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When world of sport clashes with politics

PUBLISHED: 15:44 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:38 25 August 2010

LONDON - APRIL 06:  Police tackle a demonstrator to the ground during the Beijing Olympics torch relay on April 6, 2008 in London, England. The torch for the 2008 Beijing Olympics is to be carried by respected athletes and celebrities from Wembley Arena to the O2 Dome, passing China Town, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and London Bridge, amid crowds of spectators.  (Photo by Yui Mok-Pool/Getty Images)

LONDON - APRIL 06: Police tackle a demonstrator to the ground during the Beijing Olympics torch relay on April 6, 2008 in London, England. The torch for the 2008 Beijing Olympics is to be carried by respected athletes and celebrities from Wembley Arena to the O2 Dome, passing China Town, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and London Bridge, amid crowds of spectators. (Photo by Yui Mok-Pool/Getty Images)

2008 Getty Images

THE argument that politics and sport should not mix is a redundant one. . .

THE argument that politics and sport should not mix is a redundant one.

The government's calls for the Olympic torch to be allowed to progress serenely and without disturbance through the streets of London last Sunday en route to a final destination of north Greenwich, without mishap, was never going to be heeded.

"I hope there won't be any but the message will be: 'Do not spoil the torch relay for hundreds of thousands of Londoners'." So said Tessa Jowell, the Minister for the Olympics. That's right, the Minister for the Olympics; politics and sport.

The two have always mixed, at every level.

In November 2006, Dartford Football Club unveiled its ultra-modern new stadium, Princes Park. It was a personal triumph for the Kentish Times which had campaigned long and hard to bring the club back to the borough after a nomadic existence for many years.

It was an even bigger moment for the club itself which has since gone from strength to strength in an effort to climb the footballing ladder.

And on that triumphant Saturday afternoon who was there to cut the ribbon, unleash the balloons and welcome the team onto a brand, spanking new pitch?

Not former Dartford and England manger Peter Taylor - perhaps the club's most famous 'old boy'.

No, it was decided that the leader of Dartford Borough Council, Jeremy Kite, would lead the celebrations.

It was a perfect example of politics applying its heavy hand to the sporting world.

The council had ploughed millions into building the new stadium - albeit using taxpayers' money - and they believed they deserved their day in the sun to lap up the warm glow of smugness the grateful masses would provide.

In contrast, if there were no politicians, there is no doubt that sport at every level would continue.

Certainly, there are political bodies that aid the development of sporting clubs up and down the country and Sport England - a government agency - has been a massively positive influence, particularly on a localised level where it provides plenty of funding.

However, as soon as sport rears its head on the national stage and politicians espy an opportunity to bond with the populous and rake in a few extra votes, the problems begin. And if it is something like the Olympics, these problems are magnified.

The flame's journey on Sunday was book ended by areas, and people, of great sporting and historical pedigree.

Five-time Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave started the relay at the new Wembley, one of the greatest stadiums in the world, and Kelly Holmes finished it in Greenwich, a historical site that will host a number of Olympic events in 2012 including badminton, basketball, equestrian and some gymnastics.

Protesters along the route, some pro-China, many anti-China, turned the spectacle into a calamity but the moment when the farce was at its greatest and the event lost all credibility was when the symbol of sport, the Olympic flame, stopped outside the Prime Minister's front door.

There, Gordon Brown was so attuned to the controversy he could not even bring himself to touch the torch in front of the media spotlight.

The Prime Minister had no right to be part of the relay and he seemed to know it.

stuart.henderson@archant.co.uk

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