The political pile-on has been swift. But although they secured detailed testimony on cricket racism under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, MPs show no signs of learning from the futility of their past hearings into sporting crises. It needn’t be so.
I’ve had the dubious honour of appearing before three Westminster select committees down the years. The first, assessing readiness for London 2012, was in a distant age before today’s show trials full of bombast and high dudgeon. The others were less civilised affairs, one probing corruption in global athletics and another investigating doping.
Although I’d steeled myself for poor behaviour in the hearings, it was MPs’ fascination with their mobiles that was most shocking. When not firing questions, they were glued to their devices. Some, I found out after, were tweeting their commentary on my evidence in real time. Others, it seemed, were receiving prompts from journalists in the gallery as to what to ask me next.
I had a relatively easy ride, largely I suspect because the committee had bigger fish in their sights. They hoped I’d skewer Seb Coe in the corruption hearing and hang Mo Farah out to dry on doping. I had an outer body moment at one point, realising that I was quite enjoying the verbal jousting, in spite of my damp armpits – a brief glimpse of the thrill that the MPs themselves must get while posturing for their electorate.
At least the DCMS select committee wants to get stuck into the big issues in sport. Too often it has to fill a vacuum created by a weak ministry of sport. This is a junior position in the political hierarchy and either filled by those on the way up, or with nowhere to go. In my 15 years around the sporting block there have been eight sports ministers. Par for the course in Westminster, but barely time to build a productive relationship before each one is off.
The current incumbent, Nigel Huddleston, has had a few words to say on the cricket racism storm. So too has the CEO of Sport England, who was rather swift to threaten the ECB with loss of funding for grassroots cricket. I’ve long suspected that DCMS is happy to take its lead on sport from its two funding bodies, UK Sport and Sport England. At least there is more stability in the leadership of these quangos than at the ministry itself – but they are dangerously prone to swallowing their own rhetoric.
Select committees are ultimately toothless, which perhaps explains all their snarling, for the MPs recognise their impotence. Months after they have heard evidence they publish a report which instantly gathers dust. Committee membership changes. Other crises crop up which need to be poked in instant show trials of those presumed to be guilty, negligent, incompetent or some combination of the three.
There is a better way that doesn’t require much change. Take a breath before calling select committee hearings to allow time for issues to settle and proper research be conducted. Agree behavioural protocols for their conduct so that civil debate prevails. Provide sufficient support staff for conclusions to be published in a timely fashion. Bind the sports minister into an effective action plan for smart committee recommendations to be implemented. Oh, and ban mobiles in the hearings.
All sounds rather dull doesn’t it? Not so media friendly. But isn’t that what we want from our politicians given the important role sport plays in the fabric of society and the need to ensure that its leaders deliver
Team of the year
Regular readers know my bias. Awards season is upon us and the British wheelchair rugby gold medallists in Tokyo simply must be in the frame for team of the year awards.
First ever global wheelchair rugby medal for Britain, first ever medal of any colour for a European team at the Paralympics, first ever Para GB team gold in any sport. And all after being denied lottery funding having being deemed not to be medal contenders. A small irony then in the public recently voting them National Lottery Paralympian of the Year. But I’m happy to take my blinkers off in looking for the greatest teams of 2021, this strangest of sporting years.
Forget their last minute single point defeat to England and remember South African rugby’s brutal, attritional comeback series win over the Lions.
Its team are ranked No1 in the world for good reasons.
And forget too Australian cricket’s latest PR crisis and remember its T20 triumph, an unfancied team chasing down a record target in the final.
Italy’s footballers may have only a play-off spot in World Cup qualifying, but how good was their weathering of the febrile atmosphere and an early England goal at Wembley to win the Euros? What of America’s golfers, inflicting a record humiliation on Europe in the Ryder Cup?
And with the USA in mind, where does the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ thrashing of Kansas City Chiefs rank, powered by the evergreen arm of Tom Brady, oldest man to appear in a Super Bowl?
I’m drawn to a couple of more left-field triumphs though. What pressure must Japan’s women’s softball team have felt this summer, their sport restored to the Olympics solely because of its popularity in the home nation?
They delivered, beating the USA 2-0 in the gold medal match.
Japan won’t however have the opportunity to defend its title in Paris as softball slips back off the Games schedule. Closer to home, it will likely have escaped your attention that last month Britain’s speedway riders won their first world title for 32 years in front of a packed Belle Vue stadium.
A young team gave a much needed fillip to a sport whose glory days had become a distant memory.
I’d be delighted if they finished a close runner-up to our wheelchair rugby team in any voting panel picks in the coming weeks.
I run a lot of trail races, but rarely feel motivated by the motivational messages that organisers like to nail to posts around the course. Part way through a 15k this weekend I was lifted though by ‘PAIN IS JUST A FRENCH WORD FOR BREAD’. I was still smiling a couple of hundred meters later when I tripped and hit the deck.