Opinion: Lions tour will be no safari for Campbell

Watching the FA Cup final on a sunny Saturday in May is a tradition I will always cherish, but this year's event was totally ruined. Not because it rained, or even because Arsenal won. No, it was the decision of the live TV editor to flash up a shot of a smirking Alastair Campbell that spoilt my afternoon.

The Prime Minister's former spin doctor was sitting next to Sir Clive Woodward with the whole British and Irish Lions rugby squad. As you may know, Campbell has been brought in by Woodward to handle media communications for the forthcoming tour of New Zealand, a decision that has not exactly been welcomed by the rest of the rugby establishment. I bumped into a former Lion and Scottish international the other day and what he had to say about Campbell is unprintable. He is not alone. Many rugby hacks aren't that enamoured either.

The Rugby Writers Club has complained to the Lions management that Campbell has a conflict of interest because he also works as a Times sports columnist.

What they really fear, however, is being bullied, and even misled, by the man who sold the media stories about weapons of mass destruction.

Employing Campbell has already proved to be a PR disaster for Woodward.

Reading the papers, there seems to be more interest in the spin doctor than the Lions themselves - and it could get even worse should results start to go badly and the press turn on the team and its management.

Alastair Campbell knows the decision to appoint him has gone down badly and recently stated: 'The main difference between sports journalists and the lobby is that in sport, if the team wins it's generally a better story.

In politics usually they are happier if things balls up.'

But while Campbell may have the skills to deflect the supine Westminster lobby, he will find sports hacks a much tougher lot. I spent much of Euro 2000 with football journalists who consistently rejected what the FA spin machine fed them. I believe they will relish the chance to get one over on Campbell.

The big difference he will find is that he has absolutely no control over the most crucial aspect of his job: results on the pitch. If the Lions get stuffed - and having been lucky to draw with Argentina in their warm-up game there is every chance they will - then Campbell will have an even more difficult job than he had in selling Tony Blair at the last election.

And this time there will be no Gordon Brown - a great rugby player who lost the sight in one eye playing at school - to come in and save the day.

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