Duncan Mackay

Readers of insidethegames and The Independent on Sunday will not be strangers to the fact that I heartily endorse the appointment of Hugh Robertson as the new Minister for sport and the Olympics.

He will do a great job, but I’ll tell you how he could be doing an even  better one - from inside the Cabinet. What a pity David Cameron did not have the bottle to go where all previous prime ministers have feared to tread and give sport the status it deserves with its own seat around the No 10 table.

Cameron now resides in his shared Downing Street accommodation on an Obama-like ticket of "Change." But we have to ask if sport has been somewhat short-changed. The new PM and his Lib-Dem sidekick Nick Clegg (are there echoes here of Clough and Taylor or the other Taylor and Phil Neal?) have missed a trick by again lumping sport together with media and culture under the roof of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Here was a perfect opportunity to give sport, which Cameron has acknowledged as being important to society, health and the economy, and now with the added governance of the Olympics, its own full time ministry.

True, there is a new Secretary of State who nominally can speak up for sport, as there have been under previous Labour and Conservative administrations. The "overlord" is now Jeremy Hunt, a nice enough chap whose only known contribution to athleticism is a spot of lambada dancing. Cameron should have been bold enough to change the system and give sport what it deserves - a ministry of its own. Instead we have the same old tired setup.

We can only hope that Hunt  is a little more on the ball than one of his equally pleasant predecessors Chris (now Lord) Smith, a culture vulture whose knowledge of sport could be written on  the back of a Royal Opera House ticket. It was under him that the Wembley fiasco first unfolded, for which his Sports Minister underling, Kate Hoey, unfairly took the flak.

Sport, media and culture have never been the happiest of bedfellows and no Secretary of State should be required to wear three hats, or in Hunt’s case four, as he also has the Olympics in his portfolio. But I suspect sport and 2012 will be little more than photo opportunities for him, while Robertson does the real grafting.

I have no doubt that Robertson, who had earlier turned down promotion to more senior posts while in Opposition, and is a staunch Cameron supporter, could have sat comfortably and capably on a Cabinet seat. He’s one of the good guys in politics and has a grasp of what the job is about after five years robustly shadowing two Labour sports ministers, Richard Caborn and Gerry Sutcliffe, and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell. 

Chelsea fan Robertson, 47, was at the FA Cup final alongside his new boss, who elected to cheer for Portsmouth. A  keen club cricketer and hockey player he also stayed up for the early-hours Amir Khan fight and then watched the Twenty20 final. He will need such stamina with tough calls looming on 2012 funding and Olympic legacy.

Sport waits with anticipation - and some trepidation - to see what the new Government has in store. London 2012 has already been told that the Olympic budget may not be ring-fenced - although I doubt that with the importance of London putting on  a show that must impress the world  there will be anything but the odd fiscal tickle.

But sport has no reason to escape the belt-tightening that is about affect the nation as a whole. There will be cuts in several areas, not leas the bureaucracy of Government-backed bodies UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sports Trust.

All may face staff reductions, some synergy of accommodation and working arrangements and even salary caps. Any left-leaning imbalance on the composition of these bodies is also likely to be rectified, and we await with intrigue as to how the proposed new "Schools Olympics" will fit in with Gordon  Brown’s favourite baby, the UK School Games, of which ex-Sports Minister Caborn is President.

Robertson is a genuine sports fan who will have empathy with those who play the game - in every sense. He has already been pitched in at the deep end with Triesmangate, which ,as you would expect from a new boy, he has handled with circumspect diplomacy. Yet make no mistake ,the MP for Faversham, in  Kent, is no soft touch. As a former Army officer for ten years he saw active service in Northern Ireland, the Gulf war and in Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo. He will be ready to engage in battles with any uppity governing bodies if necessary.

I doubt that football will have the same cosy rapport it had with the Labour administration under the new coalition. Knighthoods and peerages will not be handed out quite so freely to bosses of the Beautiful Game though should England win the World Cup no doubt it will be "Sir" Fabio with a deserved an honorary dubbing.

There is on other matter which needs to be immediately addressed. You mighty call it: How do you solve a problem like Tessa?  What to do with Ms Jowell, the deposed Olympics Minister? She had established an affable working relationship with Seb Coe despite their different political hues .No doubt she will and will be bitterly disappointed if she no longer has any connection with 2012 after initially twisting the arm of a reluctant Tony Blair to back the London bid and subsequently fighting her corner with a testy Gordon Brown, who always had deep reservations about the value of the Games and nightmares about the cost.

Interestingly London2012's chief executive Paul Deighton says: "It is a pity if all the work Tessa has done, and her enthusiasm, experience and expertise should be lost. It is something we should think about."

I hope they do, for it would be easy enough to create a suitable  ambassadorial role for Jowell. The difficulty is that she could not be the shadow Olympics Minister as well. However, the solution might be to give her a peerage, which surely would raise few objections. After all, the good lords Coe and Moynihan, who both sit as Tories, held London 2012 posts under a Labour administration. And coalition is the name of the political game these days.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics.