Alan Hubbard: Jacques Rogge should forget chess and put roller derby into the Olympics

Duncan Mackay

So, the newly-elected chairman of Russia’s Olympic Committee reckons it is time chess was added to the Olympic programme. Moreover, Alexander Zhukov says he will be putting pressure on IOC president Jacques Rogge for its inclusion, adding ominously: "Regrettably, the IOC  doesn’t want to add that sport to the Olympic programme, but we will insist."

Hmm. Interesting phraseology. Seems Mr Zhukov, a member of the  Russian cabinet and former head of Russia’s chess federation is making the sort of offer that sounds more in keeping with the Russian mafia.

But, of course, the IOC will refuse it? Won’t they? The overtures from chess have been on the table for some time, citing its global popularity, and it is known that there are elements within the IOC who  would like to see the Games become more cerebral.

But if they ever let in chess, where will it end. Scrabble? Poker? Backgammon? How about a spot of Sudoku?

All worthy and popular pursuits which might consider they too are worth an Olympic berth should chess get the nod?

But do any meet the IOC criteria of being telegenic? Goodness, if squash can’t get in because it apparently lacks visual appeal what chance does chess have?

No, what the Olympics needs is something that will quicken the pulses not slow them down to the point of nodding off. Which brings me to a sport which slots neatly into the philosophy of the modern Games:

Exciting, inexpensive to stage, great TV, commercially attractive and with a massive appeal to women. 

Think the opening of the doors on the first day of a Harrods sale as a horde of screeching females barge and bully their way towards the bargains, all  slam, bam and not so much as a thank you m’am. Put them on roller skates, dress them in fishnet tights, gold lame hot pants or mini skirts - not forgetting the gumshields and helmets - and you have Roller Derby, one of the fastest-growing contact sports, designed especially for women.

What is roller derby, you ask? Well, with Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It! recently released, the coming-of-age drama starring Ellen Page is propelling the sport to become one of the biggest hits of the year.

Last Saturday night the ticket touts were out in force in Tottenham, not for anything happening football-wise at White Hart Lane but outside the local leisure centre just down the road where the Steam Rollers met the Suffra Jets. This same venue also staged  Britain’s  first-ever roller derby international, between The London Rollergirls and Canada, before a capacity crowd.

Since the first roller derby league was launched in the UK four years ago virtually every match has been a sell-out, particularly in London where some 50 women of all shapes, sizes, age and nationalities spend a couple of evenings a week spinning around an elliptical track in pursuit only of points for each opposing player they pass. And if they can shove them out of the way, or even knock them down, so much the better.

Hands, knees and plenty of boomps-a-daisy. It’s speed skating with attitude for these hell-for-leather angels, and inevitably there are a few unladylike brawls between women whose more demure day jobs range from an accountant to a qualified to psychologist.
But once dolled up in their retro combat outfits they adopt alter egos, with accompanying stage names, such as Sleazy Rider, Bette Noire and Grace of Wrath.  

These are the ladies who crunch. It may not sound terribly Olympian, but with Rogge’s new accent on "yoof" and wanting to show the Games' feminine side, could Roller Derby’s time be coming?

Something which began in Depression-era America as a mixed sport but is now generally played only by women in 135 US leagues, is gaining popularity throughout Europe and with teams in a dozen British towns and cities.

So why become a Rollergirl? Preston-born Stephanie Ross, aka Correctional Felicity explains: "There’s not much else a 27-year- old can do when you want to take up a sport.  And as it’s girls-only sport you don’t get guys doing it who are better than you. It’s a full-on game. 

"You hit people really hard and get a lot of aggression out of your system.  Basically you hit them with your full body but you can’t hit their heads or their back or below the knee. You go for the shoulder or the chest. It’s a real adrenaline booster. You hit each other and then you go for a drink afterwards, a bit like rugby I suppose."

TJ Usher, (Dot Slash) is a former figure skater took it up after seeing a documentary called Roller Girls in the US. "I find it physically challenging, a good way to keep fit and make new friends.  You get rid of aggression in a controlled environment. I don’t like gyms, I find them boring, and there are no other sports that interest me. Fitness is the main thing, I reckon you can burn off about 500 calories an hour which for a woman is a good thing.  It means you can eat as many cakes as you want afterwards. As a sport, it’s cool.”

Not all Rollergirls are Amazons. Some mere slips of things, like Jess Holland, (Sky Rockit), a 26-year-old London journalist. "I played roller-hockey at university and read about London Rollergirls in Time Out.  I like the fact that it’s all girls and that you can dress up a bit and have an a different persona. It suits all shapes and sizes and you don’t get your usual sporty types doing it. We have quite a few Aussies and Americans involved but so far it does not seem to have caught on among the ethnic community.  There used to be one or two men’s teams years ago, but now it is all women.  It’s is not just a feminist thing, but I think it is a way of women becoming more assertive."

Although men are not allowed to skate, they can pitch in as referees , masseurs and medics (bruises are the norm and broken bones not unknown). "This is something we take seriously as a sport," says Jayne Mahoney (Fox Sake), whose husband Dave is the London announcer: "And when you’ve had a bad day there’s nothing like putting your skates on and knocking the crap out of someone else."

Beats chess, don’t you think?

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

David Owen: Ben Johnson's coach was my sporting hero

Duncan Mackay

This month I have been mourning one of my sporting heroes, Charles Merrick Francis.

Yes, that Charles Merrick Francis, the man who coached Ben Johnson, the disgraced Canadian sprinter, and who died of cancer on May 12, aged 61.

It was not, of course, his use of anabolic steroids that made me grow to respect Francis.

Although I can understand how he came to conclude in the 1970s and 80s that, in his words, "As I saw it, a coach had two options: He could face reality and plan an appropriate response, or he could bury his head in the sand while his athletes fell behind".

After all, as he also wrote: "Throughout two decades of acknowledged doping in East Germany…only one G.D.R. athlete has failed a drug test at an international competition."

Nor would I necessarily quibble with the opinion attributed by Francis to a respected medical director that, "when regulated in small doses [my italics], there was no evidence that anabolic steroids had any significant side effects".

What qualified him for hero status in my eyes was the way he reacted to the disaster of Johnson’s sensational positive test at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

He tried - without undue delay - to tell the truth, both in 29 hours of testimony to the Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance, the so-called Dubin Inquiry, and in a subsequent book.

To quote him once again, this time at length:

"As I saw it, I could only gain by providing the Inquiry with the fullest and most detailed truth.

"I had lost my career and my athletes.

"I’d been branded a cheat, a Svengali, and even (by the more imaginative commentators) a pusher of drugs to children.

"I’d been portrayed as a coach who took short cuts because he couldn’t succeed in any other way…

"But while my career was a dead issue, I thought I might still salvage my reputation and those of my athletes…

"There was more at stake, of course, than my personal honour.

"In giving my testimony, I hoped that others would be induced to follow my lead."

To my mind, that book, Speed Trap, written with Jeff Coplon, is one of the best sports books ever published.

I don’t know if everything in it is true.

And what it does not do is provide a definitive explanation of how Johnson came to test positive after the most important race of his life when, in Francis’s words, "using the same steroid, Ben had tested clean on 29 previous occasions".

Actually, more than 20 years after the event, I think we still await a wholly convincing explanation.

But the tone is unflinching, matter-of-fact and utterly candid.

The picture it paints is at times shockingly bleak, sometimes perhaps unjustifiably so.

Francis could, in my experience, be cynical about the world at large.

I would hope, for example, that in this passage relating to the tragic 1972 Munich Games, in which he competed, he was mistaken about athletes’ reactions.

"The massacre evoked little outward emotion among the Village survivors," he wrote.

"The incident was jolting, even numbing - but there were still races to be won, medals to be earned.

"Olympic athletes are the most single-minded people on earth.

"Their grand obsession cannot be shaken by a last-minute intrusion of the real world."

When talking about the nitty-gritty of track and field and, in particular of course sprinting, however, the insights are profound, the prose lucid and the messages simple to comprehend.

Take this on his training methods:

"My theory was simple: Sprinters needed to train at race pace, both to imprint the higher speeds on their muscle memory and to acclimatize their muscles and tendons to the demands of racing…

"No one in North America conducted special endurance drills this fast."

Or this on the peculiar discipline that is sprinting:

"The 100 metres is track’s ultimate challenge precisely because it is so austere, so short…

"Precision matters more than effort…

"In the greater athletic community, however, sprinters get little respect.

"Distance runners disdain them for their lack of suffering.

"These Calvinists equate pain with achievement…"

Or this on the anguish that lies in store for all but the lucky and hyper-talented few:

"My chosen sport was one of ultimate frustration for almost everyone who played.

"There can only be one Olympic champion.

"The rest of us must confront our limitations.

"It might happen at the local level, or at the national, but we reach a point where we stop winning.

"(The purest expression of competitive agony is the face of a silver medallist just after a near-miss for the gold.

"I’ve lost, the face tells you, I’m a loser.)”

He must, in short, have been a brilliant coach.

On a bitterly cold Toronto day five months ago at Christmas-time, Francis had the good grace to spend a good two hours answering my questions, though he was plainly very ill.

I’m grateful that I had that opportunity to meet him face-to-face.

Now that we can no longer do so, it would be a fitting tribute if someone would re-publish Speed Trap, which has become quite scarce.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at

Daniel Keatings: From the highs of success to the lows of injury

Duncan Mackay

It took a while for the World Championship silver medal to sink in but this time round, at the Europeans, I knew as soon as I saw the last competitor Flavius Koczi make a small error during his routine. I am the European pommel champion!

I think as a nation, GB has some of the best pommel horse workers in the world, not only at senior level but also at junior and development.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before we would claim the top two spots on the podium at a major championship; gold and silver at the European Championships - what an achievement.

Fresh from my success I was whisked away for two days straight of media interviews and appearances. It was hectic but a great experience.

On Wednesday I was back at the gym and things were getting back to normal. It was the start of the preparations for the World Championships in Rotterdam, which is the first qualifier for the Olympics and as a team we have to ensure we finish in the top 24 to move onto the next qualifying stage.

Training was going well and spirits were high after the successes from the weekend before. But during the afternoon training session on the tumble track, I landed awkwardly during a normal routine that saw me hyper extend my legs.

As a precaution I went to the local hospital that took x-rays and discharged me with a referral to my physiotherapist, the GB medical team then sent me for an MRI scan. Unfortunately the MRI scan showed a tear to my anterior cruciate ligament which meant I would need an operation to reconstruct the ligament. 

I was admitted to the Lister Hospital in London. Mr William who performed the operation is one of the best in his field. 

The good news is, he said the operation was a great success and after rehabilitation I would be back fitter and stronger than before. The down side; rehabilitation is six to nine months and I have been told I will be unable to compete until this time, which unfortunately means I will miss this year’s World Championships.

I am disappointed but the GB team does contain a group of strong and excellent gymnasts who will be fighting to get into the team, including, some quality juniors who are now ready to step up to the senior level.

I have every confidence that team GB will have an extremely successful Championship and get through to the second Olympic qualification stage - I wish them every success and will supporting from the side lines.

Daniel Keatings, who is powered by Opus Energy, made history last October when he became the first British gymnast to win a medal in the All-Around event at the World Gymnastics Championships. To find out more about his sponsorship deal with Opus Energy click here

Suzi Williams: BT Is delighted to continue support for ParalympicsGB until 2016

Duncan Mackay

Sitting at lunch with Oscar Pistorious yesterday was the starting gun for me on this year's BT Paralympic World Cup.

In Manchester over the next seven days, starting tomorrow (May 25) and continuing through until next Monday (May 31), more than 300 of the world's elite Paralympians will be competing at the event - which is regarded by many as one of the most important stepping stones to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

It's a fantastic opportunity to see the world's elite in action. Many of the athletes we'll see competing over the next week will be at the start line of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The competition gets stronger every year and it really reinforces for me the power of Parlaympic sport to inspire, connect and engage people of all ages and backgrounds.

BT Ambassadors Oscar Pistorius and Liz Johnson will be there of course at the heart of the action. The BT Ambassador programme is our way of engaging and inspiring our people and our customers as London 2012 gets closer, and it's a pleasure and a privilege for me to work closely with people like Oscar and Liz along our journey.

The athletes are doing a fantastic job for us - whether competing, speaking at internal or customer events, or supporting our wider PR and marketing programmes.

We wish them and all the athletes the very best of luck as they compete over the next few days.

The start of this year's BT Paralympic World Cup also provides us with the perfect opportunity to announce our increased commitment to Paralympic sport. It's something that BT is very proud of, and I am pleased to say we are now doing even more to help secure a lasting legacy for Paralympic sport in the UK. 

Beyond 2012 BT is committing to continue its support of the British Paralympic Association (BPA) all the way to January 2016. This means we will help support ParalympicsGB athletes as they compete in Sochi in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016. BT will have exclusive partner rights with the BPA and the highest level of sponsorship rights. 

It's a very exciting time, with a little over two years to the start of London 2012.  In our role as official communications services partner, BT is delivering the most connected Games ever, and ensuring everyone can be involved in the Games like never before.  Every image, every sports report, every visit to the London 2012 website and millions of calls, e-mails and texts will be delivered over BT networks.

Suzi Williams is BT Group marketing and brand director. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more information click here

Sir Philip Craven: Welcome to the family Mandeville

Duncan Mackay

It is a thrilling moment on the road to the London 2012 Games. The Olympic and Paralympic mascots have been chosen and officially revealed to the world.

At the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), we are celebrating the creation of Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot who is certain to bring the Paralympic Movement to new heights. Like its Olympic friend Wenlock formed from a drop of steel from the Olympic Stadium’s construction, Mandeville offers a youthful touch to the big event in 2012.

I congratulate the London 2012 Organising Committee for the excellent choice of this unique mascot. I am sure that the mascot will be loved by children all over the world.

The form and spirit of Mandeville is already clearly present upon first glance, and what progresses over the next two years will further this around the world. And as more and more people meet our mascot, they will forever be given a lasting impression of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The name Mandeville is most inspiring, as it is also a reminder of the history of the Paralympic Movement. In 1944, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, at the request of the British Government, opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

A new approach introduced sport as a paramount part of the remedial treatment and total rehabilitation of persons with a disability. Rehabilitation sport evolved rather quickly to recreational sport and the next step to competitive sport was only a matter of some years.

On July 28, 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the movement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded.

As Mandeville travels around, children and adults alike will learn about the history of the Paralympic Movement. Furthermore, they will see how Paralympic sport is alive and well and continues to grow, offering opportunities to people with a disability who are interested in sport. We are a growing Movement.

Mandeville is modern, and is adaptable to all environments.

His story is one that can be likened to our athletes, as they too are a modern representation of athletic ability and performance. Their skills on and off the field of play continue to inspire audiences everywhere.

Our history will be represented in the name, spirit and form of Mandeville, the London 2012 Paralympic mascot. And as young people learn about the Paralympic Games and the magnitude of what is possible in life, they too will be inspired to achieve more and challenge themselves beyond all boundaries.

Welcome to the Paralympic Family, Mandeville!

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee. He represented Britain in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1988, competing in athletics, basketball and swimming

Ade Adepitan: New sport presents plenty of challenges

Duncan Mackay

Switching to a new sport has definitely been an interesting challenge and, having competed at an elite level in wheelchair basketball for such a long time, it’s exciting to start a new sport with a clean slate.

Whilst I’m still developing as a wheelchair tennis player, I feel like I’ve been able to use the wisdom gained from my previous sporting career to benefit my new one. 

However, there is also a degree of frustration. For ten or so years I could go anywhere in the world and be one of the better players on the basketball court so it’s very hard to then find yourself at a new starting point where you’re the worst player. 

When I first played wheelchair tennis I was beaten by people of all ages, from 12-years-old to 50-years-old.

When I played basketball it took me 10-to-12 years to perfect a really consistent outside shot. For tennis, they say you need to play 40,000 swings before it hits muscle memory – maybe I’m at around twenty-five thousand swings (a rough guess!) so I’m getting there. I have an advantage from my basketball days as I’m naturally very fit and also very strong. 

However, I’ve also found I’ve needed to learn new skills, especially relating to wheelchair movement. Basketball is more staccato in terms of movement, much more short and sharp, whereas tennis is more of a dance and you need to glide across the court. Wheelchair tennis is a bit like a jigsaw and as I make more progress it’s like I’m fitting more and more of the pieces together.

There have been some highlights from my brief time in tennis. I played on a tour in South Africa and there was one game I remember clearly where I reached the quarter-final of an ITF tournament in Johannesburg.  I came from a set down to win. I’d be playing abysmally and then after the first set it began to rain.  I was off that court in a flash and, with the game suspended, I was able to watch my performance and analyse where I was going wrong. I returned the next day and won two straight sets for victory. 

However, there have of course been a few low points. One memory I’m able to laugh about now was when I was playing in a tournament in Utrecht in Holland.  In a moment of sheer frustration I threw my tennis racket at the wire mesh fence that lined one side of the court. Somehow, and I wouldn’t be able to do it again if I tried a million times, I managed to lodge the handle in between one of the wire mesh holes and the racket was just stuck up on the fence.  My advice to anyone is not to throw a tennis racket unless you have a racket sponsor – had that been the case I could have left it there and pulled a new racket out of my bag! 

Unfortunately, I only owned one racket and my coach pointed out (with laughter from the crowd ringing in the background) that if anyone else helped me get it down it would count as a point deduction for racket violation. I was forced to keep shaking the fence until it finally fell down (upon which, to complete the humiliation, it hit me on the head!).

I’m not taking too much notice of any pressure around London 2012. I know I’ll be able to play a part in London 2012 as there are various opportunities presenting themselves in areas outside tennis. However, there is an opportunity for me to put myself forward as one of the people competing for a wheelchair tennis place. I wouldn’t want to do this if I didn’t think I had a real shot at making an impact and pushing for a medal.  

Three players have probably almost guaranteed their place in London 2012 at the Paralympics, so it looks like there will be competition amongst about five of us for the remaining spot. The likelihood is that a play-off tournament will be arranged later this year to help decide who will take that spot, so it’d be really interesting to see how I’d fare in a play-off scenario.

It’s less than a week until the start of the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, which is a brilliant event and gives people a taste of what it’ll be like at the Paralympics in 2012. It enables some of the best international Paralympic athletes to compete against each other every year in athletics, swimming, seven-a-side football and wheelchair basketball. 

It’s also a great chance for GB athletes to get a sense of what it’s like to compete on home soil in front of home fans. I was lucky enough to play in the inaugural event, where the wheelchair basketball team won gold, and I’ll always remember the noise and support from the crowd. It’s great that, as of last year, BT chose to add their support as the title sponsor of the event, furthering their historical support for disability sport in Britain and helping raise the profile of Paralympic sport. 

In terms of London 2012, the whole country seems to be growing more and more excited.  It would be amazing if it can help more Paralympians become household names. As a country, we have a chance to leave a true legacy and, for me, the most important element of that will be to change attitudes to sport. 

I don’t just mean at the elite level - I’d like to see the legacy take the form of better sporting facilities across the whole country as a result of increasing demand from people wanting to participate in sport after having been inspired by our Olympians and Paralympians. If we have a better environment to encourage sport, then we can have a fitter, happier, healthier society and that’s something that can only be good for Great Britain.

Ade Adepitan, a member of Britain's wheelchair basketball team that won a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more details on the BT Paralympic World Cup click here.

Alan Hubbard: New Sports Minister should have been given place in the Cabinet

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.

Rob Milligan: Being forced to retire from rugby was best thing that ever happened to me

Duncan Mackay

Like me, many young lads don’t make it in their first choice of sports, whether that’s through being released from a club or injury. I was playing rugby for Northampton Saints and had also played for the England under-18 squad when I suffered a series of blood clots in my leg.

After spending three months off I came back but shortly after suffered again and that’s when I was told I had to retire from professional rugby, as contact sport was too high risk for me. Just two days after being told that, my manager at the Rugby Players Association recommended I go along and try out my chances at Pitch2Podium. I had nothing to lose and from my results I was soon at a further assessment day with rowing - a sport until last year I had never even considered.

I didn’t have any time to get depressed about what I was losing out on in rugby and soon enough I found rowing really therapeutic and now I’m completely hooked on it. For me, it’s the best thing I ever did and although the training isn’t easy and I’ve still got a long way to go before I get to where I want to be in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I’m on the right track.

I picked up my first novice title in December and won the recent BUCS event in the single scull - my biggest race yet. I’m training on the Lottery-backed and Siemens-sponsored GB Rowing Team’s "Start Programme", designed for athletes like me aiming to get to the next level in the sport. I moved to Nottingham to study English Literature at Nottingham University, so I’ve been able to train at the Watersports centre at Nottingham Holme Pierrepont, and the GB Rowing coaches and support structure has been fantastic.

This year UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport have been looking for more talented academy lads from rugby and football, through their Pitch2Podium programme. As well as the Talent ID Scientists and those helping put them through their paces, programme ambassador and Olympian Darren Campbell and England Rugby’s Mathew Tait, have popped in for a couple of sessions and talked to the lads about their experiences and helped motivate them to give their best during the tests.

It’s always inspiring to hear from top athletes about their journeys and giving their support to something you’re involved in helps to put the opportunity into perspective - the chance to represent your country and make it onto the podium in 2016.

There were some really impressive athletes this year, hopefully some will go on to impress when they go through the next phase and who knows, a world champions could have been found. The next few months will involve the second phase of the programme, trying out some specific sports and even now the door isn’t shut - Pitch2Podium may target some athletes who are released who have the make-up to fit what some of the sports are looking for.

Being from rugby, it’s great to see more from a rugby background coming along this year. Last year was the first time both rugby and football academies were involved and I think it’s interesting seeing the different attributes the lads seem to be excelling in - I know from my own experience, the power and strength I had from my rugby training really helped me to transfer into rowing. 

I’m almost one year on from my first experience of rowing and I’ve had such an amazing journey so far. I hope other academy football and rugby players don’t give up on sport if their careers don’t quite turn out like they expected. I felt I had much more to give and was still capable of achieving something in sport. Many of those who came along this past couple of months to Pitch2Podium were the same - some facing a crossroads of what to do next, others still hoping to make it.

Whatever direction they go, Pitch2Podium is a second chance worth taking.

With thousands of academy football and rugby athletes being released from clubs each year, the Pitch2Podium talent initiative run by the UK Talent Team (UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport), have just completed another series of assessment days, looking for those raw attributes which could lead to success in another Olympic sport. For more information on Pitch2Podium and other Talent ID initiatives from the UK Talent Team click here.

Andy Pink: Premiership stars don't have as tough a schedule as Britain's volleyball players

Duncan Mackay

Well here we go. Taking into account our friendly matches versus Denmark last weekend, this will be the second of potentially 11 consecutive weekends of matches. Add that directly onto the back of a 8-9 month club season with not even a Christmas break, multiply times three years in a row and those "tired" Premiership footballers can’t hold a candle next to us. 

I’m writing from the hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, and therefore we have made it here in one piece albeit with plenty of hiccups and false starts. We awoke at 6am GMT and, as I sit here, the clock shows 2am Baku time. 

I make that an epic voyage no matter how you look at it. The squad boarded our bus in Sheffield not knowing for sure if Manchester airport would be open due to some volcanic ash wanting to visit Britain again. So with a couple hours to kill in Manchester Airport, we made our way through an impressive number of newspapers, crossword puzzles and coffee/teas. 

One of the best parts of being a part of this team is the banter. We are an eclectic mix of people to be sure. We have five or six dual passport holders who were born in other parts of the world but who proudly fly the flag for Britain. As a group we speak many languages to a varying degrees, including Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, German, Polish, Portuguese, Greek, and Arabic. We even have some guys who are fluent in Glaswegian, Northern Englishese, and North Americanese!  It usually takes a couple weeks together before we can all understand each other’s English, if only everyone spoke the Queen’s! 

But it took about all of 10 minutes in a bus together before the first England v Scotland and North v South banter broke out, someone (I won’t name names just yet) said something bad about Her Majesty.  I was having none of that. Cue a free coffee at the airport and an apology! Happy Days!  

As we made our way to the gate we came across a few kids who were also flying the flag for Britain in a school competition in Germany. They wanted to take photos with us which we were more than happy to do. I think we scared the kids a bit, but when they are eight-years-old and we have guys that are pushing 6 foot 9, we tend to tower over people. A little reminder of our status followed shortly after, as the mother of one of the kids quietly said to me: "I didn’t even know we had a volleyball team, do you have a website?"  Lovely. For the record it is  

We get our first taste of Baku whilst on a minibus taking us to our morning training. As the coach driver weaves in and out of oncoming traffic what strikes is just how much building is taking place here. Some traffic lights look as if they were erected literally yesterday. There are hundreds of very large buildings raising majestically all across Baku, this reflects how this cash rich nation is sprinting towards a previously denied capitalist marketplace.   

Everyone is talking about the General Election, I think quite a few of the group managed to arrange a postal vote in their home constituencies knowing we’d be out of the country on election day. However, sorry Number 10, all focus for us is on a convincing win tomorrow to take back with us to Sheffield for next week’s return leg and with it hopefully passage to the second round of qualification for the European Championships 2011! 

As we drove to the match I was already formulating my blog for the day, I was going to write how surprised I was with the city of Baku, how much it impressed us with the hospitality of the people, the optimism they have for the future evident in the explosion of their ambitious building projects. However, after what I’ve just witnessed on the volleyball court, I must admit I’m a bit lost for words. 

We have come to Azerbaijan seeking a convincing win to justify all of our hard work in the previous three years of this Olympic cycle that we’ve been together, and we blew it. I won”t pretend that there are positives to take away from this match because anyone who knows volleyball would be very hard pressed to find any. We have been soundly beaten in every phase of the match. We have better players, better results in the past, and were full of confidence; when push came to shove we just didn’t turn up. We played scared and credit to Azerbaijan, they took advantage. 

We now have to turn around a 3-0 defeat with a 3-0 victory of our own next weekend in Sheffield, and hope that we can go through via most points scored over the two legs. We carry a 14 point deficit with us, so we’ll need to win 25-20 three times in a row to over turn that points deficit. It is not an impossible task, but there was no need to put ourselves in this position. Perhaps some of our team took Azerbaijan lightly, I can’t say for sure, but we have played much tougher teams in the past and won. 

This defeat is very hard to take and the entire programme will need to work hard in the next few days to turn it around. I’m certain no one will sleep well tonight.

But we made it onto the plane and began the very long journey back to the UK; sadly we are not bringing back with us the result we wanted, but we are confident of putting right our wrongs on Saturday in Sheffield and moving onto the second round of qualification for the European Championships 2011.

Andy Pink, who plays for Bassano in Italy, is Britain's vice-captain. Tickets for Britain's match against Azerbaijan at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on Saturday (May 15). For tickets call 0114-2235730.

Mike Rowbottom: The mind is the most delicate part of an athletes body

Duncan Mackay

As any leading sportsman or woman will happily tell you, everything happens for a reason. Even if the reason is that life is random.

Watching some of the world’s finest athletes prepare in Doha this week for the big opening event of the athletics season - the first of the IAAF’s new Diamond League meetings - it has been intriguing to see the convoluted lengths to which many of them are going in order to maximise the positive, minimise the negative.

In her characteristically direct way, Britain’s Olympic 400 metres champion Christine Ohuruogu got to the heart of the problem as she looked ahead to a long season which might yet stretch all the way to New Delhi for her.

"The biggest thing an athlete fears is losing," said the athlete who saw her world 400m title go to her closest rival, Sanya Richards of the United States, after injury had disrupted her preparations for last year’s Championships in Berlin.

"I think last year really did screw me up, losing my title. It really didn’t feel right.

"You know, you train really hard all year and when you need it, it just falls apart. But that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

"I was out for about three weeks - I missed the meetings at Paris and Crystal Palace, and one of my first major training sessions afterwards was at the holding camp for the World Champs, which was really risky.

"I knew it was going to be very tough. I was kind of hoping for a miracle. But I just thought ‘I’d rather come out here and try.’ So at least for next year, or another year, I’d know how to get myself fit if I needed to."

But here was the flip side to the defeat which ended a run of three big winning years for the Londoner at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, 2007 World Championships and 2008 Olympics. Losing was not all bad.

"It was a relief to know that I can lose and the world doesn’t collapse, the ground doesn’t open up and swallow me and I can wake up the next day and still do my job," said Ohuruogu who, with her studious glasses and thoughtful pauses has more and more the air of a PhD student.

"I lost in Berlin, but I could still go back and hold my head up. I pretty much started as I walked away from the track. A lot of the coaches said really positive things about me.

"But that’s just how it is, you know. As my mum says, you can’t win everything."

Of course, if there is relief in defeat, there is sometimes little but relief in victory.

Think of Asafa Powell, with failures at the 2004 Olympics and 2005 World Championships behind him, finally winning a title at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, where he would practically have had to fall over not to win the 100m.

Think of Tony Jarrett at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, facing a 110m hurdles field that, for once, did not include his nemesis Colin Jackson. He managed to get the gold, but it was not a pretty sight.

For Ohuruogu, mum is right. And as far as Kenya’s dizzyingly talented 21-year-old 800m runner David Rudisha is concerned, on the subject of winning and losing, Dad is right.

Rudisha’s dad, Daniel, won an Olympic silver medal for Kenya in the 400 metres relay at the 1968 Mexico Games. He knows what it is to succeed in sport - and to fall below expectation.

So he was well placed to advise his son when his stellar world junior title win in 2006 was followed by an injury which kept him out of the Beijing Olympics and then failure to reach the final at last year’s World Championships.

"My father told me: ‘If you are beaten today, ask yourself why,'" Rudisha said in a voice so soft you had to strain to hear it. "He said: 'That will keep you going because you give yourself focus, there is tomorrow. You try to fix everything, and then tomorrow you improve.'"

Daniel Rudisha is not the only person to extol the benefits of learning from painful experience. Kenya’s double world champion of 1987 and 1991, Billy Konchellah, who is from the same Maasi tribe as Rudisha and lives no more than six miles from him, liked to mention a Swahili saying, the gist of which was this: "If you can’t accept losing, you will never be a winner."

If it looks like a mantra, and it sounds like a mantra, then it is a mantra. But who’s to say it won’t work?

There is another mantra which insists that all athletes react differently to pressure. But Ohuruogu begs to differ as she looks ahead to a home Olympics where she, and all her fellow British competitors, will, in her words, "feel the heat."

She reflected: "London 2012 is going to be probably the most stressful competition for us. All of us British athletes will have pressure on us to perform - and not just the athletes, but the rowers, and the swimmers... It’s going to be hard."

Ohuruogu foresees a situation where competitors will effectively be giving each other psychological assistance in the run-up to the Games, perhaps within some form of official structure.

"For all kinds of reasons, I think everyone is going to find that they might need help in coping. I hope athletes will be big enough to say they need a bit of help. Because we are all pretty much in the same boat."

The most delicate part of any athlete - it’s not the hamstring; it’s not the Achilles tendon. It’s the mind.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames

Sir Philip Craven: International Inspiration programme is changing the world

Duncan Mackay

I am currently in Azerbaijan seeing the impact of London 2012's International Inspiration programme and have witnessed firsthand the power of sport in changing attitudes, beliefs and even national laws.

Back in 2005, when London won the bid to host the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in 2012, Seb Coe made a passionate speech about inspiring the youth of the world. Those words have certainly come to fruition, with International Inspiration now operating in 12 countries and reaching out to over four million young people and children.

I am visiting Azerbaijan in my role as International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President and was guest of honour at the International Inspiration Legacy Conference - where the programme has been in operation for three years. The Azeri Government has been impressed with the achievements of the programme and going forward, it will continue to operate under their control.

The legacy day started with children and young people showcasing International Inspiration activities in a mini-sports festival before moving on to presentations and working groups discussing the sustainability of a myriad of projects and programmes that have been put in place to ensure they leave a lasting legacy.

Accompanying me on the trip was Elias Musangeya, who has been a key member of the International Inspiration team and really set the scene for me in describing the scale of the initiative. More than 150,000 children and young people have been involved in the project in Azerbaijan since 2007, with projects targeting those from disadvantaged groups in particular. In addition to providing access to sport, programmes have also looked at developing life skills, confidence and encouraging integration.

But it is attitude changes that have impressed me the most. Several years ago, for example, there were not many opportunities for young people with disabilities to access sport and teaching was not particularly inclusive.

In Azerbaijan, International Inspiration has been working in partnership with the National Paralympic Committee to help football and volleyball organisations in providing opportunities for children with disabilities and to teach awareness, sensitivity and social integration. Training has also been provided for teachers and young leaders who now understand how to bring out the best in children, whether having an impairment, being a victim of crime or living in conflict.

International Inspiration has also had an impact at legislative level. Two national policies have been passed since the programme began - the National Strategy on PE and Sport Development and a Law on PE and Sport. International Inspiration has helped the Azeri Government develop their PE strategy and inspired legal changes committing to providing more sporting opportunities for young people - including a focus on girls' participation, child protection and facilitating the mainstreaming of children with special needs.

I was lucky enough to see confident, communicative and happy children during my short visit to Azerbaijan who have been inspired by the energy within sport. International Inspiration has made a big difference to the sporting infrastructure in the country as well as directly targeting those most in need with tailor made solutions. If the work in other countries has been half as impressive, International Inspiration will leave a legacy for London 2012 for many years to come amongst millions of people worldwide.

London 2012 has joined forces with the programme's key delivery partners, UK Sport, UNICEF UK and the British Council, to bring International Inspiration to fruition as London 2012’s international sports legacy programme. 2012 international education programme. Other partners and funders of International Inspiration include the UK Government, the Premier League, The British Olympic Association, the British Paralympic Association and the Youth Sport Trust.

Alan Hubbard: Amir Khan should not be taking leaf out ot Tiger Woods' texting book

Duncan Mackay

I have known Amir Khan since his early amateur days, and probably have been closer to him than any other boxing writer. I was the only journalist who, with my family, was invited to his private World Championship-winning celebration party in Bolton last year. My two young grandchildren idolise him.

This is not written as a vainglorious piece of name-dropping but to emphasise how shocked I was to read in the "Screws" - our trade name for the News of the World – that he apparently was guilty of the sort of salacious behaviour more usually associated with delinquent footballers or sprauncy game show hosts.

It appeared that our Olympic silver medallist had been taking a leaf out of the text book - or rather texting book - of Tiger Woods and sending explicitly sexy messages to a buxom blonde. 

A|as, they were rather more than that. The messages were described as "lewd and obscene" and were accompanied pictures of his manhood. The lady in question was a topless model he had met in a Hollywood nightclub.

Topless models? Nightclubs? Obscene messaging?

I could not believe this was the Amir I know. But there you go. In modern sport such  raunchiness is par for the course - and not only Tiger’s. It seems that Bolton’s boy-next-door already has been seduced by the glitz of Tinsel Town, where he now resides under the tuition of top trainer Freddie Roach and promotional banner of Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy.

I was disappointed when Khan left Frank Warren, who had initially nurtured, then revived, his career and took him to the WBA lightweight title. But he was entitled to do what he and his advisers thought best. I just hope he has done the right thing, and is not heading down the same hazardous path as one of his ring idols, Naseem Hamed. Another of his icons is Muhammad Ali. Well, he certainly seems to be in the Ali mould as a skirt-chaser.

No-one is suggesting that at 23 and unmarried, Amir should be leading a monastic existence, despite his firm religious beliefs - he and his family could be described as liberal Muslims. But since Amir went to Hollywood he seems to have become brasher and flashier.

It was only last weekend, after a ten days wait in Vancouver, where he had to move his training camp from Los Angeles, that Khan was granted a working visa for his second title defence against Paulie Malignaggi in New York on Saturday. Allied to the fall-out from the "Screws" revelations it is hardly then sort of preparation he would have wanted, and there has to be concern in the Khan camp, and among his sponsors, that Amir’s hitherto clean-cut image has been tarnished, at least temporarily.

Appearing at Madison Square Garden - albeit in the smaller 5,000 seater arena - should be a proud moment for Khan, who claims to be unaffected  by distractions which we must hope do not blight his career or the affection of the British public.

However I cannot quite agree with Barry McGuigan who, in his Daily Mirror column, says Amir was "not doing anything most red-blooded youngsters have not done." Surely it goes somewhat beyond that because Khan is not just any red-blooded youngster and has always said himself that he knows he is a role model for thousands of kids in Britain, not least the Asian community.

Of course is entitled to a private life - and a previously well-hidden sex life about which he talks illuminatingly to the ubiquitous Piers Morgan in the latest issue of GQ magazine. There he says that girl are "lining up" up to meet him in LA, adding: "They always come back so I must be doing something right."

In the same revealing article it seems rather ironic that, when asked what he thought about highly-paid footballers who misbehave he condemns than as being "weak." Ashley Cole and John Terry, he says "have shamed their families."

Of course it is not only footballers and fighters who need to be role models. Any sports personalities these days, especially Olympians, must maintain standards both in public and in private, that are beyond reproach.

Others who admit to being shocked by Khan’s behaviour are his former Olympic coach and father figure Terry Edwards ("Amir’s the last person I thought would do this sort of thing") and his one-time amateur buddy and professional stablemate Kevin Mitchell. "I was saddened to hear this stuff," says the unbeaten Mitchell, who is also engaged in a major fight on Saturday against Aussie hard man Michael Katsidis for the interim WBO lightweight belt at Upton Park.

"If nothing else, what was he doing in a nightclub while preparing for a world title fight? Amir is a lovely fellow and we’ve been good mates but I think all the money and hype has gone to his head. He’s obviously let the Hollywood lifestyle get to him. He’s beginning to believe his own publicity, even talking about fighting Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather next year.

"He’s not in their league. He’s too vulnerable. You can’t put muscles on his chin. If he couldn’t go a round with Breidis Prescott (the Colombian whom Mitchell later brilliantly outpointed) he wouldn’t last two rounds with them. He’s just making himself look foolish and I feel gutted for him."

If he and Khan ever meet the "Dagenham Destroyer" has no doubt about the outcome. "l may be smaller but I hit harder. I’d knock him out because I know how to. Knocking people cold gives me a buzz. In any case I think he’ll get beaten before I can get to him.

"I’ve heard Amir is getting over a million dollars for fighting Malignaggi. Bloody hell, for a million dollars I’d fight ten Mike Tysons."

Boxing will be blowing bubbles this weekend for not only is there the Mitchell-Katsidis scrap at West Ham but Mitchell’s amateur almer mater, West Ham ABC, have three club members in contention for titles in the ABA Championships at York Hall this Friday.

Ironically, the club which produced fistic notables like Billy Walker and Nigel Benn, has a fight if its own. Their training premises at the nearby Black Lion pub in Olympic heartland are under threat and soon they may be seeking new headquarters.

One of the shocks about this year’s ABA’s is the absence of the history-making European bantamweight champion Luke Campbell, from, Hull, who suffered a disputed defeat en route to the finals. Campbell has moved up to featherweight, a division that is particularly talent-rich. But the skilful Campbell still believes he can at least emulate Khan in 2012.

One to keep an eye on at York Hall is 20-year-old Finchley super-heavyweight Anthony Joshua, 6ft.5in and 17 stones, who, like both Khan and Mitchell, can box and bang, always a recipe for a winner. Meantime I hope my friend Amir will realise just how much he is risking with hisi regrettable indiscretions. From now he must mind his Ps and Qs. Not to mention his GQs.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics and scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire. Mitchell v Katsidis is live on Sky Sports HD1 from 8pm Saturday. Tickets available from Ticketmaster on 0844 847 2500. Khan v Malignaggi live on ITV1 from 2.45am Sunday.

April Holmes: Following in the footsteps of Flo Jo

Duncan Mackay

It sounds crazy, but I usually train about five hours a day, four to five days a week. I’m usually up and out ready for warm-up by 9:30 and ready to run by 10am. Training consists of everything from lifting weights, to pylos, to cardio, to running, to bike workouts, or any number of things like that.

My training group is an amazing one to be part of, I’m in great hands and always ready and willing to work hard every session. My coach is Al Joyner, who won an Olympic gold medal in triple jump and the husband of Olympic sprinter Flo Jo before she passed away. The coaching staff here knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.

The programme I train in is one of the first programmes where Olympic and Paralympic athletes train together. My coach is an Olympian, my teammates are Olympians and I do all the same work outs that they do. I think it’s pretty awesome to be part of something that’s taken so seriously.

It is hard work, but I enjoy every day. I go out to practice and think about all of the people with disabilities who aren’t able to run and remember that it’s such a privilege to be able to do this. There are times when it’s hard to make yourself work out and you need to find the motivation to keep doing it.

Although I’m a typically positive person, like everyone else I need to find things to keep me going.

In my spare time I do a lot of speaking engagements with various groups. It’s something I really enjoy doing, but I’ve especially enjoyed working with some of our injured service military people. 

This week I’ll be helping out with an event called the Warrior Games, which is where every branch of the US military comes together and competes in various events in this competition. We’ll have a couple of days of practice and then they have a real meet. I’m one of the coaches there and it’s really rewarding to see people that you’ve coached succeed.

Looking ahead to the summer, the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester always kicks off my European season. The athletes competing are the greatest athletes that we have in our sport and it is here that they come together and showcase their talents.

It’s great because it’s one of the only times outside of a World Championships or Paralympics where all of the top competitors come together. It’s always a tune up to see where you are and a great annual meeting with all of the other athletes that you don’t see very often.

The crowd and the kids are always really awesome too; it’s such a fun event to compete in. If the English weather would only cooperate sometimes that would be fantastic, but unfortunately that’s out of my control!

April Holmes, from the United States, is the T44 100 metres Paralympic champion and 100m, 200m and 400m world record holder. For more details on the BT Paralympic World Cup click here.

Sir Philip Craven: High anticipation to London 2012 with Sainsbury’s sponsorship

Duncan Mackay
The London 2012 Paralympic Games just got more exciting! The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is proud to see that the next edition of the Summer Games will have Sainsbury’s exclusively sponsoring the Paralympic Games.

With such a well-known British brand supporting the Paralympic Games, this will set new promotional opportunities for Paralympic sport and the Paralympic Movement. It will also leave a powerful legacy across the United Kingdom that will inspire future Paralympic athletes as well as every community with a Sainsbury’s location.

With over 850 stores to help promote the Paralympic Games every day, communities everywhere will learn about our athletes and the sports that are to take place in London.

The chief executive officer of Sainsbury’s, Justin King, said that Sainsbury’s is committed to promoting a healthy, fitter lifestyle across all ages and abilities. This complements the vision of the Paralympic Movement which is to enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.

What I find thrilling is that in the run up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, merchandise will be made available across the United Kingdom. This high awareness will undoubtedly add to the anticipation that has already hit the British capital.

I have already witnessed the campaigning taking place for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and this adds an unprecedented level of excitement. It will be a new experience for the Paralympic community, as they watch everything that they have worked for over the course of many years be promoted in a way that follows the Paralympic values of Courage, Determination, Inspiration and Equality.

As part of our mission, the IPC seeks the continuous global promotion and media coverage of the Paralympic Movement, with its vision of inspiration and excitement through sport, and its ideals and activities. We also support and encourage educational, cultural, research and scientific activities that contribute to the development and promotion of the Paralympic Movement.

Following this, Sainsbury’s will also be working with the education team from the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) to develop opportunities related to its successful Active Kids programme as part of LOCOG’s Education scheme, ‘Get Set’, the official London 2012 Education Programme for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Driven through an interactive website, it hosts lots of free resources for 3-19 year olds. Young people can use ‘Get Set’ to find out about the Games and explore the Olympic and Paralympic Values.

As we will experience fantastic Paralympic Summer Sport at its highest level in London, it is a most fitting time to celebrate our partnership with Sainsbury’s, and their commitment to the Paralympic Movement. This Tier One sponsor status for the Paralympic Games confirms their support of our organisation and the athletes who aim to be the best in their respective sport.

Because of the Paralympic Games and this kind of massive promotion, the Paralympic Movement will continue to grow. And because of this support, we will certainly gather a bigger audience and more fans who have not had the chance to experience Paralympic Sport. This promotional opportunity is that chance.

I hope everyone enjoys the excitement and the build-up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and I look forward to reading about the growth in the country as it happens, and the positive affect it will have on communities and people with a disability.

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee. He represented Britain in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1988, competing in athletics, basketball and swimming

Sue Mott: British Volleyball's all sorts heading into the unknown

Duncan Mackay

It’s like the start of a classic road movie. Guys blow into town from different parts of the globe and form a fighting band of underdogs to take on the world. Just so, the GB men’s volleyball team. 

Reunited after spending the winter playing for different clubs in all corners of Europe and the Americas, they fly out to Azerbaijan today to play the first-leg of their European Championship Round One tie, with a place in the group stages at stake. It is a flight - to some extent - into the unknown. How will they gel together after so long in such disparate parts?  In total, 24 players (men and women) returned from 18 different clubs in 17 different leagues in 12 different countries, making them one of the most cosmopolitan outfits on the roster of British sport.

Although Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, is rated by the Lonely Planet travel guide as one of the top ten destinations in the world for nightlife, the GB team will be ignoring those charms and focussing instead on a creditable performance to carry over to into the second leg to be staged in Sheffield at the English Institute of Sport on May 15.

Victory for the GB team would ensure them six more matches in the competition on a home and away basis against Finland, Greece - two of the world’s top ten teams - plus Latvia. That, in turn, would reflect the great advances the young British team are making under the guidance of Dutch coach, Harry Brokking.

If the outcome is unknown, the determination that runs through the team is palpable. Since coming together again, the men's team have discovered that their captain, Ben Pipes, who wintered in Tenerife, had organised a number of essentials to make the operation run more smoothly. He has negotiated lunches at £3.50 a head for the whole squad at a local Sheffield restaurant, plus free milkshakes and discount circulation tights. His popularity might be slightly offset by the fact that he has also done a deal to supply ice baths for the team to speed recovery after matches.

Among those back in time for the Azerbaijan game, was vice-captain Andy Pink - who is going to be running a regular blog of the team’s progress this summer. He returned to Sheffield match fit from a fierce relegation battle with his club, Bassano Volley, in Italy.

Jason Haldane (pictured), who started out on his volleyball career as a Canadian but is now qualified as a GB player, was also playing in Italy until last week. Mark McGivern, Kieran O’Malley and Chris Lamont have returned from Belgium. 

The squad that embarked for Baku did not include Nathan Bennett who is recovering from an injury, Mark Plotyczer who only arrived back from his club season in Greece yesterday and the newly-qualified player, Slawomir Master, who will not be back from Poland until next week.

It did, however, include the young players Dami and Peter Bakare (no relation) who are newcomers to the senior squad. Dami is a dental student at the University of Sheffield, who divides his demanding time between heavy training sessions and building dental bridges for patients in his lunch hour. Peter - with a clip on Youtube to prove it - has one of the biggest standing jumps in British sport, something he is apt to prove with a leap over a teammate’s head. 

Brokking said of the upcoming match this weekend: "We will have to play at our very best to be sure to beat Azerbaijan over this difficult two leg tie, if we can maximise our performance in Baku then we can ensure a terrific match will be in prospect for the home leg when Azerbaijan visit our home court at the EIS-Sheffield on Saturday, on the 15 May, and the Sheffield public can get right behind our guys to help get us through to the 2nd round.

"Getting through this round will ensure that we play six more matches in the competition where we would line up against two of the top 10 teams in the world in Finland and Greece., as well as Latvia. This would be a huge step forward for my young GB team as they battle to establish their credentials as top players. They have all come back in very good shape,  and are showing a great desire and togetherness as they prepare to meet the coming challenges."

Harry also commented on the news that his assistant coach, Englishman Joel Banks, has landed a top job as head coach with Orion in the Dutch Professional League for the next two club seasons. "I am very happy that he is  going to a very good club with a great structure and demonstrates the growing credibility of the GB men’s programme."

For info on tickets and upcoming matches please click here.

Award-winning sports columnist, feature writer and chief interviewer at the Daily Telegraph for 12 years, Sue Mott is now much in demand in her new freelance capacity. A major contributor to television and radio - all terrestrial channels, Sky, ESPN and Radio 5Live - she has covered all the major sporting events including World Cups, Olympics, Wimbledon, Commonwealth Games, Athletic World Championships, FA Cup Finals and several Test series.

Media contact