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Olympics not football is government's main focus

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David Bond | 13:42 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

Hugh Robertson says he has three priorities in his new job as Sports and Olympics Minister: Win the 2018 World Cup bid, ensure the 2012 Olympics stays on track and deliver a proper legacy from the London Games.

Noticeable by its absence from this is a plan to sort out English football, even though he told me in an interview on Thursday that the sport's rulers should not "sit there thinking we won't intervene" if the game fails to reform.

Setting aside the World Cup bid, which he says can still be won despite the Lord Triesman affair, his failure to include football in his ministerial 'to-do list' will be considered by many as a mistake.

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If football senses for one minute that the new government is not on its case, then there is a danger of drift. The Premier League is taking promising steps now to tighten financial regulation but that would not have happened unless Uefa and the previous government had made it crystal clear that reform was needed.

To be fair to the Tory MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, football presents a difficult problem. It is both the most pressing issue in sport's in-tray and the most difficult for him to influence.

Football is high profile and the national obsession. It is making more money than ever before, but spending it less wisely than at any time in its history.

It is no coincidence that the Football Association is struggling to keep on top of the changing landscape, while its recent senior personnel issues only add to a sense that the game is spiralling out of control.

And yet Robertson, who spent five years shadowing Labour sports ministers Richard Caborn and Gerry Sutcliffe before the new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government swept him into office last Friday, knows he could end up in a quagmire if he tries to take on football.

That is why he says it is ultimately football's responsibility to come together and work out its problems.

More pressing for the former Guards officer is the impact the £6bn of cuts due to be announced by the Treasury on Monday could have on the staging of the Olympics. London 2012's £9.3bn budget is part of the sweeping spending review that David Cameron's government is undertaking.

But what was interesting was Roberston's admission in our interview that officials were examining the Olympic host city contract closely to see what London was absolutely committed to - and compare it to what was currently planned. This is the same process undertaken by London Mayor Boris Johnson after he took office two years ago.

With around £66m of cuts due to come from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) next week, it is now unthinkable that the Olympic budget will remain untouched. In fact, Robertson expects, given the scale of the project, that the vast majority of DCMS's savings will come from the Olympics.

That needn't be a cause for alarm. In fact, many who have long argued that the country is spending too much on a 16-day sporting event will welcome any cuts.

Much of the Olympic money is committed already, the building of the Olympic Park is going well and on time, while around £600m of the £2.7bn contingency set aside for cost overruns is forecast to be left at the end of the project.

It would seem to make far more sense for the government to leave the project as it is and wait to see what the next two years bring, rather than make cuts to the budget now and only increase it again a year before the Games when time is running out and suppliers have the upper hand.

Roberston's final aim is to deliver a sports participation legacy from the Games. To do this, he will use extra lottery money (released from the reduction of the good causes it funds from five to four), launch a schools Olympics to increase competitiveness and bring the three main sporting bodies - Sport England, UK Sport and Youth Sport Trust - under one roof.

Legacy will be his toughest challenge, especially with further funding cuts likely in the next few years, but, as minister, it is also the one he can have the greatest influence over and the one on which he will probably be judged.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Noticeable by its absence from this is a plan to sort out English football" Is football now a devolved issue?

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree with Rabster that this isn't a pressing government issue. A successful Olympics and hopefully getting the World Cup are where he should be spending most of his time as he stated.

    Reforms in football should come from the Governing bodies of the game (FIFA, UEFA, FA/Premier League) and through the experience of more teams going the way of Portsmouth. - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought that if any government interfered with their own FA then there would be sanctions against that footballing country. If this is true then there is not much the government can do about it.

    The FA need to wise up and stop the old boys club. It's a multi billion pound business being treated like a toy by amateurs and not professionals.

  • Comment number 5.

    David- A plan to sort out English football -what a novel idea, do you think it will catch on?
    It's simple really, there needs to be one body with National and International levels that looks after the Rules and Laws of the game in sporting terms (including drug testing etc) and another body (again on National and International level) which runs the 'business' of football. This second organisation sets the business rules, ownership, operating structures, for clubs, including acting as a broker for all transfer deals. The two groups are separate in all things, separately financed and adhere to separate Governance standards, etc - it could work, couldn't it? Or is that what we are supposed to have at present?

  • Comment number 6.

    I fail to see why the government has any responsibility towards English football. I think there are issues that need to be addressed globally and if things are addressed only in one nation then the game will be set back massively which could do more harm than good. For the future of football financial meltdown on a large scale might actually be a good thing but only if lessons are learnt.

  • Comment number 7.

    This is not a particularly well thought out blog. "Sorting out" English football, as you put it, is not down to the Government of a country coming out of recession (possibly heading back in). It is the job of organisations such as FIFA, UEFA, FA etc. Otherwise what is the point in having these organisations, we could just have the UN run world football, the EU run European football and, as you argue, the Government run English football.

    If that were the case, what about non-EU countries? And, in fact, in this country, what about Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football?

  • Comment number 8.

    I think the minister is mostly concerned with the big items like the 2012 Olympics and the 2018 World Cup bid but I think with time he should also be concerned with the day to day sport like football, rugby, cricket etc.

    I don't think the government has to necessarily interfere but it should just bring upon a framework and guidance so that sport can sustained long term which is also good for the government.

    World Cup prediction

  • Comment number 9.

    Increasing the ban for yellow card accumulation, video technology for multi million pound refereeing decisions, financial regulations that give the person who pays all the wages (the fan) a vote and thwarting entrepreneurial profiteers are not the stuff of a politician.
    However, by an act of Parliament the "fit and proper person's test" could be evolved to include a "fan's vote" and that idea is not from a politician !
    You see Football is not Rocket Science !

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm not sure your desire for 'fan power' (and I've no objection to it!) is the place of government. And as #1 asks the journalist, is foortball now a devolved issue?

  • Comment number 11.

    Have you ever written a positive article, David?

  • Comment number 12.

    So he won't touch footie because it's hard? What an example of sticking to your convictions and a good work ethic! We should all follow his lead!

    The part I find the most interesting though is the Olympic cuts. First we are going to spend taxpayers money re-reviewing something that was reviewed 2 years ago by another of Cameron's mates. Surely using that review as a starting point would save a lot of time and money?

    Second is the impact the cuts may have on the world cup bid.

    What will FIFA think if they see the world cup budget being chopped and promises not being kept? Will they take that as an example of what may happen with the world cup bid? That we'll say what we want to win it and then run it however we want after?

    The FA is allready world famous for it's incompetance, adding a dishonest tag wouldn't really go down well.

    I know the things aren't directly linked but you can't help thinking that FIFA won't see it that was as they seem to use any excuse they can to bypass us.


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