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There are no medals for meddling in sport.

Byline: By James Corrigan

Oh no, the Welsh Assembly members have woken up. They have just noticed a vote-winning bandwagon speeding past their gold-framed windows called 'sport'.

And now we're all doomed.

At least until 2012 at any rate. That is when London will host the most marvellous Olympics in history (quiet at the back) and in those seven tortuous years we will have to suffer those shameless politicians sticking their noses in where they were always loathe to before.

Like when school fields were being sold off to developers by the 100-acreage. Or when our sporting facilities reached an all-time low compared to the other European nations.

Where were they then with their 'concerns about sport' when it was revealed that in the first three years of this century the number of authority-owned playing areas in Wales fell by a staggering 10 per cent? We can only wonder.

Now, this column doesn't know anything about Ann Jones, the AM for the Vale of Clwyd, apart from the fact that she is Labour's Chair of Local Government and Public Services Committee (lucky so-and-so) and that she is an avid Rhyl FC fan.

But what it does know is that she has the cheek of Old Nick.

How Ms Jones had the front to criticise the Football Association of Wales for its plan to build new offices out of a pounds 1m grant from Uefa, and not spend the money on the 'grass-roots' instead, is remarkable when you consider that she is a part of an assembly that is using pounds 50m plus of tax-payers' money to erect their own 'politicians' paradise' in Cardiff.

Did David Collins, the FAW's chief executive, write to Jones' lot and say 'Um, 'scuse me for pointing this out but I think that pounds 50m (of tax payers' money) might just be better spent on a new hospital or school instead of an assembly building'?

Of course he didn't, so why did the gallant Ms Jones feel the need? Because in the wake of the Olympic bid, and indeed of Wales' Grand Slam, sport is suddenly fashionable, and before too long every politician worth their ballot sheet will be spouting about everything 'sporting' that is no business of theirs at all.

Now, it might be some business of theirs if they deigned to take an interest in sport that cost more than the price of a letter to the FAW's HQ, not to mention the price of a local call by the spin doctors to the media.

But until the Welsh Assembly, Parliament, Brussels or whoever the hell it is that is running our country nowadays, commit to putting some serious investment into sport then quite frankly they can button it.

Our sporting authorities may not be much cop but could you imagine how much worse they would be if the Assembly had an input? The havoc would be unimaginable.

An indication of what a few more rolls of red tape would do for our sporting administrators was provided by the National Playing Fields Association's recent visit to the Assembly.

NFPA Cymru is a charity with the principle mission of ensuring that local playing fields and school fields aren't sold off to developers by cash-hungry councils or schools.

For some reason (money at a guess) our nation protects historic buildings, public gardens and even trees from being destroyed but has no safeguards for those blessed patches of green grass that keep our youngsters fit and will produce the Gavin Hensons and Craig Bellamys of the future.

Not a bad cause I think you'd agree. But what did the AMs do as the NPFA outlined its reason for existence and did everything but beg for some Assembly assistance?

Did our elected representatives say, 'Of course we will take measures to make sure that local planning officials have to refer to you before selling off grounds used for recreation'? Nope, not a chance, they merely started to engage in an argument about whether the King George V Playing Fields in Cardiff should really be called the Nye Bevan Playing Fields instead.

Who cares? Call them the Sir Clive Woodward Playing Fields if it means more of our fat kids will be able to get fit on them.

But that's politicians for you, and in particular Assembly Members for you.

They rarely get to the heart of the matter but just waffle around on the outside, wasting pounds 80m a year of public money in the meantime.

This week's showdown with the FAW was a case in point. Because while Ms Jones was banging on about pounds 1m that should or should not be spent on new offices, the FAW were on the brink of entering a debate that is of REAL importance to the future of football in Wales. This column never thought it would support David Collins, but his declaration that the FAW must step into the 21st Century and rid itself of its antiquated committee set-up, of all the old codgers who are holding the organisation back, was as spot-on as it was courageous.

It's such a shame that such a crucial crossroads in Welsh football was overshadowed by some politician getting her name in the headlines.

Alas, I fear this is going to happen time and time again in the next half decade and fully expect the Welsh Assembly to sooner or later insist on playing a hands-on role in running our sports.

But will they back it up with any meaningful funding? Will they hell, they'll just carry on with the window dressing.

They're vote-winners, not sports winners.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 24, 2005
Words:934
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