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Wembley may welcome women's boxing

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Matt Slater | 16:17 UK time, Friday, 24 April 2009

Trips abroad to see "the big five" is the kind of thing honeymooners do so it was fitting that the International Olympic Committee's east London safari this week ended with a love-in.

But just like icebergs and synchronised swimming, the real business during these IOC visits happens below the surface.

While Seb Coe's team can be proud of what they've achieved in Stratford they will know there are still punches to be ducked and the first is likely to come from the Olympic boxing fraternity.

One of the items discussed this week was the decision to scrap plans to build a temporary venue for badminton and rhythmic gymnastics in North Greenwich.

Those sports will now be squeezed into the ExCel Centre, the cavernous barn in London's Docklands that recently hosted the Barack and Brown Show, alongside the likes of fencing and table tennis.

The Olympic Park in Stratford

As some of you may be aware, the country is a bit strapped for cash so moves to cut costs at Britain's biggest building site - perhaps as much as £24m with this tweak - should not come as a surprise, and the IOC has been refreshingly accommodating about what a stickler for the rules might consider a broken promise.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA), however, is less impressed about the knock-on effects of this belt-tightening exercise as it means the boxing competition - originally promised a cosy corner of the ExCel - must make room.

A new home is being offered in northwest London at Wembley Arena.

Now nobody is suggesting there is anything wrong with the playing surface at the 1948 Olympics swimming venue. As a boxing venue the Arena will do fine. But there are concerns about Wembley's place in an athlete-friendly "compact Games".

At this stage the proposed move is just that: it's proposed. Any change must be approved by the IOC and the international federation concerned, in this case the AIBA.

The IOC, conscious that some consider its sporting events a bit pricey, is minded to OK the Wembley way and move on to more meaty matters, like security. But the AIBA is in no mood to be bullied and has said it will only accept Wembley if journey times of less than 40 minutes from village to arena can be assured.

As things stand, there will be a VIP lane from the Olympic Park to Park Lane (where the bigwigs will be staying) with a promised journey time of 22 minutes. I think you could just about get to Wembley from there in 18 a helicopter.

Now assuming Locog does not intend to put boxers on the Jubilee Line, I do not see how this journey can be achieved without putting an Olympic lane on the North Circular. For readers unfamiliar with London's A406 just think of the most stop-start orbital road near you but imagine it with more cars, industrial estates and retail parks.

With no money to build a "satellite village" at Wembley, the better resourced teams will attempt to minimise the pain by finding accommodation near Wembley. But this will upset the poorer nations and cause more security headaches for the organisers.

So what will happen?

Here's my prediction. Some kind of fudge on the travel issue will be made (Locog will assure us it is possible to drive from Stratford to Wembley in 39 4am), the richer countries will book a floor or two at the Wembley Plaza and the IOC will throw boxing a bone.

And what will that bone be?

Women's boxing

Well, earlier in this piece I referred to the boxing "fraternity". The AIBA, and Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell, want to change that, though.

I will blog on the details of their campaign another time - a decision is due on 13 August - but remember where you read this first: there will be women boxers competing at London 2012, and they'll be doing it at Wembley Arena.

Funding farrago

While work continues at the Olympic Park - and you can stage your own "coordination commission" visit by taking a train from Stratford to Hackney Wick - there is also much to do at Team GB HQ.

Remember the ruckus before Christmas about the £50m hole in the budget for Britain's Olympic and Paralympic teams? Well, it's still rumbling, although the row has now moved on from who missed out to how the bosses will fill it.

As previously mentioned, there appear to be a few holes in the nation's finances as well so Olympic sport is going to have to raise cash from the private sector, or at least demonstrate an ability to do so.

This was always part of the plan but as things stand the total raised is zero. I won't bore you with a potted history of the "Medal Hopes" scheme, let's just say it didn't work.

The new idea is "Team 2012" and it has a big advantage over its predecessor: the key players - the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympic Association, Locog and UK Sport - are united behind it.

Unfortunately, depending on who you talk to, that is all it has going for it.

The Team 2012 plan is to tap into the "activation" budgets of existing London backers. This is money sponsors spend to make you and me aware that they are associated with event/team x.

So instead of, let's say, British Airways spending another £40m on things like billboards, golf umbrellas and summer concerts, it will spend some of the money it was going to spend anyway on sport.

In return, BA would get access to Team GB's athletes and coaches, access meaning personal appearances at things like grass-roots projects, company get-togethers and grand openings.

So far so good, particularly when you consider that all funded athletes (and there are 1,400 of them) are contracted to put in a few days a year promoting the National Lottery but the majority of these days go unclaimed.

But what happens if you're one of those Olympians that the lottery would always ask for? The kind that might also have existing sponsorship deals for cereals or running shoes?

Might you find yourself being asked to attend event after event? Might your existing sponsors get a bit miffed when they see your face in the papers promoting a rival?

The answer is "yes" and "hell, yes" according to the agents of Team GB's most famous members and that is why they went for beer and sandwiches at UK Sport's London offices on Friday.

It was the second such gathering in 10 days and if that suggests a sense of urgency it is because there is: Olympic sport works in four-year cycles and the "London cycle" started at the beginning of this month.

A deadline of next Thursday has been set for signing up to Team 2012 - and continued funding is contingent on signing the deed - and responsibility for getting the signatures in has been placed on the sports.

Lord Coe of Locog

The agents' concerns can be summed up thus: you should have consulted us earlier, the contract is poorly drafted and far too binding, and the scheme won't work anyway.

The eight sports that missed out on full funding in December are also upset but their complaints can be boiled down to frustration that there are no guarantees any money raised will go to them.

So what's going to happen? Well, having given you my boxing prediction, here's my contractual impasse tip.

The Team 2012 partners will listen to the gripes, utter a few mea culpas, promise to consult more widely next time, repeat their commitment to making decisions on a "performance basis" and then persuade everybody to put their toys back in the pram and sign the document.

Now is not the time for athletes who came to prominence on the back of public funding to start behaving in a non-altruistic fashion. Now is also not the time to write a plan off before it has even been given the chance to fail.

What is absolutely certain is that a private revenue stream for Olympic sport has to be found - does anybody really think the current high levels of public funding will be so forthcoming after London 2012?

And most importantly, it should be possible to address each of the agents' concerns by preventing the overexposure of the Adlingtons and Hoys, honouring the exclusivity of existing deals (so BT might not be able to use a Sky-sponsored cyclist but Lloyds TSB might) and acknowledging that nothing must be done to compromise an athlete's ability to prepare for 2012.

Hopefully this will put an end to the squabbles about funding...well, at least until 2011 when the eight sports who took their reduced rations up front will run out of cash.

Any sign of those green shoots yet?


  • Comment number 1.

    Women shouldn't be boxing, no one wants to see it and for the few who take part its embarrassing to watch.

  • Comment number 2.

    God bless you, superwazzman, you're an absolute star. I'd given up getting any comments to this blog but then up you popped to save me from the dreaded bagel in the comments box.

    Not sure I agree with you, though, but that hardly matters now.

    I will come back to this subject properly another time but I will reveal a little nugget now. The British Amateur Boxing Association (the body that runs our Olympic prog) is taking this very seriously. Its view is that the chance of this happening has gone from about 50/50 a year ago, to approaching 70/30 now. As a result, it has already started to draw up plans, with the ABAE, so it's ready if and when the IOC dings the bell. That could happen at a big meeting in Berlin on 13 August. Locog is believed to be in favour too, as is the government.

    That's enough for now or I'll have to think of something else to write about further down the line.

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't see any reason why women shouldn't participate in Olympic Boxing, I would watch it and I wouldn't be embarrased to do so. If women can kick each other in the head in taekwondo, why shouldn't they be allowed to hit each other in the boxing ring?

    The professional game would be harder to watch though, being so much more brutal than amateur boxing. At the same time though, if there are women who want to do it, what gives anyone the right to say they're not allowed to?

  • Comment number 4.

    what about darts

  • Comment number 5.

    Matt - here's one. They want to save money and they want a legacy? Then moving the shooting out to Bisley. They can't argue about the compact Games now the boxing is out in Wembley. And let's face it Bisley is closer to London than it was to Manchester when it hosted the Commonwealth Games event.

    Surely the logic is falling down for London 2012 on this?

  • Comment number 6.

    Why move it to Wembley when one of the best Boxing venues in the world is up the road at York Hall, ok it might not be a sexy arena, but it has character and atmosphere and if it can stage British and European Title fights as well as the ABA's then why not the olympics. It hosted the Team GB v Team USA Amatuer show last year and was fantastic. I believe it can hold about 4000-5000 so wouldn't be a problem there or are they thinking they need 15,000 seats?


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