Alan Hubbard

 It is just as well that among her other sporting endeavours Tracey Crouch is a decent swimmer. For she has been thrown into the deep end in her role as the new British Sports Minister, with FIFA-gate quickly followed by a sensational alleged international drugs scandal threatening to turn already stormy waters into a veritable tsunami.

But one senses that in appointing the feisty 39-year-old as the nation’s third female Sports Minister, Prime Minister David Cameron was well aware that though she might make a few waves herself, she would also keep her head well above them while making a splash.

It was a controversial choice after the relatively uncontroversial tenure of predecessor Helen Grant, dropped after just one season. “When I had the call from the PM it certainly wasn’t one I was I was expecting, that’s for sure,” the MP for Chatham and Aylesford told insidethegames.

“I’ve been quite outspoken on a number of issues in the last Parliament and you know how the system usually works. If you are not 100 per cent loyal you don’t get promoted. But here I am in my dream job.”

A month into it, it is one she is already tackling with the relish of an accomplished football coach and a sports nut who has been known to sprint from the Commons gym in her boxercise training gear to vote when the division jell bell sounds.

And those votes haven’t always been in support of the Government. Crouch voted against the badger cull, describing it as "barbaric and indiscriminate". She has also rebelled against the Government in voting against press regulation, so good on her.

Tracey Crouch has been thrown into the deep end in her role as the new British Sports Minister
Tracey Crouch has been thrown into the deep end in her role as Britain's new Sports Minister ©Getty Images

In December, she abstained in the vote to raise tuition fees, one of only two Conservative MPs to do so and one of only eight to not support the Government proposals.

So yes, she was gobsmacked when her mobile rang with the call from Number 10. ”It was well known in Parliament that I was passionate about sport so I imagine he [the Prime Minister] wanted a round peg in a round hole, “ she says.

She takes on the role at a time when Sepp Blatter and Alberto Salazar are depicted as the bêtes noir of global sport and is cognisant with the effects the current investigations into FIFA and what may be happening on the Oregon eyrie that is the athletics alma mater of Mo Farah are having here.

For three years Crouch sat on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee chaired by John Whittingdale, who has been appointed as her Secretary of State. It was a body which played a pivotal role in the highlighting the FIFA corruption allegations so she is well aware that the pockets of certain members of that utterly discredited organisation had back pockets deeper than Santa’ sack.

But, as with the Salazar affair, she says she prefers to await the result of ongoing formal investigations before pronouncing further judgement, except to say that Blatter’s impending departure is a "good thing" and that she has every faith in Britain’s own anti-doping agency "the best in the world" to root out the cheats here.

As for football: ”It needs to help itself. If we are going to have real reform at FIFA, which needs to open and and transparent governance then one of the most interesting questions being asked is whether the next President actually needs to come from within football itself. That is something worth looking at.”

As the Select Committee called for fundamental reform of the English Football Association (FA) and greater fan influence, how clubs on are run here is high among her domestic priorities.

She has already had talks with the FA and soon will be doorstepping the Premier League’s headquarters, putting pressure on them to share more of the anticipated £8 billion ($12 billion/€11 billion) plus television deal with the grassroots of the game.

“The Premier League is the world’s wealthiest and should contribute much more more. I don’t think enough of the money has gone into the grassroots from the last TV deal. I think the fact we are still lagging behind other footballing nations in our facilities is appalling and I really want to make sure the Premier League make a decent contribution to improving that situation. I am genuinely rather appalled that they don’t.”

The Premier League’s £1 million ($1.5 million/€1.4 million) a year overlord Richard Scudamore, accused last year by women’s groups of "having no respect for women" after being exposed for sending emails deemed to be sexist, will find this lady’s not for spurning, a tough cookie quite comfortable in conversing with him on equal terms about parachutes payments and making financial comparisons with the Bundesliga.

Tracey Crouch says Sepp Blatter's impending departure from his role as FIFA President is a 'good thing'
Tracey Crouch claims Sepp Blatter's decision to step down from his role as FIFA President is a "good thing" ©Getty Images

“She certainly knows her stuff,” remarked one sporting sage after she has made her maiden speech to the Sport and Recreation Alliance sports summit at the Oval last week, telling the assembled bigwigs of the business: “Ever since I was a kid I played sport – every sport you could possibly imagine I did. It was a passion I took throughout school into university and then adult life. There I cultivated my love of politics and so now it’s incredible to have the opportunity to work in a job where the two meet.

“I’m very proud to be only the third woman appointed as Minister for Sport. And I’m also proud that I’m the third mid-Kent MP in a row to be given the job. Helen [Grant] achieved a great deal of progress in women’s sport. The report she published before the election was absolutely fantastic and sets out a constructive blueprint to tackle the challenges that women’s sport faces.

”Hugh [Robertson] of course delivered us the London 2012 Olympics. The levels of respect he secured from the sporting fraternity throughout his tenure as Minister, and indeed beyond it, are amazing and I have already taken the liberty of speaking with him at length and pilfered his knowledge.

“I’m an FA-qualified football coach, and for the past eight or nine seasons I’ve been managing a girls’ team in my constituency. And over that time I haven’t just seen them play. I’ve seen how the values they learn through their sport – the teamwork, the determination, the discipline, the drive – have helped them grow as people.

“Grassroots didn’t exist for people like me growing up. If it was there at all it was inaccessible to those on low incomes. My football girls don’t know how lucky they are. They don’t appreciate that 30 years ago I was banned from playing football in the playground. We’ve come a long way but ultimately I want everyone to have the opportunity to be involved, especially those who aren’t seen as the traditional participants

“It is not just about the players. We also need coaches, officials and volunteers, all the people that modern sport needs in order to function.

“Nor am I only focussed on organised, competitive sport. I know that’s not for everyone. What matters to me is getting people active. And if that means someone’s simply striving to register ten thousand steps a day on their smart phone or watch then that’s fine with me.

"There’s a huge amount of money at the top of the sporting pyramid, but precious little trickles down to the lower levels that are so important for the future.

“And, even though it’s 2015, sport is still not as open and welcoming for female athletes and spectators as it is for their male counterparts.

"We’ve come a long way since a teacher broke my heart by telling me I couldn’t play football because I was a girl. Today, Britain’s female sports stars are among the best in the world, regularly outperforming their male counterparts. But there’s still a lot more work to do, and we all need to work together in order to achieve success.”

Tracey Crouch's predecessor Helen Grant made a lot of progress in women's sport
Tracey Crouch's predecessor Helen Grant made a lot of progress in women's sport ©Getty Images

Crouch has slotted more comfortably into the role initially than did her more reticent predecessor, probably because she seems au fait not only with the grassroots but the nuts and bolts at elite level.

Consequently she is also likely to be more interventionist and also happens to have as her DCMS boss in Whittingdale someone whom is genuinely interested in the subject, unlike his own predecessor Sajid David who gave sport only an occasional cursory glance.

Whether she can get to grips with some of the bureaucracy that bedevils the two principal sports quangos, UK Sport and Sport England, and making the case for adequate funding as the promised budget cuts loom, remains to be seen.

There is also the question of sport’s moral obligations on the political playing field. “It is important we make our views clear on human rights issues.”

One currently under the microscope is the staging of the inaugural European Games, in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, a country whose record on human rights has been widely condemned. “I do not think it right to boycott Baku because it is important to our athletes for Olympic qualification. But I am sure there have been discussions going on at a higher level.” Significantly, neither she nor Whittingdale will be attending.

Like both her forerunners Crouch also will have to wear other Ministerial hats. Hers are tourism, heritage and World War One commemorations.

The latter seems an oddly appropriate responsibility in view of the battles ahead.