Former British PM Major skipped 1996 Olympics to watch cricket | Daily News


Former British PM Major skipped 1996 Olympics to watch cricket

Sir John Major watching cricket at Lord’s - The Home of Cricket.
Sir John Major watching cricket at Lord’s - The Home of Cricket.

UK: Former British Prime Minister John Major dodged going to the Atlanta 1996 Olympics to stay in London and watch cricket instead, newly declassified files showed Tuesday.

Major weighed up the pros and cons of going to the Games, with his advisors pushing him to attend, insisting he had “street cred” in sport and it would make for great pictures of him in “relaxed, jacket-off mode”.

But the cricket-loving premier stuck to his guns and missed seeing Britain’s only gold medal -- to watch England lose to Pakistan instead in the first Test at Lord’s.

The files were released after 23 years in the vaults at the National Archives.

Major seemed keen on Atlanta when the idea was raised in February 1996 and flight plans were drawn up.

In a memo to Major on June 7, his private secretary Rachael Reynolds said she understood he was thinking of going to Lord’s rather than Atlanta and “it would be a pity” if he missed the Olympics.

The adviser told him US president Bill Clinton, South African president Nelson Mandela and French president Jacques Chirac were all going, and “even the King of Finland is turning up!” The draft programme would have seen him witness oarsmen Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent win Britain’s only gold medal of the Games.

In a further memo to Major on June 19, Reynolds said decision time was fast approaching and spelled out the advantages and disadvantages.

“You will be very tired at the end of July,” she wrote, of the negatives. “It is a long flight and the weather will be hot in Atlanta.

“Second, you will miss the Lord’s Test and you are unlikely to be able to pick up a satellite channel in America which carries cricket.” As for the advantages, she said it would likely be his last chance to attend an Olympics as prime minister, and there might be “snide remarks” if he did not show up to support the British team.

“Some of the best pictures we see of you are in relaxed, jacket-off mode and there would be plenty of opportunity for that,” Reynolds insisted.

“You cannot do too much of associating yourself with winners.” She said Major was strongly linked with sport in a way “no other politician” was and “you should capitalise on this”.

“I do think it is worth doing, if you can bear it. You have established your street cred in this area so well, it would be a pity to miss an opportunity which only comes up every four years.” In the end, Reynolds wrote to the British Olympic Association on June 28, telling them: “The prime minister has decided that his programme at the end of July is too heavily committed for him to be able to travel to Atlanta.” Pakistan beat England by 164 runs.

Meanwhile, more files released by Britain’s National Archives also indicated that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher granted Corazon Aquino’s request for asylum at the height of the uprising that swept her to power in the Philippines, according to newly declassified files released on Tuesday.

Aquino headed the four-day 1986 People Power Revolution that ended the 21-year rule of totalitarian President Ferdinand Marcos.

He had declared victory in a snap election tainted by fraud allegations.

During the turmoil, Aquino sought sanctuary in the British embassy or the ambassador’s residence in Manila, the National Archives files indicated.

But Britain’s protection was ultimately not needed as Marcos stepped down the following day and the Aquino government was officially recognised.

The asylum request was in a Downing Street file on Britain’s relations with the Philippines spanning from 1981 to 1995.

On the evening of February 24, 1986, Foreign Office diplomat Len Appleyard wrote to Charles Powell, Thatcher’s private secretary for foreign affairs.

He said Aquino had asked whether Britain would be prepared to offer sanctuary in the British embassy or residence at 8:00 am local time the following morning -- midnight in Britain.

Appleyard said Aquino had rejected sanctuary with the Americans and the Japanese but turned to the British “because they are ‘friendly and reliable’”.

It was thought the request was a contingency in case the situation turned ugly.

Appleyard said Aquino had widespread support and was “almost certainly deprived of the presidency by fraud”, while the move would ensure warm relations with the likely next government.

But Britain feared it could not effectively guarantee her safety and the ambassador’s residence would be “impossible to defend” against government forces.

The residence would become the focus for “massive demonstrations of support” by her backers and opponents alike, with the risk of armed clashes, Appleyard wrote.

Aquino would in effect try to conduct a provisional government from the residence and therefore Britain would be involved in the country’s internal politics.

Britain’s foreign minister at the time, Geoffrey Howe, considered any offer of sanctuary as an “illusory gesture” which could drag Britain into Philippine internal affairs.

But Powell swiftly replied later that evening, with Thatcher’s approval “to offer such refuge as we have”, but warned: “For obvious reasons we cannot guarantee Mrs Aquino’s safety.

Thatcher, who left power in 1990, died in 2013 aged 87. Aquino remained as President until 1992. She died aged 76 in 2009.

Meanwhile, British urged France not to conduct controversial nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific while Queen Elizabeth II was in New Zealand, newly released government files showed Tuesday.

The then-prime minister, John Major, told president Jacques Chirac nuclear tests would put the monarch in an “invidious position”, as nearby New Zealand’s head of state, according to the declassified documents from the National Archives.

The underground tests were conducted on Moruroa atoll in French Polynesia in the southern Pacific Ocean, triggering outrage in many countries, including New Zealand.

France began a series of what turned out to be six tests on September 5, 1995, with subsequent tests on October 1 and October 27.

Queen Elizabeth was visiting New Zealand from October 30 to November 13, taking in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Auckland.

Britain, a fellow nuclear weapons state and United Nations Security Council member, supported the French tests.

A Foreign Office confidential note said: “We should make a strong pitch to the French, cashing in our support for their position on testing.”

A note ahead of Major’s July 29 lunch with Chirac said the objective was “to press President Chirac strongly to avoid nuclear tests in early November, during CHOGM and the visit of HM The Queen to New Zealand. “Risk of particular embarrassment to HM The Queen,” it warned.

A summary of the lunch talks, marked secret, recorded the prime minister telling Chirac that the tests would bring some “very difficult discussion” at CHOGM.

It would cause a problem not just for Major but “even more importantly for The Queen who, as the constitutional monarch of New Zealand as well as the UK, would be put in an invidious position”.

Unlike Britain, New Zealand’s government was vehemently opposed to the tests.

“Chirac took out his pen. ‘I will see to it’,” the summary recorded.

Chirac had announced eight tests but said France would stop at seven, earlier than the advertised date of May.

He said France appreciated Britain’s support and wondered why France was getting “such a hammering” when China received hardly any criticism for doing the same, if not more, the summary said.

Major said that if other EU leaders tried to raise the issue at their next meeting, he would intervene first, support France and tell them that “if, God, forbid, the chips were ever down”, they would presumably not object to being under the French and British nuclear umbrella, the note recorded.

Much of the CHOGM summit was dominated by condemnation of France’s actions, with Major the odd man out.

The tests resumed after CHOGM on November 21, with two more on December 27 and January 27.

By way of thanks for his support, Chirac phoned Major to tell him the tests were over, before making a public announcement.

Notions that Chirac visit nuclear weapons facilities in Britain during his 1996 state visit were quickly shut down.

Major’s private secretary, Roderic Lyne, considered the suggestion from Chirac’s senior military adviser that the pair tour a nuclear submarine as “extraordinarily ill-timed”.

Separate documents show diplomatic back and forth about the appropriate level of pomp for Chirac’s state visit to Britain, a year into his presidency in 1996.


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