Jonty Clarke: England hockey team making progress but no-one is complacent

Duncan Mackay

Welcome to the England Hockey men’s team blog. I’m Jonty Clarke and have been playing senior international hockey since 2003. I’m a forward and one of two accountants in the team, but don’t let that put you off!

Currently, we’re between tournaments. The World Cup was in India in March, where we finished fourth and beat Australia along the way. In good old English tradition, however, we lost our semi-final to Germany. Having started the tournament very strongly, we were extremely disappointed to come away without a medal.

We’re training hard right now, aiming to peak for the Commonwealth Games in October, but also with one eye on the Champions Trophy in July. This tournament is held for the top six teams in the world; our finish at the World Cup secured our qualification for the tournament, which will be held in Mönchengladbach, Germany.

Some of us aren’t training hard at all, actually. Key defender Richard Mantell, for example, broke his ankle during the World Cup match against Pakistan, so he’s out. His brother Simon, however, who missed the whole of the World Cup, has now recovered from a broken metatarsal and has resumed training.

Barry Middleton - the captain - and Ashley Jackson - the World Young Player of the Year for 2009 - are finishing their club season in Holland, where they play professionally. Their club HGC, from the Hague, has made it into the play-off final against last season’s European champions, Bloemendaal. Both play key roles for their team, with Ashley finishing as the top scorer, in what is widely regarded as the strongest league in the world. We certainly look forward to their return to the England squad.

Aside from that, there are a number of people nursing other injuries, largely as a result of the heavy running sessions that we’re going through right now. Some players seem to make it through all the tough times, however, like our very own "iron man" Ali Wilson and goalkeeper James Fair. It is very rare to see those guys sitting on the sidelines.

It’s a stressful time for some of the younger guys in the squad, such as Ali Brogden and Richard Smith, who have exams at university. Nick Caitlin, for example, the youngest member of the team from the World Cup, is studying history at Nottingham University. He thinks life is tough at the moment, but I remind him that he isn’t doing too badly compared to those of us who are working full time as well as fitting in all the training.

Nottingham is home to Ali Wilson, Adam Dixon and George Pinner, who all play for Beeston Hockey Club, which is playing host to the Women’s Champions Trophy and a men’s four nations invitational tournament in July. These guys hope to be fit and healthy and to be selected for that invitational tournament. Playing in front of your home crowd always adds something special to the experience of playing for your country.

Before we get to Nottingham, we’re travelling to Holland for two friendly games against the Dutch. There’ll be a number of players hoping to get a chance to prove their point in those games and to get selected for the rest of the summer. Some of those guys hoping to get a chance to impress will be Richard Springham of Reading HC and Simon Egerton of Bowden HC. Both have been around the squad for a couple for years now and have had to be very patient in waiting for their chances.

Whether or not they get that chance is down to head coach Jason Lee. Jason has been coaching both GB and England since taking over a few months before the 2004 Athens Olympics. Following those games, there were wholesale changes in the player group, and Jason has been instrumental in taking us from 11th to sixth in the world rankings and to the Eurohockey Nations Championship gold medal in 2009.

Jason has quite a unique manner with the players and has changed considerably over the years. At first he was quite the dictator -until he instilled in us the habits that he sees as essential for playing at the topmost level. Now he allows us much more freedom on and off the pitch. He trusts that the squad has been together long enough and has enough experience to know what is acceptable and what is going to work and what isn’t. Obviously, he retains control and isn’t averse to pointing out in no uncertain terms when things are going wrong. Generally, however, he’s a pretty laid-back head coach these days.

As an accountant, I work for BDO, who have supported me through the last five years of my hockey career. Many in the squad have understanding employers, without whom committing to training would be a real problem.

Iain Mackay is a trainee accountant; Glenn Kirkham, Dan Fox, James Fair and Matt Daly are teachers; Nick Brother works in the city; Ben Hawes manages a Dutch clothing label in the UK; George Pinner works for a well-known chocolate brand based in Birmingham; and James Tindall is an electrician. Rob Moore has been known to do a bit of modelling in his time but generally is part of a group - including Ali Wilson, Adam Dixon and Simon Mantell - who seem to get by doing not a lot aside from the odd bit of coaching here and there.

Clearly, there is a broad mix of backgrounds and interests within the squad, but we have a fantastic team spirit. There’s a shared dry sense of humour among the group, and you won’t have to wait too long to hear a healthy dose of sarcasm and probably a few quotes from The Office. It’s either that, or everyone laughing at the latest antics of Richard "Ratman" Alexander, who always seems to relish in being the centre of attention when it comes to mucking around.

Forward Jonty Clarke represented Britain at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and has been capped 28 times by GB

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Andy Pink: The British are Coming!

Duncan Mackay

When I last blogged we, the Great Britain men’s volleyball team, had just taken our leave from the European Championships qualification tournament in Greece. This was no disgrace, rather we gained not only the invaluable experience of going close against the top teams in Europe but also the plaudits and respect around the volleyball world that we crave.

Since then we have begun to play in the yearly European League competition, which features two pools of four teams, comprising of two home and away fixtures before a final four playoff weekend to decide the winner. 

Our pool is a tough one. It includes former European Champions Spain, former European League winners Slovakia and a very strong Romanian team. Spain was nominated to organise and host the final four of this year’s European League and will therefore automatically get a place in the de facto semi-finals.

So, if we’re to achieve the goal we set ourselves of final four qualification, we will most likely need to finish top of our pool. After two weekends of play, I am pleased to report that we currently sit well poised in second place in our pool.

We opened the competition last weekend by hosting Slovakia at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. This Slovakian team had blown us out of the water a fair few times in the past, but we are a different kettle of fish these days. In front of a vociferous crowd, however, we fell to another heartbreakingly close 3-1 defeat in Saturday’s opening match. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m penning this little blog from a cramped economy seat on a British Airways flight high over Spain. Why does that matter?

Well, since that opening match against Slovakia we have played a further three matches in two countries, never mind the training, weightlifting and travel. In essence, I can’t really remember what happened in that first match. It’s often said that some athletes have a near-photographic memory of even the most minute events that occur during competition. In this case, however, I didn’t play very well, and sometimes those matches simply fade in the memory.

After reviewing the video of our loss to Slovakia, we realised that with just a few minor changes we could beat those guys - a result that simply wasn’t an option a couple of years ago. I could tell in the morning’s training session that the mood in the squad was good, and the gaffer had that look in his eyes he gets when he’s hatching a mischievous plan. The team took the hint and came out of the starting blocks on fire. We tend to play our best when we are fighting for every ball, every point, scratching and scrapping our way to winning ugly.

Without boring you with the details (you can read wonderful match reports by Programme Director Kenny Barton  by clicking here), we won the match 3-0. A fantastic result, and a much-deserved reward for everyone involved in the hard work behind the scenes. Coupled with Romania’s victories over a young Spanish team, we found ourselves in second position in our pool. What a difference a win can make.

Three days later we were on our way to Salamanca in Spain for the next two matches. Spain’s legendary coach, Julio Velasco, had decided to play pick and mix with his team selection in the first round of matches to let young but talented players cut their teeth at this level.

It’s always a guessing game in this competition as to who will turn up for the opposition because the team sheet doesn’t have to be made official until 24 hours before the first match. As expected, Spain made some changes from their losses against Romania.

However, our own Churchillian figure by the name of Brokking (pictured) was not to be outdone and sprung a surprise by giving Jason Haldane the weekend off and letting future star Dami Bakare show what he can do. Dami had a fabulous weekend and looked like a 10-year veteran of international volleyball.

The first match against Spain on Friday night could not have started any worse for Team GB. We were trounced in the first set (25-15). We just didn’t get into the match until the second set. I would have bet my life on a positive response from the boys and my, my, what a response it was. We hit back hard to the tune of 25-18. The match was now finely balanced. Somehow we managed to figure out two more ways to lose a set by the minimum number of points, with the final two sets finishing 26-24 and 28-26. If the volleyball world rankings were based on the ability to lose a set by two points, we would be world champions. I’m not sure I’ve seen Team GB that disgusted and angry. Ever.

One of the best parts of this competition, however, is that at this stage there is nearly always another chance to put things right - and we had a second match in Spain in less than 24 hours to try and do just that. 

Job done. A smash and grab 3-0 win that featured fantastic performances from Bakare and McGivern left Spain reeling. It wasn’t a pretty game, but all we care about is results and we’ll definitely take this one. Add Spain to the ever-growing list of countries that have fallen at the hands of Team GB!

Our next matches are at the K-2 Centre in Crawley against current table toppers Romania. A couple of victories will leapfrog us into first position at the halfway point of the competition, and we will spend a few days training hard in Sheffield to ensure that we are ready before we head down to Sussex. The rest of the European league has been put on notice. The British are coming.

Andy Pink, who plays for Bassano in Italy, is Britain's vice-captain. For more details on the matches at Crawley click here.

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Alan Hubbard: Seb Coe running just as hard as ever to promote London 2012 message

Duncan Mackay

Is there a busier - or better- bigwig in sport that Lord Sebastian Coe? Since the acquisition of the 2012 Olympic Games for London in  Singapore five years ago, clinched by his persuasive eloquence, his feet have not touched the ground , just ass they never appeared to do when he was at his athletic zenith.

Goodness knows how many miles he has flown, hands he has shaken or speeches he has made in the cause of selling the London Games to the world - as well as Britain.

This week he invited me to join him for a day “on then run” so to speak, and believe me, it is all go with Coe.

We left on the 8.10am from King’s Cross to Leeds, where sport’s supreme travelling salesman was embarking on another retailing mission, this time to deliver the message to people in Yorkshire that  while the Olympics and Paralympics are a capital idea, it is not just London which can profit from of staging the biggest sporting show ever held in Britain.

To this end LOCOG (The London Olympic Games Organising Committee), which he chairs,  have initiated a number of schemes to encourage cities, towns, villages and communities throughout the UK to play their part in making 2012 a national celebration and convince them in Coe’s words "that this is a momentous opportunity for British business in the current economic climate."

He expands on this as we head northwards to what the London-born Coe, claims as is actually his manor - Yorkshire. "I have always regarded it as my home county," he says. "It was where I learned my trade as an athlete. I was at school in Sheffield, did most of my early athletics there, went to university in Loughborough and my mother was Indian so I don’t naturally view the world from inside the M25. 

"From the outset, even before we won the bid, I was trying to convince people that however compelling the story was, this could not be seen simply as 200 acres of re-generation in East London. There had to be a relevance to the people in Truro and Stornaway.  We set up these programmes in the early days to drive this message into their own back yards, modelling it on the nine English regions, plus Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  We involved all sorts of people and organisations from local MPs, sports bodies, schools and health authorities. The whole idea was to inspire another generation for sport.  For me this has always been the template.

"In Yorkshire some 28 businesses have picked up contracts in connection with the Olympics. Everything from construction to publishing, several hundred millions pounds worth of business.  When you think we have to procure about a million pieces of sports equipment, 16,500 shuttlecocks, 146 weight lifting bars, 30 horses for the modern pentathlon, that we have an Olympic village to furnish with 17,000 beds - that is an example of how British businesses can profit from the Games in London. 

"I recognise that when I go to Stornaway for instance, there aren’t too many people there who are going to be at the Games. But there are businesses there, like Harris Tweed and chocolate manufacturers who can benefit. They can use the Games as a showcase."

He adds: "It is also a fact that the further you get from London, the more creative the ideas for involvement with the Games. When we went to Stornaway,  an hour’s flight from Glasgow, I opened the Western Isles Primary Schools track and field meeting. It had a big Olympic focus. I used to bitch about sitting on the North Circular road for 45 minutes on the way to Haringey on a Tuesday night, but some of these kids had got up at four in the morning to come by ferry. When you sit and talk to them between events, they are absolutely focused. There is a huge awareness about the Olympics so this is really what these days are about.

"It is really important that the Games leave a legacy - and much of that legacy must be outside of London. When  people ask ‘Is there really anything in it for us?’  My job to persuade them that there is."

He does so with zest and style as we visit a business conference in Bradford, where he also meets a number of 2012 Young Ambassadors displaying fabric work highlighting the Cultural Olympics, and at Lister Park  is mobbed by hundreds of Yorkshire schoolkids ,among them  a group of cheerleaders waving vibrantly coloured pom-poms, at a sports day. He hands over plaques and certificates, starts a cycling demonstration and then lustily yells encouragement as runners pound the grass track in a 400 metres race.

As he inspects projects they have prepared for him, chatting with the kids and glad-handing the dignitaries, it is with dexterity borne of the politician he once briefly was. Handed a microphone, he slips into oratory overdrive. "Things come alive when I get out of London and come to places like this," he assures them. "We’ve got the Games, we’ve got the structure, we’ve got the strategy. Now it is over to you and your local communities to pick up the baton."

Another project is to encourage youngsters to understand the media contribution to the Olympics. It is called ‘Supporters to Reporters’, in which school children turn journalists and today, naturally they wish to interview him. "You always ask much tougher questions than the real journos," he laughs. One of them comes from nine year Chloe Powney from Our Lady of Victories School in Bradford.  "Who do you think was better - you or Steve Ovett?" As ever, Coe is supremely diplomatic. "I think we were both better at different times."

On our whistle-stop tour there is hardly had time to catch a breath and barely time to snatch a sandwich - or in 53-year-old Coe’s case, half a pork pie. 

Everywhere he is greeted like royalty and in sporting terms, he is probably the closest to royalty that we have. In Shipley, at he stops by a local pool to present a certificate to 13 year-old Sam Thornton, a Tom Daly wannabe who wins approval as he executes a perfect back two and a half somersault with tuck. "What advice would you give me?" the dripping-wet, red-headed lad asks. "Listen to your coach and just live your dream," he is told."

Finally, it’s back to Bradford where he is joined by the new Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson for more speeches and presentations this time at the 500th Inspire Network project, which rewards smart and creative ways to promote a 2012 connection.

On the 4.05pm back to London, where Coe is dashing to yet another evening of flesh-pressing with a major Games sponsor, he chews over that inspirational aspect of the Games with Robertson. "They question people most ask me is whether they are worth it," he says. "Believe me, with every day that passes it seems a better deal."

It has been a day of endless interviews and  photo opportunities, all of which he undertakes with patience, charming everyone as he signs autographs and poses for "just one more please Seb"

"He’s not at all uppity for a lord, is he?" one bystander had remarked at Lister Park.  In the 30 or more years I’ve known him, uppity is certainly not a word you could ever associate with Coe.

The good lord has always had a neat sense of humour, too. On the road from Leeds to Bradford we pass a pub curiously named the Cock and Bottle. "Hmm," muses Seb. "Sounds like a dope testing centre."

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

Mihir Bose: IOC voting system more rigorous than FIFA

Duncan Mackay

So when will USA withdraw its bid from the 2018 World Cup and concentrate on getting 2022 for the States?

On the day of the FIFA Congress, immediately after Australia withdrew from 2018, rumours swept  Sandton, the once exclusive white suburb now dominated by the huge statute of Nelson Mandela where the good and great of football have gathered, that the USA was about to pull out.

After all, why bother with 2018 when everyone knows that the entire FIFA Executive is agreed that 2018 must come back to Europe?

I never thought that USA would just follow the Aussies, not straight away in any case.

I believe USA will withdraw to concentrate on 2022, but that will not be until October. That month the FIFA Executive meet to decide the mechanics of the voting system.

Now you may think this is a trivial issue but it is actually very important. And in the race for 2018 and 2022, it could well prove quite crucial. The decisions made at that meeting will shape the deals which will decide these races.

For a start FIFA, being FIFA, its voting system is not quite as clearly set out and rigorous as that of the IOC. Recall back when Korea and Japan were bidding for 2002 and it looked as if Korea might win. João Havelange, then President, having promised Japan the competition, just decided there would not be a vote. The result: both countries shared the competition and Havelange justified it by saying it was necessary to save the face of the loser.

Sepp Blatter, his successor, cannot quite pull of anything like that. In an IOC vote on bidding cities, the IOC member from the country bidding cannot vote until his or her city is eliminated, but there are no such restrictions in FIFA.

Hence the famous remark of Craig Reedie, one of Britain’s IOC members, that his great wish was to go through an IOC vote on cities and never be able to vote, a wish he fulfilled in Singapore in 2005 when London won. In contrast, Geoff Thompson, the British member of the FIFA executive, is the one vote England can count on for definite.

Also, in an IOC vote on cities, the city with the lowest votes is eliminated and the members then vote again on the remaining candidates. This can lead to curious situations.

Take the vote in Moscow in 2001. Everyone knew Beijing was odds on favourite, despite attempts by Paris and Toronto to argue that China's totalitarian system should not be rewarded. Istanbul was also in the race and nobody gave the Turks a chance. But the night before, the Turkish member of the IOC went round IOC delegates and said, "I know we will be beaten but please do not humiliate us." And amazingly, in the first round while Beijing was miles ahead, Istanbul came second, beating Paris and Toronto which pleased the Turks no less. Clearly they had benefited from a sympathy vote by IOC members, confident it would not stop the Games going to China.

However, such tactical voting can go wrong, as it did when Chicago lost out to Rio last autumn for 2016. Some of the Asians who were for Chicago voted for Tokyo in the first round. They were persuaded by Japanese pleas that while Tokyo knew it would lose, it did not want to be humiliated. In the process it was Chicago who sensationally got dumped.

And this is where the voting system FIFA decides in October becomes important.

Normally, for such votes FIFA executive members are given a card with the names of the countries bidding. But with two bids being voted on at one meeting, will they given one card or two?

Remember, while all the non-Europeans, barring USA, have withdrawn from 2018, all the Europeans, including England, are technically still in the race for 2022, so a voting card for 2022 would also have to carry their names.

And how exactly will the vote take place? They first fill in the card for 2018, then get another card and vote immediately on 2022? Or is the result for 2018 declared before they vote on 2022?

More, how are the FIFA Executive members told about 2018? Are they told only the continent that has won? Are they told the name of the country? Are they given the details of the vote?

All these details matter because they can make or break deals. In an IOC vote, members are told which city has been eliminated but not the voting figures. This makes it more difficult to switch votes with confidence between various rounds. This may explain why, when London won in Singapore, Madrid's vote went down between the rounds when you would have expected it to go up, much to the amazement of Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Samaranch, to his dying day, remained convinced that, had Madrid not Paris got into the playoff with London, Madrid would have won. London too feared Madrid. The shout of joy that went up in the British camp when Madrid got eliminated was one of relief. And who is to say this happened because some Madrid supporters, not knowing the exact figures, pressed the wrong button in the round which eliminated them?

With the USA bid committee led by former President Bill Clinton, the Yanks will know a thing or two about deals. They will look closely at the voting procedure FIFA decide in October and then make their announcement that they are concentrating on 2022.

America will go into any deals knowing it has three solid CONCACAF votes. At the CONCACAF Congress last week here in Johannesburg, the English presentation led by David Dein who opened the batting followed by Andy Anson, was by common consent the best. The CONCACAF delegates I met were positively drooling about it, far better than a poor Russia and a even poorer Spain-Portugal. But at the end of it Jack Warner, CONCACAF’s leader, said, "Our three votes are for the USA."

But come October and the voting system known, America can then look at its options. It will then be in a position to make a deal with the strongest European challenger. 

Let us say by October there is an European country - Russia, Spain-Portugal or England - with six votes. I discount Belgium-Netherlands because I do not believe they stand much of a chance. For the USA, its bargaining power is immense.

This is how I see the conversation going. The Americans say to the strongest European, "We give you our three, which takes you to nine and in an almost impregnable position [a winner requires 13 to win] and you give us your six which makes us very strong for 2022."

The deal done, the USA withdraws saying how it welcomes 2018 coming back to the old world, all the time confident that 2022 will go to the new world.

It is worth stressing that an European-USA deal has been talked about for a long time. Michel Platini President of UEFA, discussed it with Sunil Gulati, President of the US Soccer Federation, more than a year and half ago. This was also something that Lord Triesman was working on, hoping to persuade Platini that England was the strongest of the Europeans.

The USA is certainly using the South African World Cup to make its public presence felt. Before they left the States, the entire team, including the players, were at the White House, Obama next to Clinton. It is rare in the US for an ex-President to be seen with a current one except on formal occasions like funerals.

Blatter was also entertained at the White House by Obama. Then here in South Africa, Joe Biden, the Vice-President had a good pow-wow with Blatter. Clinton will be here towards the end, as will Henry Kissinger and Spike Lee, the Americans combining power and Hollywood glamour.

In many ways, the USA's pitch is similar to that of England: after all the excitement of South Africa, a new continent and all that, come back to safety and security, well organised events, that will also be very profitable. And the more problems the South Africans have, in transport, in stewards walking away from sites, the more the attractive USA becomes compared to its 2022 opponents where Qatar is making  most of the running.

At the end of the day, the winners in 2018 and 2002 will depend on deals made after FIFA announces the voting procedure in October. And the Americans will do all the running on this.

How ironic, the new world will decide which country of the world has 2018. It will show football is like politics after all.

Mihir Bose is one of the world's most astute observers on politics in sport and, particularly, football. He formerly wrote for The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph and until recently was the BBC's head sports editor. His latest book, "World Cup 2010 South Africa: the Teams, the Players, the Venues", is available now

Lynne Beattie: Making progress on road to London 2012 but more help needed

Duncan Mackay

One of the many joys of being an international volleyball player is the opportunity to travel the world - even if that does mean getting up at 2.45am to board the team bus to Manchester Airport en route to our next competition destination - Kladovo, Serbia.

On arrival, we’re greeted by temperatures of 36°C and a shiny Mercedes Benz coach. The following four-hour journey turned out to be a kamikaze, white-knuckle ride on a cliff-top road along the River Danube, with the driver approaching terrifying speeds.

That treat was compounded by the absence of a single "comfort break" for the entire four hours. Quite a challenge for most people, let alone a team of female athletes who had to stay hydrated for the evening training session that awaited them!

Finally arriving at the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised. The place was great, the food delicious and our hosts were very welcoming. Post-lunch, we headed off for a swift power nap to revitalise minds and bodies for the evening training session.

Anticipation and excitement are common feelings on arrival at a competition venue and as we glimpsed our opposition, most of them towering more than 6 feet tall, it was time to focus on the task at hand - beating Serbia, ranked tenth in the world.

Now, we’re used to training in Sheffield with temperatures of around 15°C, so it took a while to acclimatise to the stifling heat of the Jezero Sports Hall. Despite that, the training session was focused and highly competitive.

Next morning, the temperature had soared to 38°C, and in the sports hall most of us were sweating ever so slightly more than normal. Cue our stat-man Matt, who doubled up as our floor mop for the day. Once that was sorted, the training session ran like clockwork and we were ready! The team’s mood was extremely upbeat as we left for the hotel for a couple of hours’ downtime.

Back at the sports hall for the match, we were met by TV crews and Serbian children asking for photos and autographs. We could already hear the crowd. Pre-match, our dressing room routine always includes loud music, a sing-along and lots of banter! It was going to be tough to beat a very tall and experienced Serbian team, but we were quietly confident.

Entering the arena, the 2,000-strong home crowd was chanting songs and a brass band pounded out tunes. We could barely hear ourselves think. What an atmosphere! If only we could get a crowd like this to our home games in Britain. 

We played some really good volleyball despite a disappointing 3-0 loss. Serbia struggled at times to handle the speed and variation of our offence. We surprised them with combination plays, defended some amazing balls and blocked some of the best players in the world. Not the result we were looking for, but everyone thought we could take some sets in the the following day’s match.

Today’s training started at 9am and focussed on offence!  Again, the tropical climate of the Jezero Sports Hall was challenging, but we trained with a confidence and belief that we could win sets and, hopefully, our first match of the season. 

The opening set was one of the best sets we’ve ever played. We took risks, trusted in our game plan and executed our skills well. As we approached the business end of the set, however, Serbia grew in confidence and closed it out. We weren’t disheartened: we’d just proved we could compete against this team. We went into the second set on a high but started to make mistakes that left us with a huge points deficit. Battling on, we caught them up, but the pressure of the Serbian serve was the difference between the two teams and resulted in another 3–0 win for Serbia.

Yes, the results didn’t materialise, but we’re really proud of our achievements this weekend. The progress we’ve made since playing Serbia one year ago is astonishing. It has given us confidence in the hard work we’re putting in every day and makes us even more determined ultimately to win matches against Serbia.

Despite the progress we’ve made as a team since the beginning of the GB programme in 2007, recent funding cuts mean that we’re desperate to find a team sponsor to help finance our programme on the road to London 2012. We need to play more matches to help us continue to progress. If we don’t find sponsorship or additional funding, our dream of competing at London 2012 will be destroyed. So we urge you, please, to help us in any way you possibly can to keep this dream alive.

Come along to K2 Crawley on Saturday and Sunday this weekend (June 19 and 20) to support us in our next European League matches against Bulgaria. If a small town in Serbia with a population of 30,000 people can get 2,000 fans to support their national team, surely a city like London with a population of 7.5 million can do the same. Support Team GB!

Lynne Beattie, 25, is the captain of Britain's volleyball team. For more details on the matches at Crawley click here.

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Kenny Barton: Volleyball has moved faster than any other sport in the build-up to London 2012

Duncan Mackay

We are watching the GB men’s volleyball team turn into something special. With table-turning wins over two of Europe’s top teams in successive weeks, the signs are there of growing strength and self belief in our young squad. We made history. Last weekend we defeated Spain, the 2009 European League runners-up. The weekend before that we scored a famous victory over Slovakia, the 2008 European League winners.

All from a standing start in 2006 with no tradition, no infrastructure, no players, no coaches, only ambition and the Holy Grail of the 2012 Olympics. I might be accused of bias, but no Olympic sport has moved so quickly from nowhere to serious competitiveness, gaining plaudits across Europe, than we have.

There is further to go, as acknowledged by our Dutch coach, Harry Brokking, but the three set defeat of Spain (25-22 26-24 25-22) in Salamanca last weekend in the CEV European League, avenging a loss the previous day, was a demonstration of this squad’s powerful resilience.

As the Spanish Samba band were whipping up the crowd into a Latin frenzy aided and abetted by El Toro, the Spanish Mascot, it was obvious the home crowd were demanding a second straight victory over the British underdogs. But despite the Spaniards racing to a three point lead with lightning fast services followed by huge blocks, GB scrapped for every point.

Empowered by the total support from their subs corner, the visitors were responding magnificently to the incessant beat of the Spanish percussionist. That’s when I found myself thinking: Does anyone know a Samba band from the Crawley area? If yes, please contact me immediately and prepare to bring your drums to the K2 Crawley Arena next Saturday, June 19, home Euro league match-ups when Romania and Bulgaria will be the visitors, men’s match at 3.00pm and women’s at 6.00pm

That is the way it works in British volleyball. All hands to the pump. Everything we can do to make this deserving team more successful, we are pledged to do, alongside the funding we receive from UK Sport. We were rewarded last weekend with the sight of opposite, and Sheffield dental student, Dami Bakare, leaping higher than seemed physically possible, hovering in the air and completing monstrous stuff blocks which must have looked like a total eclipse to the attacking Spaniards.

It was a glimpse of his huge potential leading up to London 2012. The Spanish women’s team coach was sitting near me while we watched the match. When he saw how high Dami could jump he just laughed and gasped. It was probably the best response.

Super quick Rio-born Mark "Samba" Plotyczer was sensational, working overtime in passing and attack. The higher-ranked Spanish had no answer to him and could not quite manoeuver their big guns  into attacking positions to inflict real damage to the GB defences. The marauding British took the second set 26-24 , and nostrils were twitching as they scented a famous victory.

Surely the Spaniards could not be so soundly beaten in their own back yard? With the game on live TV and being beamed across Europe, it came down to the moment when Mark McGivern, hanging around in the middle, managed to get the third fingernail of his left hand to thwart a last ditch tip attack from the Spanish to finish the match and secure the 3-0 victory.

What a difference a year makes. There was a time when the team was so young and raw that they would lose matches by huge margins. But the professionalism and attention to detail of Brokking and assistant coach, Joel Banks, has transformed the fortunes of the team.

As Brokking said post-game: "I am very happy with the result and, of course, it keeps us in the race for the Final Four. There was a lot of tension in the players after the loss yesterday, so it was a good win, with better serving and blocking than the day before." The team learns quickly. It has to.

Julio Velasco, the renowned coach of the Spanish team lamented that injuries that forced him to play a young side. What he didn’t know was that our GB team was even younger. 

GB Captain Ben Pipes said: "I’m obviously delighted, it was a big turnaround from a 3-1 loss yesterday to a 3-0 win . it was like déjà vu from last weekend when we beat Slovakia 3-0 on the Sunday match at EIS Sheffield.

"We are massively looking forward to the matches next weekend in Crawley when I’m hoping our crowd are as loud as the Spanish were today. It is important that the two matches in Crawley against Romania have become must-win matches, and it is entirely within our own hands to qualify for the final four in Guadalajara in July."

So, to repeat my plea, can someone find us a Crawley Samba band before next Saturday?

Kenny Barton, a former captain of Scotland, is the Performance Programme Manager of British Volleyball, overseeing all aspects of the delivery of the programme from budgetary control to decisions on tournament entries in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics. Tickets for match, priced £8 for adults, and £4 concessions, are available on the door.    

British Volleyball is represented by

Cathy Wood: Windsor Triathlon demonstrates sport's incredible growth

Duncan Mackay
Driving along the M4 for one of the highlights of the domestic triathlon racing calendar, the Nokia Windsor Triathlon, the competing triathlete isn't hard to spot.

It's not the sticker in the back of the car or even the type of vehicle they drive.

It's the gleaming frame dangling from the bike rack or the shiny new wheels pressed against the rear windscreen that give the game away.

In recent years triathlon has become increasingly visible as a sport and attractive to its participants.

It wasn't always so. 

Almost 20 years ago, when the fitness boom in the UK was in its infancy, the very first Windsor Triathlon took place amid some cynicism.

"Trying to get people involved was like missionary work," says John Lunt, the founder of  Human Race, an events company now putting on more than 30 events a year including half and full marathons, open water swimming races, duathlons and triathlons, including Windsor.

In the early 1990's the idea of swimming 1500 metres in the Thames, then cycling 40km around Windsor before finishing off with a 10 kilometres run didn't attract much enthusiasm or interest.

Just 200 trail blazers lined up for the first Windsor race in 1991.

This June Windsor celebrated its 20th running with 2,500 athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes willingly plunging into the Thames knowing they were the lucky ones.

It's a race which has long been one of the most prestigious events on the summer calendar, and all 2,500 slots for the 2010 event sold out within three weeks of online registration opening. 

Another 1,200 were on the waiting list.

"If you haven't done Windsor you haven't competed in all the big events in Britain," says Ian Parker, who's completed nine in total and now helps as one of a small army of volunteer staff.

Back in the early days, when triathlon was still relatively new, it was just the super fit who competed.

Today, while not a mass participation sport, triathlon, and Windsor in particular, caters for a range of athletes with varying experience and ability.

There are triathletes participating for charity, others who want to dip a toe in the water with the shorter, 'Sprint' distance (750m/29km/5.5km), age group competitors who start by age and gender and, finally, an elite field of 70 of the country's top triathletes who start at the end.

Today the sport's no longer the domain of a fit few. 

Instead a pre-race Expo features music, clothing and equipment stands, refreshments and a long line of massage tables for the eager triathletes.

And there's certainly no shortage of eye catching and, at times, eye wateringly expensive kit.

"It's totally changed," says Parker. "You used to be able to get your old bike out of the shed and compete.  Now you have state-of-the-art bikes and wetsuits."

Adrian Smith, director of Total Fitness Bath, one of the exhibitors at Windsor, agrees. "'I raced the first race," he says. "The kit I used was basic. Now everything is very specific."

And expensive.

"You get people who spend £4,000 or £5,000 on a bike," he says. Or there are those who want carbon front and back wheels and are happy to pay £2,000, or more, to have them.

"You can go crazy," Smith says. "But it's still the person pedalling the bike at the end of the day."

And as those gleaming machines and shiny wheels get put away for another day, the 2,500 or so athletes who own them probably feel a little sorer than they did at the start of the day.

And, no doubt, exhilarated at the achievement.

Happy Birthday Windsor Triathlon. 

Here's to the next 20 years.

Cathy Wood was editor of the Daily Mail Ski Magazine before moving to become ski correspondent on the Daily Mail. She later became travel editor before going freelance. She represented Great Britain at elite level triathlon and writes on travel, skiing and sport.

Alan Hubbard: Blazered bureaucrats endangering London 2012 dream of tiny Zoe

Duncan Mackay

Tiny teenage weightlifting sensation Zoe Smith continues to demonstrate that she is likely to be one of Britain's star turns in 2012, setting new records - now in excess of 200 - almost every time she heaves more than three times her own 9st body weight above her  head. The personable 5ft 2in Kent schoolgirl, just 16, is one of the most prodigiously talented young athletes in the country.

Yet earlier this year she had her funding suspended by World Class Lifting (WCL) following a dispute over her coaching programme, the governing body wanting her to move from her home to be under their supervision in Leeds, which would have taken her away from her personal coach, Andy Callard, and, as her supportive parents pointed out, disrupted her schooling. A pupil at Townley Grammar School in Bexleyheath she is no dumb belle, hoping to go to University to study languages.

After we drew the attention of funding body UK Sport to this daft situation it was quickly resolved. Or so it seemed. Last month Zoe, already the Commonwealth Youth champion, won silver in the European Youth Championships in Spain breaking the snatch record, the best performance by a British lifter in a decade as WCL themselves proudly boasted at the time.

This entitled her to be elevated to the next funding level but we hear this is now being withheld because written documentation for her training plan supplied by her coach, who has also been appointed as one of England’s coaches for the Commonwealth Games, is considered inadequate by WCL.

We understand that Callard has provided as much documentation as he feels able to and has explained that he doesn’t work to strictly written down plans - especially looking as far ahead as a year. WCL’s reaction has been to inform Zoe that  she must remain on basic funding and won’t be moved up to the next level that the Spanish result earned for her.

Strewth! Bureaucracy eh? The word that strangles sport with the red tape it represents. Surely Zoe(pictured), who began as a child gymnast, is too precious a talent to be weighed down by politics. She seems literally worth her weight in gold.

She is not alone in being a female lifter having her funding snatched away, so to speak. Michaela Breeze, who pioneered the women’s sport in  this country, is so peed off she has decided to quit after the Commonwealth Games in October and won’t try for a place at London 2012, which would have been her third  consecutive Olympics and a fitting finale to her splendid career.

Michaela, 31, expresses "great relief" at not having to work with the national weightlifting body, specifically Hungarian Tamás Fehér, the GB world class lifting lead performance coach, with whom Breeze has had a differences of opinion over the past 12 months. It is Feher that WCL originally wanted Zoe to work with.

This means Michaela will have to pay for herself in order to compete for Wales in Delhi. "It hasn't been an easy decision to make, but  I can't begin to tell you of the immense relief now that I've finally made up my mind,” she tells her local paper, the Plymouth Herald. "I have been proud to compete both for Great Britain and Wales, but after the national championships in June and the Commonwealth Games in India, that's me done. I'll definitely miss not being able to compete at the London Olympics, that would have been my third after Athens (2004) and China (Beijing 2008).

"There's so much I could say about the current governing body for British weightlifting, but suffice to say, I'll not miss having to following their programmes at all, in particular, the performance coach, who imposes these on us. It came to a point where I told him  last year, after suffering a string of injuries, that I wouldn't follow his programmes any more and would go my own way. Since then, my back has improved and so have my results.

"But, really, it's the entire leadership and organisation, the unnecessary pressure and unrealistic totals. But I am looking forward to it all being put behind me after Delhi and have already hit the qualifying mark."

Michaela, who won Commonwealth gold and silver for Wales adds: "I have now been officially dropped by World Class Lifting which means all funding and medical support will be stopping in the next couple of months. So I'll have to try and fund my own physiotherapy and everything else myself."

British weightlifting hasn’t exactly covered itself in Olympic gold dust over the years. So why is it that the blazered bureaucrats in minor sports like this always seem to want their competitors to conform? Don’t they realise it is usually the non-conformists like Zoe and Michaela who usually win the medals?

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

Gail Emms: To my surprise, I'm actually pretty good at fencing

Duncan Mackay

There are well over 30 Olympic and Paralympic sports, but how many can you honestly say you’ve tried?  Well, in the last month I’ve given fencing, goalball, boccia, taekwondo, handball and volleyball a go and I’ve had an absolutely brilliant time. 

I’ve been a bit outside of my usual comfort zone of a badminton court and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t particularly good at some of them, but that’s the beauty of sport - you don’t always have to be great at it to enjoy it.

In my role as an Ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust I’ve been visiting schools recently and trying my hand at new sports in support of Lloyds TSB National School Sport Week. 

The week takes place this month and is encouraging young people to try a new Olympic or Paralympic sport. Thirteen thousand schools across the country are expected to take part in the week involving around  four million children - it really will be a time to celebrate all that is good about sport.

I’ve already heard about some of the activities that schools have planned which will be motivating and inspiring young people. 

Some are holding opening and closing ceremonies and organising torch relays, others are planning inter and intra school competitions. All are living out the Olympic and Paralympic values. The range of sports that’s going to be on offer for young people is incredible.

New research shows that London 2012 excitement is already spreading amongst Britain’s school children despite the Games still being over two years away. Eight out of ten youngsters surveyed are excited about the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with six out of ten inspired to take part in more sport. Nearly nine out of ten school children are keen to try a new Olympic and Paralympic sport. That’s great news and shows why it’s so important for schools to give youngsters the chance to experience new sports during Lloyds TSB National School Sport Week.

I’ve always believed in the positive impact that sport can have on children. Alongside the obvious health benefits, it builds self confidence and self esteem, it develops social and personal skills and it can develop team work. These skills are so important for young people, not only on the sports field, but also in the classroom and in life once they leave school. 

Badminton was my sport of choice, but given the opportunity I would have loved to have tried a lot more sports when I was younger.  As for those I’ve given a go over the last few weeks - I’m not sure you’ll be seeing me competing in taekwondo anytime soon – I don’t think I’d cut it at the top level, but I’m a bit of a dab hand at fencing so watch this space for a possible Olympics comeback!

Gail Emms is an Olympic silver medallist and an Ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust, who is delivering National School Sport Week in partnership with Lloyds TSB. It will run from June 28 to July 2 in England and Wales with the Bank of Scotland National School Sport Week, in partnership with SportScotland, taking place for the first time between June 7-11.  All primary and secondary schools can register at Registered schools will receive a free teacher planning and activity pack, full of ideas to help plan their week and ensure the whole school can get involved.

Andy Pink: Return to Greece reminds me of passion of fans

Duncan Mackay

The second round of qualifying for the European Championships 2011 has started here in Heraklion, Crete. It is a pleasure to return to Greece for me. I played and lived in Athens for a season two years ago and really enjoyed this fascinating society. 


They are very proud of their heritage and culture and, as you may have read recently, are not afraid to voice their concerns with protests and marches. If the Greek people don’t like something, they let their Government know about it. All too often we British merely tut at something and carry on. 


I can only imagine what the Greeks would have done in response to the expenses scandal in the UK for example. 


However, at the moment there doesn’t appear to be much visible difference here in Crete. I'm assuming its due to the tourist trade, which judging by the amount of Brits flying in on various budget airlines, is still booming here.


Arriving here again, reminds me vividly of the series of violent clashes during my season  when a boy of 13 was shot and killed by the police under dubious circumstances. Then the clashes and protests lasted the better part of two weeks, and the streets of Athens were like a ghost town for a few days. The young boy’s funeral took places just minutes away from where I and my British team mate Mark "Samba" Plotyczer lived. We used to train amid the sound of police helicopters circling overhead and young men and women marching through the streets. 


There was also the very real and impending threat of violence at all sporting contests in Greece especially when the teams are associated with large football clubs. The club where Samba and I played didn't have a football team so we were lucky not to experience too much trouble during the season. However, the Greek police turned up en masse for every sporting contest just to be on the safe side, which led to a few matches where we had nearly as many riot police as fans present! 


Joking aside, the hatred between rival sporting clubs sadly does often cross the line with dire consequences. A few seasons ago a fan was stabbed and killed on the way to a women’s volleyball match between Panathanaikos and Olympiakos resulting in the suspension of all sports in Greece for a few weeks. 



In fact, just a month ago the Greek volleyball playoffs were put on hold due while the police diverted their resources to dealing with the economic strikes. They simply couldn't ensure the safety of the players. When the players got wind of this during the warm-up, one of the visiting teams ran off the court to the safety of the changing rooms. I should explain that at volleyball matches generally there are no away fans allowed, so a stadium full of rival fans who hate you and your team and your colours more than life itself isn't the safest place to be when there is no security. Say what you will about football in the UK, but it’s like going to a library compared to Greek volleyball, basketball or football.


Back to our matches against Finland, Greece and Latvia in Crete. As the underdogs, we lost them all but, believe me, it was so, so close. We played Greece in this round of qualifying just two years ago in which we lost three sets to nil, and each set was in the region of 25-10. We weren’t just outclassed, we didn’t inhabit the same planet. This time around, we lost to Greece - in Greece! - 3-2, and to a strong Latvian team by a grand total of three points over four sets. 


On the official statistics we were better in attacking, serving, blocking, and just about every other statistical tool used in volleyball.  I think we are all still trying to figure out how we didn't win the those two matches. When you add in our close defeat at the hands of eventual group winners Finland, we have lost a total of nine sets this weekend, and six of those sets were decided by a mere two to three points. In volleyball this is barely a quantifiable statistic. It could be as simple as one attack that grazed an opponent that wasn't seen, or one extra service error or what have you. We managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory so many times this weekend it really is incredible.


In the end, we have not qualified for next summer's European Championships and we also didn't achieve our goal of sneaking into the second position of our group which would have given us a second chance to qualify via a play-off system. We have, however, won ourselves many many plaudits over the six matches, and we know now that no matter who play against in future we have a full squad of players capable of causing opponents problems.


We should be winning these matches without question. We are all painfully aware that the final step in sports is the hardest one to make. It takes the most effort.  It requires the most sweat, the most blood, and sometimes, yes, the most tears. We are the British volleyball team. We represent 60 million people.  If there is one thing that people the world over know about British people, it is that when called upon we are lions. We are sick and tired of losing. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. You had better believe we will fight for that last step. 


We now head back to Sheffield to begin phase two of our summer programme, the European League. We play Slovakia in Sheffield this weekend as we start our group phase of this annual competition. Watch this space. 


Andy Pink, who plays for Bassano in Italy, is Britain's vice-captain.

Cathy Wood: Dame Kelly Holmes Olympic gold medals leaving a real legacy

Duncan Mackay

Cathy Wood_12-01-12It was a little after 9am on the Wednesday of half-term week and yet the queue to get into Filton College in Bristol already stretched out of the door and into the June sunshine.

They were queuing - 100 talented youngsters aged between 13 and 21 and the same number of parents, carers and coaches - to register for the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust (DKHLT) Backing Talent South West day.

It's the latest in a series of far reaching, ambitious projects, launched and directed by Holmes, the 800 and 1500m double Olympic gold medallist from Athens 2004.

Half an hour or so later the youngsters, who ranged in competitive level from county to international, filtered into the campus theatre to hear why Holmes started her charity and what to expect from the day ahead.

But before Holmes appeared the audience were reminded of those extraordinary six days in August 2004 when Holmes won her golden double.

Six years have passed but it's impossible to watch the replay of Holmes's look of utter disbelief as she crosses the line in the 800m, momentarily unaware of what she's achieved, and not be moved.

When the dust from that life-changing summer finally settled, Holmes faced the same question all elite performers must, at some point or other, answer.

What do I do next?

And how do I find meaning in a life where I no longer spend each day training to be the best I can in my sport?

What she came up with was a Trust which draws on the experience and example of elite past and present sportsmen and women, who may themselves be transitioning into new careers, to encourage, stretch and motivate multiple groups of young people.

These could be young sports performers, like those gathered in Bristol, or young vulnerable people who the Trust helps with placements, work opportunities and athlete mentoring.

What unites the work of the Trust is a core desire to inspire young people to fulfil their potential in life, and sport, and Holmes's own commitment to make a difference. 

She leaves those she touches with the sure fire belief that if you work hard, like she did and don't give up when adversity smacks you in the face, which it will, dreams really can, and do, come true.

Dame Kelly_Holmes_giving_lecture_12-01-12Once Holmes appeared on stage, to a captivated audience, she introduced the team of past and present athletes who would make the day ahead happen.

So double Olympic cycling medallist, Bryan Steele was the leader of one group of 25 young people while Adam Whitehead, the European and Commonwealth swimming champion led another. 

Alongside team leaders other athletes brought specific skills so former rower, and now businessman, Toby Garbett,  a double rowing world champion, taught the youngsters about the importance of a healthy lifestyle hoping to pass on information he wished he'd known at their age.

And, as a former international triathlete, I was invited to lead the media and communication groups aided by Sarah Winckless, who won a bronze medal in the women's double scull at Athens and who has just been named Chair of the British Olympic Association's Athlete Commission.

As I talked about how to deal with the media and what to expect at press conferences the young performers had burning questions of their own.

"Where should you put your hands when interviewed?" asked one netball player.

"Should you ever say, 'no comment'?" ventured another.

And then, out of the blue, "Who's the worst person you've ever interviewed?"

There's no contest on that one but since the person in question is still competing I decided not to share the answer.

When the 200 re-grouped at the end of the day, exhausted and yet at the same time exhilarated, the changes were evident.

For many the chance to meet a real life Olympian, touch a medal, or talk to an elite sports performer about their experiences will live long in the memory.

And as the day drew to a close, nine hours after it started, still they queued.

This time though it was to have their photo taken alongside Holmes or to ask her to sign the T-shirt each had been given as a memento of the day. 

Patiently, and with considerable charm, Holmes obliged them all.

And if that, together with the genuine commitment of world-class athletes to give freely of their time and knowledge to the next generation of young rising stars, isn't a real, lasting legacy I don't know what is.

Cathy Wood was editor of the Daily Mail Ski Magazine before moving to become ski correspondent on the Daily Mail. She later became travel editor before going freelance. She represented Great Britain at elite level triathlon and writes on travel, skiing and sport.

Darren Campbell: There is a volunteer inside all of us

Duncan Mackay

With it being Volunteers' Week, anyone who has ever played sport regularly, from grassroots to elite level, myself included, will have been helped, supported or come into contact with one of the country’s unsung army of volunteers. 

From officials, marshals, coaches, administrators, helpers, medical staff and first-aiders - the list goes on. Without all of them sport would not exist.

I am acutely aware of the role they have played through every step of my career and the hand they have had in my success.

But all too often this army of hidden volunteers are taken for granted because the assumption is that they’ll always be there, come rain or shine, morning or night.

People who give up their time, not to play sport, but to help others play, enjoy and compete are a rare breed and should be celebrated. They don’t do it for the glory or the recognition, but for the benefit of others.

Figures show that sport in the UK relies on more than 1.5 million volunteers and we are told that 75,000 people will be needed to make sure the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics can go ahead to the enjoyment of billions around the world.

Because these people are so passionate about what they do, there is often a tendency to think that there will always be a constant stream of dedicated volunteers coming into sport to replace those who are too old or simply unable to give up their time anymore because of commitments elsewhere.

Equally, there are members of the general public who have never volunteered, but would like to "if there was just one extra hour in the day" and they weren’t so busy with modern life.

I’d like to think that there is a volunteer in all of us.

Sometimes volunteering can come at a cost - if not financial, then via a commitment in other areas of life, such as time spent away from family.

The rewards though can be overwhelming and the sense of personal pride, achievement and joy in the knowledge that you’ve helped give something to someone - for nothing - is priceless.

Organisations like the charity I support, the Youth Sport Trust, which works to provide opportunities and experiences for every young people to develop through sport, are trying to make sure that the next generation of volunteers grows in number not shrinks.

I strongly believe that young people can be incredibly powerful leaders, acting as role models to their peers, often without even realising just how influential they can be. The Trust recognises just how crucial it is to tap into this natural resource and encourage these youngsters to identify the opportunities that exist for them within sport outside of just participating.

An example is the Trust’s TOP Link programme which encourages secondary school students to organise and manage sport festivals and competitions for primary or special school pupils - an initiative for young people, delivered by young people, if you like.

Elsewhere, the Step into Sport programme aims to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of young people engaged in volunteering and leadership. Recently in Loughborough at the University, around 300 teenagers spent three days improving their skills to become better leaders, coaches and volunteers at the annual Step into Sport Camp.

I was lucky enough to be there and experience for myself how much of an impact the camp had on this diverse range of young people.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that the lives of some of those attending will have been changed forever as they learnt more about themselves and their capabilities.

They will have made life-long friendships and developed key skills, such as teamwork, tolerance of others and humility, which will stay with them - all because of sport.

The Youth Sport Trust has also worked with a number of cities across the country, which all host major sporting events to recruit young volunteers from local schools running sports leadership programmes.

Importantly, the Youth Sport Trust is also helping schools deliver training for young leaders in sport.

Young people across the country who are leading the way, in terms of showing themselves to be incredibly positive and inspiring role models for their peers, are joining together as official Young Ambassadors - a scheme managed by the Youth Sport Trust and endorsed by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).

These 14-to-19-year-olds advocate the benefits of sport and health to other young people and are involved in a range of volunteering activities, including organising sports festivals, leading school assemblies, coaching and mentoring.

There is no question that London 2012 is helping to encourage more young people than ever before into leadership and volunteering, particularly in their schools and communities.

Elsewhere, young officials have been deployed in a number of major sporting events over the past year, none more so than at the annual Sainsbury’s UK School Games, while many governing bodies of sport now have a Young Officials programme.

This is all against the backdrop of a constantly changing environment for young people with more distractions than ever before.

Sport is fighting to compete with computer games, the internet, music, fashion and the world of celebrity, in terms of getting its share of the average young person’s time.

I believe it’s up to all of us to help do our bit to encourage more young people into volunteering - perhaps by setting an example and finding time to do more of it ourselves.

Darren Campbell is one of Britain's most successful-ever sprinters, including being a member of the 4x100 metres relay team that won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He is now an Ambassador for Sky Sports Living for Sport, a successful initiative run by the Youth Sport Trust in conjunction with BSkyB, which uses sport as a tool to re-engage young people who may be at risk of opting out of school life

Mike Moran: Athletes like Lou Zamperini make me proud to be an American

Duncan Mackay
Americans view our most recent national holiday, our Memorial Day, in countless ways related to their age, their birthplace, life experiences or the lives of those like their parents.

For many of us, it is the most solemn of our holidays, though we celebrate it by doing enjoyable things with our friends or families, from camping to sports events, from hiking to picnics, and from trips to the mountains to fishing in a quiet stream. It was the sme for for me, having just enjoyed a week in New York City with all its cultural and entertainment bounty.

Across our nation, smaller ceremonies were taking place at hallowed grounds, the cemeteries and graveyards where our servicemen and servicewomen lie at rest.

It is not lost, still, on millions of us who enjoy our lives and the endless possibilities, the enormity of what we owe these fallen Americans. My frame of reference remains World War Two and what this conflict did to shape my life and so many I know among my family and the friends of my youth, and to a lesser degree, the conflict in Vietnam of my 20s.

My father was whisked away to England and North Africa in the days following the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, along with the millions of other young men suddenly torn from their hometowns and families and thrown into the horror of a global war that changed the America we knew forever. He was in the US Army Air Corps at the time, later to become the Eighth Air Force, but unlike 405,000 others who gave their lives, he came home to resume his life in 1945.

For ten straight Sundays recently, I sat spellbound in my living room and watched the superb World War Two HBO Series, "The Pacific", produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg and based on the memories and books written by two Marine Corps vets who fought at Okinawa, Iowa Jima, Peleliu, Guadalcanal and other brutal, indescribable battles. This was the companion series to the acclaimed 2001 mini-series, "Band of Brothers", also from Hanks and Spielberg, but based on the experiences of the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Europe.

These two television series, in a perfect world, should be mandatory viewing for much of our youth, as well as some middle-aged Americans who take a lot for granted about their view of the American Dream, because once you have seen them, you will never take lightly your average day.

I was thinking this morning of one of those young men who served in the Pacific and who was also an Olympic athlete, Lou Zamperini. He's 93-years-old now, one of our oldest living Olympians, but his story is special.

I met him several times at fund-raising events and Olympic dinners over my years with the United States Olympic Committee, and every time I introduced him, I was riveted by seeing him and listening to him, for he is the quintessential hero. Fresh out of Torrance High in California and headed to USC, he made the 1936 Olympic Team and entered the 5,000 metres in Berlin, with all the ominous rumblings and dark shadows of what was to come for him and our world. He finished eighth in the race, but was invited to shake hands with Adolf Hitler at the conclusion of the event - something he remembered when he returned to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 2005.

Zamperini was a gold medal favorite for the 1940 Games in Tokyo after setting an American record in the mile run at USC in 1938, but found himself instead a bombardier in the Army Air Corps. In May, 1943, during a search and rescue mission 800 miles south of Pearl Harbor, his B-24 was shot down by Japanese fighters. He drifted for 2,000 miles on a life raft, surviving on chocolate bars, water, small fish, birds and ultimately, rainwater.

He and his two companion flyers kept their wits about them by doing quizzes, imaginary meals, singing Bing Crosby tunes (I can only imagine how many renditions of "White Christmas"). On the 33rd day of this ordeal, the tail gunner died, and on the 47th day, he and his buddy made it to land in the Marshall Islands and were taken prisoner by the Japanese.. He spent the next two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, moving from one camp to the next, and finally to the Japanese mainland.

Liberation came in September, 1945, for Zamperini. He authored a book on his experiences, "Devil at my Heels, A World War II Hero's Epic Saga of Torment, Survival and Forgiveness",  and about to be published in November is a novel by Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote "Seabiscuit", about his story.

Zamperini was a runner in the Olympic Torch Relay ahead of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the Relay leading to the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

He still lives in Hollywood and does motivational speaking and a film on his life is in development, with actor Nicolas Cage tabbed to portray his character. Other American sports heroes interrupted their careers to serve in the armed forces without regard for their safety or their cushy lives, notably Ted Williams, Bob Feller, and Jerry Coleman. Another 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris of Simla, Colorado and CSU, fought in the Pacific.

But some, like my hometown Omaha Benson High sports hero, Nile Kinnick, never made it home. When my father came home in 1945 to resume his life and work for his father's printing business, our neighbour across the street, a judge, welcomed home his son, Charlie Gietzen, who had flown Marine F4U Corsairs in the Solomon Islands battles, and he played catch with me on occasion as I grew up. As did my first boss at an Omaha TV station, another former Marine Corps pilot.

I spent some modest time with these memories this week as I do on this holiday each year, because they remind me of the gifts and limitless horizons the men and women who died in our service, and those who were fortunate to return, helped to make possible for me and most of my friends.

And it is why, from Lake Placid to Salt Lake, the playing of our National Anthem for an American Olympic champion, was so very inspiring and memorable for me. These athletes have stood atop the victory stand at the Games partly because of the sacrifice of the fallen in World War Two and Vietnam.  

Mike Moran was the chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003. In 2002 he was awarded with the USOC's highest award, the General Douglas MacArthur Award. He worked on New York's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and is now director of communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation.

Jim Cowan: Will Hugh Robertson bring end to "Initiative-itis"?

Duncan Mackay

Initiative what?

Initiative-itis. No, I haven’t made a word up, that was Hugh Robertson the new Sports Minister.

Mr Robertson was interviewed in a national newspaper earlier this month and the following is an excerpt: "Robertson sees the legacy of 2012 as his top priority. 'The lack of a tangible mass-participation sports legacy from 2012 is the single biggest sports policy challenge facing the government.'

"His solution will be an end to what he calls "initiative-itis", 'dropping little pots of money here and there without any coherence', and a shake-up of the way public money is delivered in sport. He is developing a five-point plan for his policy and details will follow, but the gist is clear."

To anyone who has an inkling of what genuine sports development planning looks like, this should be welcome news, that is despite the fact Mr Robertson appears to underestimate how widespread "initiative-itis" has become over the last decade or so. The fact is, in British sport it is at epidemic, if not pandemic levels.

It isn’t only little pots of money being dropped without coherence that have undermined long term sports development planning in the UK, it is also the way many in sport try to create solutions, plug gaps and achieve targets by simply creating more and more unlinked or poorly linked initiatives. The 21st century has seen literally thousands of them.

It has reached the point where for many working in sports development has been replaced with working in sports initiative creation and delivery. Indeed, for many who were not working in sport a decade ago "initiative-itis" has been their only experience of working in the industry. Many of them have progressed to management roles honestly believing the current way is the only way meaning Mr Robertson’s five point plan to rid us of the pandemic will need to address a considerable re-education process.

How bad is the problem? If we take the Olympic Games’ shop window sport, athletics, as an example we have not seen a national strategy for the development of the sport since UK Athletics was born out of the failed British Athletic Federation in the late ‘90s. In the same period we have seen initiative after initiative launched with little (apparent) thought given to even horizontal, let alone vertical integration of these programmes.

That is not to be critical of athletics' national governing body (NGB) for many other sports have delivered so called development programmes via a series of ad hoc, sounds good this week initiatives.

Some will say that these governing bodies have had proper development strategies, UK Sport and the Home Country Sports Councils will have demanded it in return for funding.

You would hope so but that hasn’t been the case. What the DCMS’s various sports delivery bodies have demanded were what they called "One Stop Plans" and "Whole Sport Plans" which were used to evidence how the NGBs would achieve Government targets through various initiatives in their sports. That is not the same thing as a strategy for the development of said sport. It is far too narrow in definition. Indeed in some sports consultation with the grass roots, where it exists at all, has become an irrelevance as the raison d’être of many has become solely the delivery of Government agenda.

In order to look at how things can be improved, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves of something called "The Sports Development Continuum" which is the name given to the four basic stages of sports development planning: Foundation, Participation, Performance, Excellence.

Note that the four stages are not isolated silos to be treated as separate from the other three. They are a continuum; an unbroken, fluid line runs through the four. And yet the NGBs are all answerable for funding to quasi-quangos established in such a way as to deliberately create a stepped approached in place of a smooth, staged continuum. And then, even within those silos further silos have been created.

In England, UK Sport has been responsible for elite sport, Sport England for grass roots sport and the Youth Sport Trust for school sport. Mr Robertson (pictured right) could save money and do sports development planning a huge favour by simply replacing these bodies with a single UK wide organisation for the development of sport and for distributing the funding thereof.

Logically, many NGBs have mirrored parts of this fractured structure and established UK bodies and Home Country bodies along the same lines. Initiatives have flourished where sound, continuum based planning has withered.

But there will be those who advise Mr Robertson that his aim of "a tangible mass-participation sports legacy" cannot be delivered via the sports development continuum model. They would argue that the sports development continuum model assumes a progression along the continuum which for most is simply not possible, that it focuses on the development needs of a talented elite few.

They are, quite simply, wrong. They misunderstand the application of the sports development continuum to planning. The continuum does not take individuals in at Foundation and seek to channel them through all the way to Excellence at its end, although it should offer that as both opportunity and aspiration to all.

What the continuum offers is a way into sport at every stage for everyone. It offers the opportunity to progress to those who want to at every stage. It offers the chance to stay and enjoy at each stage. It offers the chance to return to a previous stage to all on its path. And, being a continuum there are no clear dividing lines between the four stages, they blur, blend into one large process of sports development focused on the wants and needs of each individual.

Yes, within the continuum there could be any number of ‘initiatives’ but they will be designed to provide ways in and ways to progress on as well as ways to happily participate at each individuals’ current level.

Doing this properly demands a high level of strategic planning. Consider this list: Participants (those actively taking part); Facilities; Coaches; Officials (referees and umpires); Clubs; Schools; Higher & Further Education; Local Authorities; Communities; Equity; Events & Competition; Education & Training; Staff (paid and unpaid); Funding, Sponsorship & Commercial; Communications; Player Support Services (eg medical, educational, equipment, etc); Recruitment & Retention; And the list goes on and each of the areas stated can be further sub-divided.

Then consider planning that lot into a continuum based strategy to develop sport. It is not good enough to simply plan initiates for (eg) schools without considering the quality and availability of coaching, the links to the community and to local clubs or even the availability of clubs locally. What of competition provision or of the desire to pursue a sport enjoyed once the school child has experienced it? All of these elements and more need considering and properly planning.

And that planning cannot take place in isolation. There is little point in having a strategy for (eg) the development of coaching if it pays no heed to where, how many and of what quality coaches are both needed and wanted (not always the same). Then what of school plans which might create future demand? Then what get the picture.

A horizontally integrated strategy will cover everything needed to develop coaching but not necessarily to develop the coaching that is needed. To do that requires vertical integration of planning; that is planning that considers the implications of everything on everything! Go back to our list of areas requiring attention and consider planning in a vertically integrated way to cover the impact of each item listed on every other item listed. You soon begin to see why simply designing initiatives in the hope they will be successful is a system doomed to fail.

Consider the school in the East Midlands that offered its students a programme that included one sport that had no club or infrastructure within 30 miles. It’s like offering a taste of the Promised Land and then saying, "Sorry, you can’t have any more". Is this how we encourage people to take up AND stay in sport?

Or consider the local authority in Yorkshire which offered a summer full of initiatives for youngsters without discussing any of them with local clubs. Those clubs were then unready and ill prepared for the young people wanting to join turning a positive first experience into potentially a negative second one or even no second experience at all. Is this how we encourage people to take up AND stay in sport?

Then consider the club in Lancashire which ran such a successful recruitment campaign that it was swamped with young people wanting to join. Unfortunately they had forgotten that recruiting more youngsters would also require recruiting and training more coaches! Is this how we encourage people to take up AND stay in sport?

These are examples of where a decade or more of initiative led sports ‘planning’ has led us. We need to get back to strategy led; sports development continuum based planning if the resources of time, personnel and money are not going to continue to be wasted.

And vertically integrating planning would not just be better for the properly planned development of sport, it would also be beneficial to the nation’s purse as money is specifically, strategically targeted rather than thrown at piecemeal initiatives apparently randomly spawned by silo led horizontal thinking.

Mr Robertson’s desire to end "initiative-itis" should be applauded but doing so will require a huge shift in culture for those directing and managing sport in the UK and will demand significant restructuring. It is to be hoped his plans will be supported and not resisted.

Jim Cowan is a former athlete, coach, event organiser and sports development specialist who is the founder of Cowan Global, a company specialising in consultancy, events and education and training. For more details click here

Martin Corry: Inviting athlete input on anti-doping sends positive message

Duncan Mackay
Some of the recent back-page headlines have shown that, like it or not, anti-doping is part and parcel of being an elite athlete.

Whether it’s chasing a rugby ball for 80 minutes or running 200 metres in 20 seconds, the responsibility to compete clean remains a constant. I believe it is absolutely essential - this is why I applied to sit on UK Anti-Doping’s new Athlete Committee, and also why I was delighted to be successful.

It is vital that there are visible and open means of communication between athletes and authorities and, recognising this, UK Anti-Doping has made a real statement of intent by establishing the Athlete Committee - they want to work with us and not against us.

Since retiring from rugby in 2009, I have joined Premier Rugby Ltd in an advisory role and also sit on the Rugby Union Illicit Drugs Forum, which has introduced illicit drug education, testing, sanctioning and rehabilitation to support the Rugby Football Union's anti-doping policy, experience I believe will stand me in good stead as I take on this new challenge.

In 17 years of playing senior rugby, I was subject to regular testing not only domestically but internationally as well. As far as I was concerned it went with the territory and I was safe in the knowledge that I was being true to myself, to my team and to my sport.

However I am equally aware of the pressures players face in training, in matches and in the day to day demands of being a professional. With the correct education and the right approach, we can go some way to ensuring that anti-doping does not add to these pressures.

My own experience of captaining both club and country also ensures that I know what is required when acknowledging both sides of the coin. It is part of a skipper’s duties to represent your team mates to the management and vice versa, and I believe this is an apt comparison to make when considering the role of the Committee

Those selected represent a real cross-section of elite sport. It will be very interesting to share experiences and gain a different insight outside of rugby union, particularly from an Olympic and Paralympic perspective. It will also be great to discuss how the subject of anti-doping is best addressed. 

Athletes need to know that anti-doping is a two-way process and the Committee is one way of ensuring this message gets across.

I am very much looking forward to meeting my fellow members at our first gathering in August. Even though we are yet to sit down and start our discussions, I already know that there is one thing we all have in common - we are passionate about protecting sport, not just our own but in general.

Doping is cheating and there is simply no place for cheats. But on another level, it is only right that those who are expected to adhere to a rigorous anti-doping programme are given the opportunity to contribute opinion on what it entails. I feel privileged to play my part.

Martin Corry captained England's rugby union team from 2005-2007 and was a member of the World Cup winning squad of 2003. During his time with Leicester Tigers, the club won five league titles and two European Cups. He also won six caps with the British and Irish Lions. UK Anti-Doping is the national anti-doping organisation for the UK.