Can you name the new Minister for Sport? Turns out it’s Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey. Let’s hope he’s a sports fan as there’s nothing publicly available to say that he is (or indeed isn’t).
And so the door to this most junior of ministries revolves again. And at a time when a number of major sports are floundering.
I first entered the world of sports governance in the final months of Richard Caborn’s six years as Minister for Sport. Now there was an MP who truly cared about sport.
Since then I’ve seen seven ministers come and go, with an average tenure of just over 25 months – reminiscent of my early career in the City as I bounced between jobs, over-eager to get ahead.
Sport is but a lowly rung on the political ladder, a low-risk opportunity for the ambitious to prove themselves or the underwhelming to be rewarded for loyalty.
Often other responsibilities are tacked on, diluting the focus on sport. Heritage, tourism and civil society are the current extras.
Stickiest of the recent ministers was the impressive Tracey Crouch, who herself had loneliness added to her portfolio.
She now has much to lose from the change of Prime Minister. The Liz Truss ideology appears rooted in small government – or at least smaller than what has gone before.
What price then the independent regulator for football that Crouch’s fan-led review of the game had as its central recommendation when published last November?
Already Premier League clubs are reported to be soft-pedalling on discussions to redistribute more broadcast income to the lower reaches of football, waiting to see how things lie with the Truss regime. This redistribution is itself an attempt to head off an independent regulator.
It may be that the government proves to have no appetite for interfering with football, however much it forms part of the social fabric and whatever the level of noise generated by those seeking change.
The Crouch review contained a string of good ideas, but I never saw the merits of a regulator which threatened cost and unnecessary bureaucracy.
It’s fair to ask again what problems the review was designed to solve: the threat of a European Super League; another Bury FC; owners up and down the pyramid over-extending themselves; all of the above?
To the extent that any of these are ultimately solvable, for me the answer lies with the Football Association.
Reform the FA and you have all the benefits of an independent regulator without its burdens. Not easy, but neither would be the creation of an effective regulator. Show me a really good one one in any industry.
At least football isn’t cricket or rugby – union or league – right now. Talking of which…
Andrew Strauss’s review of high performance cricket looks like going the way of Crouch’s.
With many of the first class counties openly criticising his recommendations, it seems highly unlikely that the England and Wales Cricket Board will risk pushing them to a poll that it then loses. Remember, 12 of the 18 counties need to vote in favour.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this could be just the opportunity new ECB chair Richard Thompson needs if he is truly to reset the game with the counties at its centre.
Yes, he has been criticised for speaking out in favour of The Hundred but – aside from one BBC interview this week – has been remarkably quiet on the Strauss review overall.
I’d say he’s keeping his powder and credibility dry in order to maximise his scope for reformation.
Missing in action
The Rugby League World Cup is just over a fortnight away. Its five-week duration will take it through a burst of Premier League matches ahead of Qatar 2022 and pitch it directly against both the women’s Rugby World Cup and, in cricket, the men’s T20 World Cup – although both will be in southern hemisphere time slots.
With tickets available for all matches, including the finals, organisers will be desperate to break through the noise generated by these competing events.
To that end, the social media chuntering about the attendance at last weekend’s Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford will have been discouraging.
Set aside last year’s gate, which was much lower than usual with France’s Catalans Dragons competing, and this year’s 60,783 is notably lower than in previous times – just when rugby league needs casual fans prepared to turn out for its marquee tournament.
League and union share the problem of dwindling attendances for their top domestic competitions.
Premiership Rugby has struggled to get fans back post-pandemic. Super League has succeeded on that score, but crowds are down by almost a fifth over the past decade. Little wonder that clubs are in financial distress.
Major international tournaments are opportunities for all sports to reboot interest. It’s a challenge to turn Britain’s “big eventer” attendees into week-in, week-out supporters, but they do provide a marketing opportunity. Half-empty stadia wouldn’t be a good look for the RLWC.
Most rewarding job in sport
News breaks that the British Paralympic Association’s chief executive Mike Sharrock will be stepping down early next year.
Sharrock has done an excellent job in building the BPA’s commercial strength and delivering the Great Britain team to Tokyo under the extraordinary constraints imposed by the pandemic. His are big shoes to fill.
I would love to see Mike’s successor using the platform to make the BPA a leading (and noisy) advocate for disability sport in this country, bringing together all the disparate voices that can just about be heard across a fragmented landscape – each passionate and committed, but often lost in the cacophony that surrounds us all.
There is a wonderful campaigning opportunity here now. This could be the most rewarding job in British sport.
69 seconds and counting
Eliud Kipchoge has already run a sub-two-hour marathon, but he’s still 69 seconds away from doing so under official competition regulations.
Much was made of the advantages created for his 1:59:40 run in Vienna three years ago. Then, his Nike “super shoes” were a big part of the story. Now, they are available to all.
The other tweaks, such as the phalanx of rotating pacers, add up to a mere 89 seconds difference after his 2:01:09 in Berlin on Sunday.
I didn’t think sub-two hours in an official race was impossible after his Viennese waltz. Even fewer doubts now. In my lifetime? Well, I do hope to live another four or five years…
And while on the subject of distance running. How about 319.6km in 24 hours? That’s an average speed of 7:15 per mile for a whole day for those of you with your Strava set to imperial, or 4:30 per km in new money.
I tip my running cap in astonishment to Aleksandr Sorokin who broke his own world record last week.