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Olympic jaw-jaw beats Woodward war-war

by Matt Slater (U1647490) 08 November 2007
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Olympic gold medals

After 14 months of meeting, greeting and even some bleating, Sir Clive Woodward has finally revealed his master plan for British success at London 2012.

Most of that meeting and greeting has been conducted by Woodward himself as the British Olympic Association’s elite performance director completed a global tour to discover what makes an Olympic champion.

And most of the bleating came from those who wondered what a rugby coach could teach them about their own highly specialised Olympic disciplines.

The headlines from Thursday’s launch were dominated by the number of “world-class” nutritionists and psychologists Woodward has recruited to join Team Clive, sorry, Team GB, and the number of hand-picked athletes who would get to enjoy the benefits of these experts’ expertise.

On the former, Woodward was effusive: here are the 10 leaders in their field I have already got on board, he enthused, and believe me, these guys are good.

On the latter, Woodward was elusive: there is no number, he sidestepped, before admitting it depended on the funding he and the BOA could raise as “these guys don’t come cheap”.

Ultimately, these stories always boil down to money, and money is why this story is more important than if Johnny Wilkinson’s kicking coach can or cannot help our rowers row faster and throwers throw further.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the launch was not what Woodward and his BOA bosses Simon Clegg and Colin Moynihan said, but who was listening, because there, down the front, were UK Sport chair and chief executive, Sue Campbell and John Steele.

UK Sport, for those of you not up to speed with government quangos, is the body responsible for dishing out your money to our finest sportsmen and women. It is currently dishing out £108m a year.

Set up in 1996 to make sure Team GB never again performed as poorly as it did at the Atlanta Games that year, it has made considerable strides over the last 11 years and can reasonably claim to “run” elite sport, particularly Olympic sport, in this country.

The problem is, the BOA can also reasonably make this claim, particularly when Olympic sport is actually at the Olympics.

Cue one seriously strained relationship punctuated by periodic bouts of open warfare.

This week seemed set for one of those bouts as Steele was quoted on Monday saying he had concerns about Woodward’s Olympic project.

“There is potential for duplication,” he said. “It is not about whether we like (Woodward’s plan) or not, it’s about whether it fits into what already exists.”

And if that was too coded a message, he then said he was worried the BOA and UK Sport would end up competing in the same market for funding.

Because while UK Sport convinced Gordon Brown to loosen the Exchequer’s purse strings to the sum of an extra £300m between now and 2012, it also has to find (or more precisely, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has to find) another £100m itself.

Cue one seriously strained relationship punctuated by periodic bouts of open warfare but with added squabbles about money.

Or so we thought.

Because while Woodward explained why it is much better to be a sponge than a rock (receptive not resistant) and the relevance of teaching a golfer to juggle, the subtext suggested peace has broken out between the BOA and UK Sport.

Clegg, Moynihan and Woodward couldn’t pay enough deference to UK Sport’s work and the primacy of its “Mission 2012” panel of experts, which count Woodward amongst their number. Moynihan even went as far as to condemn “concerns” about "reactionary forces" to the dustbin of history.

And Campbell and Steele wore the expressions of people no longer alarmed by the cuckoo in their nest or the hand in their cookie jar.

It is clear that a meeting of minds has been achieved, although it was perhaps closer to a banging of heads together as both sides talked of “ministerial support” for their “complementary provision of services”.

Just how long this peace lasts – as only the most optimistic observer would describe it as anything other than uneasy – depends on two things: what happens next with Woodward’s project, and how all the key players in the British Olympic family (have I mentioned the £700m the organising committee is still looking for to actually build the Games?) get on with their fundraising.

The first part of that equation is relatively straightforward. The case study which Woodward based on 20-year-old (no longer) amateur golfer Melissa Reid will now be extended to Scottish judoka Euan Burton.

How the Woodward way is working on an Olympic athlete will then be reviewed by British Judo and the BOA early next year with the final nod of approval coming from Mission 2012.

If all goes well, and the noises from UK Sport were broadly positive (British Judo cannot wait to get started), an orderly queue of national governing bodies is expected to form at the BOA’s door with boxing most probably at the front.

If all goes wrong, Woodward can reflect with some pride on a year that has seen him transform the fortunes of a young golfer and sell his ideas to the highest bidder.

The second part of that equation is going to be rather more complex but on a day of peace and reconciliation such as this one, nobody was in the mood to worry about dreary subjects like “duplications of funding” and “crowded market places”.

But they will. And that is why this peace, which really is essential for Britain’s hopes of hitting its target of fourth in the medal table in 2012, must be built on and worked on.

George Bernard Shaw once said “peace is not only better than war but infinitely more arduous”, and it must be hoped the BOA and UK Sport remember this, particularly (when things get arduous) the first bit.

Latest 10 comments

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posted Nov 20, 2007

"Clive Woodward is a excellent salesman, and his product is himself."

Absolutely right! And the worst consumers of his sales patter are BBC Radio Five Live who continuously interview this person and give him a platform for his views, while at the same time giving him the easiest of rides.

Around the time the debate surfaced over whether Ashton should continue as England coach these self-same stories came to light over Woodward. What happened? Woodward was interviewed on Sportsweek about Ashton and not a dicky bird was said about his Olympic role.

So come on BBC, get Woodward on now and ask him the tough questions!

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posted Nov 20, 2007

I think Woodward can be an inspired piece of recruitment if people can keep an open mind and give him some time.

There is lots of differing opinions as to his skill as a coach while he was coaching England at rugby. My opinion is that no coach, without the right players, is going to be able to make them beat the world but a poor coach can take bad players and make them worse.

A coach's main role is to ensure that a player/athlete can achieve their maximum potential. This is where Woodward is very good. He analyses all the details and makes sure that everything is in place. This is why it can look like he is not coaching. Especially as some of these things can seem a little odd.

I doubt that he has ever attempted to say that he could make a hurdler go faster through his coaching. What he is saying is that he will ensure that the athlete has every chance to do this but using science rather than the sort of training we saw in Chariots of Fire.

He had a saying while in rugby that it is not getting one thing 100% better, it is about getting 100 things 1% better.

This is the difference at top level sport.

I see that the golfer has just won an award for being the most promising junior and is turning pro. I guess we will see...

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posted Nov 20, 2007

finally somebody is talking some sort of sense who understands what it takes to be an elit sports person and reallise that britain should shrug off its love affair of failure, mediocre sports persons, and perenial under acheievers

britian needs someone like woodward to drive this forward and i totally refutw the claims that highland_spider made about england won the world cup in spite of woodward, what total and utter garbage, you can see the backlash from ashford dabarcle, so why wasn't there the same backlash from the players with regards to woodward.

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posted Nov 20, 2007

It seems stupid that Clive Woodward is given a job to improve Olympic sports when he has no experience at any sport included in the Olympic movement. At Rugby he was a great success, - at football (with Southampton) he was a disaster, and as for golf, he tries out his ideas on a yound impressionable amateur with average results.... For Olympic sports let the real coaches and performance directors take contol of their sports and leave Clive to concentrate on Rugby.

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posted Nov 21, 2007

Hello everybody, thanks for all your comments. I think the debate here about Clive Woodward's role at the BOA has been excellent, and has touched upon many of the things people, from both "sides" of the divide, have told me.

CW is fast becoming British sport's equivalent of Marmite.

politeBoobie, you make some valid points about some of 5 Live's dealings with CW but did you see the original story we wrote about this subject? Here's a link to it:

In there you'll see we asked lots of tough questions about his BOA role - which CW handled pretty well, I think - and there is a link to video of that interview.

Clips of the interview, and reaction to it, ran all day on 5 Live so he doesn't always get an easy ride on the BBC's airwaves.

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comment by Sam (U1650299)

posted Nov 21, 2007

CW struck it lucky in Rugby. Face it, there are only 6 Nations that can really play at the top level anyway in the World Cup and only 3 different Nations have won it since 1987. So hardly much competition was there? BOA is competing against 50+ other Nations now in the Olympics where luck and favorable statistics won't cut it in many Olympic disciplines. British Sport needs to be led by someone with a bit more credibility and proof than CW can provide if you want to push forward!

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posted Nov 21, 2007

I agree with the comment made by hockinsk lets face it rugby is still an elitist sport and is still only played in this country at private schools.
What new ideas and philosophys can Woodward bring to sportS like Athletics or Boxing which are truly inclusive.
We dont need Woodward sat in an office trying to cross fertalize sport.
One size doesnt fit all !

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posted Nov 21, 2007

It's a bit of a pointless appointment. Lets face it we have very few world class atheletes and getting the world cup winning rugby coach in isn't going to change that. What do the BOA think can happen in 5 years. World class atheletes in any sport don't just turn up over night. Unless we have a really strong crop of 13 - 17 year olds across all sports we aren't going to produce much in 2012. Maybe the lack of medals will be a wake up call to the British public that sport needs to be higher up the agenda. Getting kids fit and compteing at international level is good for their health and good for the nation in the long run.

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posted Nov 21, 2007

Woodwards role has nothing to do with direct coaching. How could he come along and coach sports he knows little about. It would be like Alex Fergeson coaching the GB netball team, it wouldn't work to the Nth degree. His role is to oversee all olympic sports and make sure they have the right equipment, conditions, funding, coaching, physio, dieticians etc etc. He also talks to the governing bodies,(albeit slowly) and gives them ideas. There is no mention of him taking over a particular sport and transforming it, just helping implement some ideas etc, the missing 1% so to speak.
Today he has received criticism once again from people, Chris Boardman for one.
I do agree with what Boardman has said, and cycling for GB is one of our strongest sports and one that we should medal well in. But what if he can imput something extra when he eventually gets around to cycling and make us even better? He has to be given longer, although i fear as i have said before, if we dont suceed next year then the daggers will be well and truly out.

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posted Nov 22, 2007

Boardman's comments seem surprisingly short-sighted. Woodward is already on the record as saying his role is about helping the underachieving sports (the prime example being athletics) learn what they can from our hugely successful 'minority' sports such as rowing, cycling and yachting. He's not arrogant or dumb enough to think he's going to teach Boardman anything he doesn't know already. What is disappointing is that two hugely successful coaches arent approaching this in a more collaborative manner.

And people need to give Woodward a break, you only need to see that talented, but hopelessly underperforming bunch of muppets last night to understand how big a coach's role is.

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