Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 201 - 219)



  Chairman: We would like very much to welcome you here today. We much appreciate your accepting the invitation from us to give evidence. We will start off right away with Mr Keen.

Mr Keen

  201. Good morning. You missed the Chairman paying a compliment to David Faber and saying how sorry he was because of the quality of his questions that he was not standing for election next time. As the Secretary of the Lords and Commons Cricket it is the quality of his batting that I regret losing but we bend the rules like the IOC so he will still be able to play. Before I come on to football, could I ask about the Olympics and the bidding process. Would you not agree with me that really after the appalling state of the bidding and the bribery governments should have got together and side-lined the Olympic Committee and said "We are not putting up with this. We are going to make sure there is some democracy involved in this." Do you think governments should have taken that initiative at that time?
  (Mr Banks) May I first say it is always an honour to appear before the Committee.


  202. Can you speak up a bit, Mr Banks?
  (Mr Banks) I am not usually accused of having a soft voice. It is an honour as ever to appear before the Committee, although I am not sure that on this occasion I am going to be able to do or say a great deal to assist your deliberations having been, as it were, out of the loop for some time and having given up the rather muddy plains of sport for the aesthetic uplands of the arts. I will try and do my best. All I can say to you, Mr Keen, is that you have to do business with a whole bunch of unsavoury people at any given moment in time, and I am not, of course, referring to the Committee. I think that is something that we learn to our cost all the time in politics. Governments have to do business with regimes that they do not necessarily approve of. I think you have to balance and decide whether or not an organisation or a régime is capable of being improved by contact as opposed to being changed by isolation. Because you mentioned the Olympics and the IOC, there are a lot of things that are unsatisfactory, not least of all the method by which IOC members are actually appointed rather than elected and based on personal selection. That is something that is unsatisfactory. I feel that contact is more important with regard to the IOC than isolation.

Mr Keen

  203. Coming on to football, I can understand that Wembley means a lot to people around the world, it is something recognisable, but do you think the fact that we felt we had to use Wembley Stadium as the main hook to get support really led to the problems, and they are still going on, with the rebuilding of Wembley?

  (Mr Banks) With respect, Wembley was not the main hook. One of the problems, I suppose, amongst many that we encountered was the incredulity expressed by members of FIFA that we were actually going to knock down that wonderful old stadium that everyone had come to love around the world, except many of those people who had to try to find the latrines at half-time. I think, therefore, we could say that knocking down the old Wembley was something we had to explain rather than the new Wembley being an attraction. We always made it quite clear that the construction of a new national stadium was not something that was conditional or dependent upon our bid, this was something that was going to happen anyway. We could say that, of course, in support of our bid right the way through. Everything that we were offering to the body of world football was something that was either there or we were going to do anyway in that sense. We were not like other countries, say the lovely people of Morocco that we got on very well with, the bidding team of Morocco, they were really great people to be with, they were saying "give us the World Cup and we will construct the following stadia". Even to an extent the Germans were saying the same thing, and certainly the Brazilians were. We were able to say "look, this is either here, we have after all spent £1.5 billion on stadia improvements in our country, and we will be constructing a new Wembley" and therefore it was not, as it were, central to our bid in that sense.

  204. If it had not been for the 2006 bid would we possibly not have thought of building the national stadium on a different site, because Wembley is not ideal?
  (Mr Banks) You have me on the timings here, Mr Keen, because I cannot recall which fell into place first. The experts behind me from the Football Association no doubt will be able to tell us this. The location for Wembley was made the subject of a competition anyway and that was conducted by Sport England. They had a number of locations and then they came down as Wembley being the preferred location. The announcement that we were going to enter the bidding process for the World Cup in 2006 came in 1996 after the Euro Championships. I cannot remember which one actually came first. Taking it from a narrow party or Government point of view, we inherited both of the decisions. We inherited both the decision on the location of Wembley, or the new national stadium at Wembley, and we inherited the decision to go for the 2006 World Cup. I hasten to add, before anyone thinks I am trying to pass the blame on to the previous Government, that we, as a party, supported both. Not entirely with regards to the location of the national stadium because those in Birmingham were pretty upset by the decision and, judging by the comments they are making and the smug smiles on their faces at the moment, they are still hopeful that it might end up there. I believe others have suggested that a relocation might be in order but I have got to say now as a London Member of Parliament and as someone who has had lots of contact with organisations like the IOC and FIFA, I know that if we want major world events, particularly if we want an Olympic Games, there is only one city that the IOC will contemplate in this country and that is London. As I said in my evidence to the Select Committee before, that might come as a hard fact to swallow by non-Londoners, but that is a fact and it is a fact that we have to live with if we want the Olympic Games.


  205. Why do you think Mr Bates believed that it ought to have been Manchester or Birmingham?
  (Mr Banks) It is very difficult to know what necessarily moves my good friend, Ken Bates, at any given moment. It might have been that he wanted to be awkward.

Ms Ward

  206. Surely not.
  (Mr Banks) It might mean that he wanted to be different. He quite often likes to be awkwardly different at the same time, as you know. I really have not the faintest idea. It does seem to me though that there is an argument clearly for a national stadium, because it is called national, not necessarily being located in London. I can only guess this, it is only a matter of opinion and, as we know, opinions are cheap, particularly in the press, but the fact is it would seem to me that probably Sport England were thinking ahead to something like the Olympic Games and were already of the mind that if we were going to seriously bid for the Olympic Games in this country, and it goes to a city, not to a country, then London was the only place for a new national stadium with the athletics in it to go.

Mr Keen

  207. Why do you think we have got into such a mess, athletics or not athletics in the national stadium or Wembley Stadium?
  (Mr Banks) I believe I said this when I came to the Committee the last time, that I was hoping this Committee might be able to resolve that particular matter. I think the Committee did identify a number of the reasons why this particular mess has come about. I remain firmly of the opinion that the plan that we unveiled in July 1999—it is all beginning to recede now before my rheumy eyes—that was launched by the Secretary of State for a national stadium at Wembley for football, rugby league and athletics, which he described as a stunning design, was correct both in terms of its design and, indeed, its description as used by the Secretary of State. I still find it difficult to try and fathom out what happened subsequently, how it turned from a stunning design into something that was inadequate. I will perhaps say something about retractable seating and permanent athletics tracks later if I am asked. It turned out then to be inadequate for athletics, inappropriate for an Olympic Games, and all those sorts of things that were not evident to me or, I think, the Secretary of State at the time when we had the press conference to launch the new Wembley. That being so, I really cannot work this out. What I do find annoying, and I am not one who is slow to express annoyance, is that somehow others looked at what was inherited and decided that it was a mess that needed to be cleaned up. Since then the deck has been in, it has been out, it has been in and it seems to be out or back in, in-out shake it all about. It does seem to me, as some have said, a rather strange process. It is not reflecting well on us either as a country or a Government at the moment.

Mr Maxton

  208. Could I ask you whether during your period as Minister for Sport you and your Department and the Government generally ever made a real assessment as to when you thought we were likely to get the Olympic Games?
  (Mr Banks) No. I do not think we did it in quite that way. It was something that we said that we, as a Government, wanted to do. I do not know when the first official statements were made but they became perceived truths, as far as I was concerned. I believe it, I believe that we should be able and ready to host the Olympic Games, the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet bar none, I think that is right that we should do. We are in difficulties here and that is of course that it is not the Government's decision with regard to whether we host the Olympic Games any more than it is the Government's decision whether we host any major sporting event. We can only be supportive to those sports bodies that in their wisdom decide that we are going to make a bid, I just feel that we ought to be more supportive of them to be honest.

  209. I am sceptical about that. The evidence we got from Australia was basically not that the Australian Government made the bid but the New South Wales Government certainly was the major mover in terms of the bid. It was not Sydney city and it was not the usual sports authority in Australia, it was the New South Wales Government.
  (Mr Banks) With great respect, Mr Maxton, that is how the Australians do it, that is not how we do it in this country. I am sure there is much that we could learn from the way that the Australians did it. The way that the Greeks are doing it as a matter of fact—and I am working fairly closely with the Greek Government at the moment with regard to their Olympic Games because it is going to be a great Olympic Games—the Greek Government are determined that it is going to be better than Sydney which means the Greek Government are going to spend as much money as they are required to spend in order to make it as great because they obviously have a great deal of their own history and reputation standing on that success. We do not do it like that in this country. There is a culture in this country of doing things on the cheap. I think we can see that in a number of projects. This is not just something that is peculiar to this Government, it is attendant upon all governments as far as I can work out. Do it on the cheap, try and find someone else to pay for it and in the end we all end up paying a much higher price than we would have done if we had done it properly from the beginning.

  210. Do I take it from that you actually want to see if there was a series of Olympic bids that, as in Sydney, the Minister of Sport would be actually chairman of the organising committee and the Government committing money—large sums of money—to ensure, first of all, we get the bid and secondly that we then build the facilities to ensure they are a success?
  (Mr Banks) It does not have to be the Minister for Sport, it has to be a Minister.

  211. A Minister.
  (Mr Banks) Since, if my memory serves me correctly, I first suggested this to the Committee some time ago when I first appeared before the Select Committee, which resulted in the Committee's recommendation for a Minister for Events, I do feel that is absolutely essential but it is conditional upon one other thing. We are not just talking about an interfering Minister, you can only really carry sway and make decisions if you are actually picking up the tab or a substantial proportion of it. What we have done is to have Ministers interfering in a process in which there is no direct Treasury money at all of us getting the worst of all possible worlds. In many respects, although people might believe that Mr Bates is a rather surly and "in your face" character, I actually think he has been excessively polite to the Government. I am not saying this Committee does, I am suggesting that is perhaps his reputation, that he does not do anything to mitigate. Quite frankly I think he was excessively polite on a number of occasions because I know what I would have said to a Government that was not putting any money in but kept telling me what I should be doing when I was representing the organisation that was putting the great majority of the money up. I know exactly what I would have said and, of course, polite company deems that I do not mention that in this Committee this morning.

  212. It is a bit unfair to say the Government was not putting money in, if you take the Lottery money.
  (Mr Banks) Well, Lottery money, we agree that is public money.

  213. Yes.
  (Mr Banks) That is public money. We have this nonsense of the arm's length principle which, as you know, I have never supported—never supported—even going right back to the days of the GLC. I well remember the debates we had on the introduction of the Lottery. We were very insistent that it should be based on the approach of additionality without Government interference.

  214. Government can still lay down the policies.
  (Mr Banks) Yes, but Government was not supposed to be involved, as it were, in the minutiae of its administration.

  215. Do you not actually think the £100 million which is going to Wembley would have been better spent providing football facilities at grass roots of the game to ensure that we have the young players who might then have a chance of providing England or whatever country with a team that might win the World Cup?
  (Mr Banks) I do not think it is an either/or situation. I do not think we have to make that sort of hard choice. Again we are looking at all this with the benefit of hindsight. One could argue that football could have done it all on its own but, after all, if we were calling it the national stadium and athletics was not bringing anything to it, rugby league was not bringing very much to it, if anything, I cannot altogether recall, it was quite right if it was going to be called the national stadium that the football authorities should not have to take the complete burden of the costs. I think there is a good reason for there being a public contribution which, as we said, was not Treasury money but public money through the Lottery. I believe there is enough money in football and if there is enough will we do not have to have an either/or situation. Certainly we do need to develop more grass roots and football activities, football academies. I am pleased to see that the Government is working with the football authorities in order to try and do that.

  216. There are enormous sums of money coming to football through television rights in particular.
  (Mr Banks) Yes.

  217. Yet little of it seems to be going down either in terms of going to Wembley Stadium or going down to the grass roots of the game?
  (Mr Banks) Again, Mr Maxton, the details of the answer are best left to the Football Association and the Premier League to answer for. I am glad to see that at least an element of the money that is coming in from television, five per cent, is going to go through into grass roots football, and it is quite a significant sum of money. We have set up various bodies, Government backed bodies to assist in that process and I think that is absolutely right. As you know, as Minister, I was very much in favour of a football regulator and said so on many occasions because I felt that there was more that could be done both in terms of redistributing wealth within football itself and also protecting the fans. Like a number of one's ideas they did not come to fruition but that is life.

  218. Lastly, could I just ask you, when you were Minister for Sport and within the Government, was any research commissioned to work out exactly whether there are any real economic and social benefits from holding major events like the World Cup or the Olympic Games? Australia would claim they did do this.
  (Mr Banks) Yes. There is certainly evidence. There is certainly plenty of objective evidence. That was also put in to our various submissions, into our backing and briefing papers with regard to the 2006 bid based on what was achieved out of the Euro '96 competition, hosting that. Yes, I think there is enough objective and impartial academic advice and economic advice that would suggest that, yes, there is a definite benefit to a country, to a city, for bidding for these great sporting events.

  219. Is it a short-term benefit of the actual two or three week event bringing in tourists? London attracts enough tourists without having to have the Olympic Games to bring more in, does it not?
  (Mr Banks) I think they are probably short-term costs rather than benefits but they are certainly long-term benefits. I do not know whether this is apocryphal but there is a thought that has begun to gather some credibility that cities actually will bid for the Olympic Games with the support of their governments in order to bring forward transport infrastructure decisions which are obviously to the long-term benefit of the citizens of that city. I can understand that. Manchester did pretty well out of their abortive Olympic bid. You can well see if you have a government that is supportive there is a whole host of things which can be done that are for the long-term benefits of the city and for the country. The way the Japanese approached the Winter Olympics in Nagano, for example, building a most wonderful railway system, that is a permanent benefit for communities. One can see that it is in the interests of a city to put a bid in. Perhaps it is in the best interests of a city to put a bid in, get lots of government support but not actually win and so have to pick up the short-term costs.

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