Evening Standard

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We can take it as read that the nation will express its gratitude to our Olympians, starting with the victory parade in London next month.

But how can we thank the man who created this marvellous stage for Team GB: Mr London Olympics, Seb Coe?

Given that he is already a member of the House of Lords, the Queen could make him a Privy Counsellor and perhaps even fasten the Garter on him. But there are not too many other honours that readily come to mind.

It is tempting to think the enormous success of the London Games means Coe must be a shoo-in to become the next president of the International Olympic Committee. The top job in world sport is up for grabs as president Jacques Rogge retires next year and Coe would be the perfect man for it.

The timing would also be ideal. The IOC meet next September to elect Rogge’s successor but the idea that Coe could be chosen to become the first Briton to chair the organisation is, I am afraid, fantasy. It will not happen because Coe is not a member of the IOC and it is not that easy to become one.

True, any IOC member could nominate Coe for membership but that is highly unlikely. Britain already has four members including Princess Anne and Sir Craig Reedie. Coe’s best bet would be to become president of the Iinternational Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and he has said he would like that job which would also make him an IOC member.

However, the IAAF election is not until 2015 and he would face a formidable rival in the Ukrainian Sergey Bubka, the former pole vaulter. Even if Coe were to vanquish him, by then Thomas Bach, the German most likely to succeed Rogge, would have become well established as the IOC president and looking ahead to his second term.

One IOC member told me: “Just because Seb’s done a great job in London, it doesn’t mean IOC members who have been working in the movement for years will lie down and let him take over. It doesn’t work that way.”

Coe also has not made it easy for himself by leaving his tilt at the IOC presidency so late. In a sense, there are parallels with his 1980 Moscow Olympics. Then, in the 800m, he left his final charge too late and unexpectedly lost to Steve Ovett. However, there he was able to recover to claim the 1500m, an event that had always been seen as guaranteed for Ovett. The more calculating world of sports politics does not provide Coe with such a second chance for gold. For the fact is that, while London 2012 will go down in history as the ‘Lord Coe Games’, nobody expected such an ¬outcome when he was appointed bid leader.

In becoming the country’s most successful sports leader ever, Coe has been a classic tale of a man considered a no-hoper proving his critics thunderously wrong. Recall that, when Coe took over as bid leader in 2004, London was ranked behind Paris and Madrid and the IOC talked of London’s obsolete transport infrastructure.

Coe was then something of an obsolete figure within the bid. True, he was one of the bid vice-presidents but that was a bit like being the vice-president of the United States — a heartbeat away from the presidency but with no real power.

Coe was chosen because Barbara Cassani, the American businesswoman whom Ken Livingstone had appointed as bid leader, had decided she was not cut out to woo elderly, largely male, IOC members in hotel lobbies.

Coe had no problems with the IOC, whose former president Juan Antonio Samaranch treated him like a son. But there was much hostility to him in this country, even from his own Conservative party. As one prominent London Tory told me, the problem with Coe was that he got on committees but did not work or even turn up.

But Coe not only turned up, he did something no other British sports leader has done. He immediately understood that, if London was to succeed, it had to be the ultimate inclusive Games, representing not merely the diversity of this country but making sure we reached out to the rest of the world.

And, as part of this process, he rediscovered his Indian roots on his mother’s side. Curiously, in 1988 when the British Olympic Association denied Coe a place in Team GB for Seoul where he could have won a third 1500m gold, the Indians stepped in. Never having won an athletic medal, they saw this as a golden chance. Coe, not surprisingly, turned down the Indians and, before he became bid leader, he had never even been to his mother’s ancestral home.

But, as leader, he made sure everyone knew of his Indian background. ¬Previous British bids suffered from our sports leaders rarely having much contact with the non-white Commonwealth. Coe reached out so successfully that, by the time the vote on 2012 took place, Britain had tapped into a worldwide constituency. When I arrived in Singapore for the vote, Randhir Singh, the Indian IOC member said to me: “You are going to win.”

That Coe’s strategy was not a mere vote-winning ploy was demonstrated in the way he fashioned the staging of the Games. True, the claims that kids in Soweto would stop throwing stones and take to sport the moment they saw images from the London Olympics were always a touch fanciful. But 2012’s worldwide Inspire programme, shaped by Coe’s vision of the international appeal of sport, is not mere hype.

Coe has said that running the Games means more to him than his athletic triumphs. Now he has delivered, we as a nation must respond. And this responsibility falls on his fellow Tory, David Cameron. Whether this means appointing him the sports tsar with the task of making sure the next generation of school kids benefit from our Olympic heroes, or some other role, does not matter. What is important is that the huge gains made during the Coe Games are not wasted and that his sporting contribution to the nation continues after the closing ceremony.


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