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Fun and games as the circus hits town

The Prime Minister's sports initiative proved to be a real treat, not only for the papers, but also for Virginia Bottomley, the new minister in charge of fun and games.

The National Heritage Secretary tripped about No 10's rose garden last Friday "in polka-dotted fragrance" (as the Observer put it) at the breakfast launch. But the columnist noted: "As a committed sports buff, John Major is deeply impressive on the subject. Mrs Bottomley somewhat less so . . . Sport will take a lot of convincing that she knows her Arsenal from her elbow."

On the document itself, opinion ranged from high praise to weary cynicism. "At last the Government has served an ace," said The Times. The Daily Express took the opportunity to bash "trendy educational theorists" again. "They should never have been allowed to undermine games, and competitive sport in particular."

The Independent on Sunday reckoned that Major was back on form. "Take an easy issue - too many traffic cones, not enough motorway lavatories . . . too many British sporting failures - and make declarations with which almost nobody can disagree. Then announce some vapid 'initiative' that will not change anything. " The leader pointed to the many reasons for the decline of school sport after 16 years of Tory rule and questioned whether competitive games as opposed to PE were the business of schools.

As for the Pounds 100 million sports academy, the Mirror was ecstatic: it will "give every kid in Britain the chance to be a Beefy", crowed the headline, referring to former England cricket all-rounder, Ian Botham. Tell that to the girls.

The last word to Alistair Cooke: in his latest Radio 4 Letter from America, he reckoned that Major had got it right in emulating the Romans: when the populace is restive, double the bread ration and bring on the circuses.

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