of this, the money is ploughed back in to providing the coverage of the Games.

As a retired athlete I know that I have a lot to thank the BBC for, as in the last 30 years, the media coverage has improved significantly. The Games were covered in different ways in the early years, but after Seoul in 1988 there was an hour highlights programme, narrated by Cliff Morgan.  Up until 1987 he had been head of Sport and Outside Broadcasts for the BBC, and brought a certain gravitas to coverage that perhaps previously had been a little more more ad hoc.

Barcelona in 1992 put the Games on the map. I remember being near the finish line for the men’s 5 000 metres wheelchair final when there was a momentous crash going in to the bell lap. Broken chairs and athletes were everywhere. Helen Rollason, with a BBC cameraman, was nearby and I rushed over to her and asked could I watch a playback so that I could see who caused the crash. 

She asked did I think it was okay to show it on the programme, and my resounding response was, "yes", because it had been a bike race it would have been everywhere. They showed my sport for what it was, fast, a bit dangerous, and a million miles away from a bunch of disabled people having a go.

So, although by the time we got to Beijing in 2008, there were daily highlights programmes, results made the news, and of course it was all over the radio, I didn’t really think that we would get to a point where there was a "highly competitive tender process" for the TV rights. 

This shows how far the Games have moved on and Channel 4 have now won the rights to cover the Games in 2012.

In 2012 there will be an unprecedented amount of coverage, around 150 hours – this is something that a home Games can help deliver. The challenge going forward and part of the plan is to bring stories to life; to showcase the best of Paralympic sport and its athletes, and deliver a different kind of coverage. 

It’s potentially a big change but also I believe where there is change there is opportunity. I am delighted that the coverage is staying on terrestrial TV,  and as ever it brings another opportunity for the Paralympic Movement.

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson is Britain's best known athletes having won a total of 16 Paralympic medals, 11 of them gold. Since retiring in 2007 she has forged a reputation as one of the country's leading sports administrators and her roles currently include being a non-executive director of UK Athletics, sitting on the board of the London Marathon and advising Transport for London on preparations for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. She is also vice-chairman of the Laureus World Sport Academy and a trustee of the Sport for Good Foundation

Alan Hubbard: Oh for the days I could call Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore at home

I have spent this best part of this week trying to arrange an interview with a prominent sports personality, fighting my way through a forest of agents, managers, lawyers and ultimately his public relations team. I still haven’t got to him yet- and now I’m not inclined to do so because the PR people want not only to be present but to see what I write before it goes in the paper. Copy approval they call it. No way, Jose.

PRs, have become the bane of the sportswriters' life. Gone are they days the days when you could thumb through the contacts book, dial  Bobby Moore’s home number  - or that that of many other sports stars - and have a  friendly  chat on the phone or arrange to meet for a drink and a natter - on or off the record.

In those 'good old days' I had Muhammad Ali’s number and recall once calling him for a  quick quote about an upcoming fight, Quick quote? I put the phone down an hour and a half later. Like others of my era, I have been spoiled by having direct contact with those I wrote about. Now you have to go through a myriad of buffer zones, being shunted from pillar to PR, to get in a couple of pre-approved questions.

The PR industry is taking over sport. We are awash with media minders. Every personality, every, every organisation, seems to have one - or several -  and they come in three sizes: the good, the bad and the utterly useless.

Let me declare an interest.  Some of my best friends are PRs.  In fact, for a very brief spell during my journalistic menopause I was one myself and my son happens to be a press officer at Tottenham Hotspur.  I am glad that most football writers of my acquaintance tell me that he is extremely helpful to them, although I must say that whenever I ask him "What's going on at Spurs?"  He says "You'd be the last person I’d tell."

PRs range from the ultra-professionals like Max Clifford to the downright obstructive, like a few I could name but perhaps shouldn't in the interests of, er, public relations.

The best PR I have ever known was a wonderfully laconic Irish-American John Condon, who was in charge of publicity of Madison Square Garden during Ali’s heyday.  At the press conference after the first Ali-Frazier fight he threw Diana Ross out of the room after asking her, "Who are you with, little lady?"

"I am Diana Ross." She trilled.

Said Condon, "I didn’t ask who you are, I asked who are you with?  Which media?"  She shook her head. "Out little lady." He ordered. "Media only here." He also did the same to Telly Savalas at another world title fight. Can you imagine that Posh or Simon Cowell getting he heave-ho they crept into a post-event press conference here?

With PRs comes spin. That dreadful four-letter word that bedevils sport as much as it does politics.

But again, there are some outstanding spinners. Mike Lee (pictured), architect of the London 2012 bid team’s successful communications campaign is surely sport’s supreme spinmeister. The former Premier League and UEFA spokesman also did for Rio 2016 what he did for London 2012.Why on earth he wasn’t snapped up for England’s 2018 World Cup bid is baffling. Instead he is punting on behalf of rivals Qatar. Lee was sometimes a bit testy, but at least he was someone you could work with.
The trouble is so many PRs think they are Alastair Campbell spin-alikes. Yet he spun do deviously for New Labour that in the end no-one believed a word he said –and hopefully the Iraq inquiry won’t either.

Too many PRs are failed journalists. Others, like Campbell, have been successful ones.

In sport the best example of a poacher turned gamekeeper is Simon Greenberg, who many of us recall as an L-plates cub reporter, but always with good nose for news looking to dig up a good story, and never shy of "turning someone over" as we say in the business. But not any more.  He went on to become sports editor for the London Evening Standard before going over to over to the other side with a bucket- load of money from Roman Abramovich to run the communications at Chelsea where, it has to be said he won few friends among some of his former colleagues with a defensive and sometimes abrasive manner. 

But he has top-level contacts and has now been brought in step up he tempo of he 2018 football bid. And should rumours be true, is destined for a career in real politics once he has finished with sports politics.

Other journos who have left top jobs include Colin Gibson, sports editor of the Mail and Telegraph who ran the communications for the FA and now the TCCBB and more recently Brian Doogan, a great writer has left the Sunday Times to become communications chief at Aston Villa. Roger Kelly, once sports editor of the Mail on Sunday, is another who knows what the scribes want when wearing his hat as a PR for the the Laureus Awards.

At the other end of the PR scale we have those graduates who step into jobs clutching their meaningless degree in media studies, never having door-stopped or filed a 750 word match report on the whistle. They wouldn't know the inside of a newsroom from a nursery. Another irritation is PR companies who employ hordes of pushy young things to flood us with press releases and emails - usually boring bumph - and then call constantly to ask whether it is going to be used or not.  Invariably it is not

Increasingly PR has become a domain for women and I have to say there are some very good ones. Jackie Brock-Doyle, for instance who succeeded Lee at 2012 after doing a terrific job a short notice when she stepped in for the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. Then there’s Caroline Searle, greatly experienced in the game setting up on her own after leaving the British Olympic Association (BOA) and now looking after several sports, including rowing, and is in charge of England’s Commonwealth Games PR.

And, of course, there was Giselle Davies (pictured), the former multi-lingual IOC communications director who was an an expert at being even-handed, even when taking awkward questions from her dad, TV commentator Barry Davies.  

 It is always a pleasure to deal with helpful people like swimming’s Dave Richards, Frank Warren’s media man Richard Maynard, Ron Boddy at the ABA, Steve Chisholm and his team at Fast Track and Mike Lee's old, sparring partner Jon Tibbs, who, after losing out with Paris bounced back with Sochi’s winning 2014 Winter Games bid and is now pushing Munich for 2018.
The best Government sports PR surely was Phil Townsend - the Ministerial media minder for Kate Hoey and Richard Caborn before he landed his dream job at Manchester United. There was no one better in my experience at marking your card and putting you in the picture off the record, which really is what most journalists desire. Graham Newsom, who looked after Colin Moynihan when he was Sports Minister, and was for a time at the BOA, was also one who had our respect. 

Matt Crawcour at UK Sport was another you could rely for vital background, even when off the record in a spirit of mutual trust. By and large, the TV PRs are pretty good too, notably those at Sky, especially when they have pay-per-view to sell.

However there are still many PRs who seem to delight in being obstructive rather than proactive. The one thing we hate is being deliberately duped or misled only to find out later that what we knew was accurate.

Actually all we ask from our PR friends is to to remember that basically we are all playing the same ball game although n this case not trying to get the ball into the net but their clients’ names into the papers.

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 Steele: Continuity, not radical change, is the key for EIS

With all jobs there are some things that are a pleasure, some a chore. Later tonight I will be giving the opening address to the National Conference of the English Institute of Sport (EIS) in Cheltenham. A task that falls very much into the former category. 

I will be speaking to a room full of more than 200 practitioners of sports science and medicine dedicated to helping our elite athletes be in the best possible shape they can be, using their expertise and experience to help make the EIS a crucial part of the high performance landscape. 

These are people that understand the business of sport and understand what it takes to win and succeed. As I say, it will be only a pleasure to speak to them, and give them a positive message from UK Sport about where they stand today.

For they are also a group of people who have had to endure considerable uncertainty over the past 18 months or so. Since the strategic review of its operations that UK Sport carried out in conjunction with the EIS back in 2008, the organisation has undergone some radical change and repositioning. 

A new business model has seen the shift to a more demand-led approach to their services, where Olympic and Paralympic sports are more empowered to decide where and when they want their athletes to be treated. A new structure has meant a reorganisation of the way in which they operate internally; and this has been accompanied by inevitable changes in personnel.

The EIS has responded to these challenges extremely well, and I will be paying tribute to this. The people there are now well positioned to deliver world class services to our athletes at a vital time: with not much more than two years to go to London 2012 we cannot afford to feel that support is not there. Much of this change has been brought about through the leadership of Conor O’Shea, and his decision to move back to his first love of rugby union, whilst completely understandable, is a blow. 

But I have no doubt it is one that the EIS can overcome quickly - and I will be working closely with Steve Cram (pictured), the chairman of the EIS,  to help him find Conor’s replacement. 

Perhaps the most important factor we will be considering in the new director is the ability to continue and build on the good work of the past year. Continuity, not radical change, is the key now. 

Indeed that is something of a message for all organisations involved in the build up to the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. It was certainly the basis for the important investment decisions that UK Sport took at the end of 2009, where we sought to bring as much certainty to bear as possible for all sports.  

We made some very minor but important adjustments to awards based on our prediction of future inflation and this, together with the fantastic boost given to our funding by Visa's support for the Team 2012 sponsorship initiative, allowed us to make awards that still prioritised medal potential, but also solidified the base by giving sports that are making real strides in performance terms more certainty.  

These decisions as always provided some come back - whenever an organisation like UK Sport - funding in this case 28 Olympic and 19 Paralympic summer sports and disciplines - has to make relative judgements on performance grounds, it is inevitable that these calls might lead representatives of sports that have not done as well as they would like to complain.    

Our strategy however is clear and transparent: we make decisions based on our own objective performance evidence, not on submissions from the sports themselves; they are always relative judgements, with the need of one sport having to be balanced against those of all the others; and we only fund where we see genuine performance need. Given the overwhelming support we have received from Olympic and Parlaympic sports for our moves back in December, I am confident we got this one right. 

What we have therefore achieved is as much certainty as we can bring in the current environment: and my message to the EIS tonight will be along the same lines. While there has been a turbulent time, we should be settling down now to a singular, ruthless focus on performance:  first for the Vancouver Games that are merely days away, and then on London.

Everyone involved must realise however that absolute certainty is a pipedream. Sport is certainly not immune from the tough economic realities of the current time, and no one can be sure that they will not be impacted over the coming months and years. 

Likewise we are entering a period where the political landscape of a General Election will throw up even more scrutiny and challenge than usual.  And of course sport itself is unpredictable – that is one of its glories. 

What we can do is ensure we are as best prepared as possible for potential changes going forward - and world class in our outlook and activity as we collectively seek to ensure that our athletes line up on the start in their competitions over the next few years as well prepared and supported as they can possibly be.  

John Steele is chief executive of UK Sport, the country's high performance sports agency.

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.”


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.