Politicians and royals rarely mix well with sport, so the fuss about the Prime Minister and Duke of Cambridge missing the Women’s World Cup final was classic British nonsense. In my experience, the less time spent trying to sprinkle dubious stardust on sporting events, the better.
Civil servants and UK Sport spent ridiculous time that could have been better used elsewhere trying to lure a member of the cabinet and a senior royal to the London 2017 World Athletics Championships. The government at the time was in “don’t be seen to smile” mode in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
The Prime Minister was scheduled to be on a below-radar holiday and – one by one, from the Queen downwards – apparatchiks were told that the royals were otherwise engaged. Even London mayor Sadiq Khan only came for the opening session.
And so I found myself on the first evening next to Prince Andrew in the VIP section, still two years away from his infamous Newsnight interview.
The Duke said a few words to open the championships alongside the mayor and Seb Coe, World Athletics president, then watched just two or three of the preliminary heats of the men’s 100m before being whisked away. Back to Balmoral, we were led to believe. Rarely have I seen someone less enamoured with the duty thrust upon him.
Khan, by contrast, was so enthused by Mo Farah’s win in the 10,000m that night that he rejigged his diary so he could return and be close to the podium when Farah got his medal the following day.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley did make it to a session. At a celebratory tea party for athletes and staff at 10 Downing Street a few weeks later, PM Theresa May told me how much she’d regretted being unable to attend herself, but that she had watched it on the BBC while on her walking holiday in Europe. She must have been using a VPN to get round the geoblock on the Beeb’s signal, if true. A privilege of power I guess.
Authenticity is all, and so often lacking, even when true fandom exists. Blame the PR execs. Khan was surrounded by them, all seemingly flummoxed by his unexpected intoxication with the event.
Who’s more to blame for Rishi Sunak’s looking awkward in an England football shirt with the tags still intact to cheer on the Lionesses: the PM himself or the flunky who pressed the top on him?
There is a right way to do it. In my brief interim stint at the British Equestrian Federation, barely knowing one end of a horse from the other, I sat next to our patron the Duchess of Cornwall – now Queen Camilla, and still with that role at the BEF.
Our’s was a challenged organisation and I found the Duchess engaged, suitably concerned and full of passion for solutions to be found to our problems. Most importantly, none of this was for show.
Kevlar cockroaches and the tyranny of big numbers
Victoria has agreed to pay A$380m (£192m) to the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia for pulling out of hosting the 2026 edition.
The state’s premier had claimed the cost of staging the event had ballooned to A$6bn (£3bn), more than twice the original budget. It would have involved around 5,000 athletes. For comparison, the 2017 World Athletics Championships cost £55m and 2,000 athletes took part.
Yes, you can’t compare chalk with cheese. Victoria 2026 required venues to be built. A village was to be created for the competitors. London 2017 used an existing venue and put athletes up in hotels.
But surely there must be a way for a multi-sport Games to be delivered using established infrastructure and costing no more than the equivalent of individual championships for each of the component sports.
The CGF should set itself the task of organising its next Games for little more than the embarrassment dowry just wrung by its lawyers from Victoria. My bet is that it can be done.
A first piece of advice is to beware the “kevlar cockroaches”, those professionals who roll around the world from event to event, exceeding budgets while blaming deadline pressures, claiming unrealistic economic and social impacts, hailing “best ever” delivery before moving on to their next gig to blow funders’ dollars all over again.
It’s not difficult to spot them, but can require a stiff spine to spurn their claimed credentials and instead utilise those experts proud of coming in under budget.
Received wisdom is that Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy did well to wring about €100m out of Bayern Munich for Harry Kane when England’s captain had only one year left on his contract and wanted away.
But would it have been better to allow him to run it down (assuming that the striker remained motivated to give his best in the circumstances)?
There are clearly a number of moving parts in the equation: cost of a replacement, differential salaries and contribution to the team’s success, which in turn plays into the financial return for the club dependent on league position and cup runs.
Boil it down to a couple of million quid per game though and you could make the argument that a fee foregone is outweighed by having a final season of Kane. Or at least the sporting chip that he represents on football’s high stakes roulette table.
Pass me the zimmer, London’s calling
Senior Railcard? TfL 60+ Oyster Card? Turns out the biggest benefit of my big figure becoming six is the jump in London Marathon “good for age” qualifying time from three hours and 20 minutes for men aged 59 to 3:45 for those over 60.
I did the Reykjavik Marathon at 60 plus two days in 3:27.58 last weekend. Thank you Asics Metaspeed Edge+, a prudent training schedule designed for the more mature runner, great course, perfect conditions and a cortisone injection a few days out. London now calling.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com