Sebastian Coe was confirmed yesterday as one of three vice-chairmen of London's Olympic campaign and the former athlete's importance was highlighted by bid leaders admitting their chief rivals have a head start in the race for the 2012 Games.
Lord Coe, twice the Olympic 1500 metres champion, will join the former 400m hurdler Alan Pascoe and the Granada chairman, Charles Allen, as vice-chairmen working under chairman Barbara Cassani.
The appointments were announced at the start of a Parliamentary select committee inquiry into the London Bid. MPs questioned Cassani about the fact that rival cities already had bid merchandise for sale.
"In some ways we are behind Paris and New York, but Paris has bid before and has a legacy of failed bids, and New York was part of a national bidding process [within the United States]," Cassani said. "We are planning to have branded material and we are beginning discussions about that."
MPs also queried whether London Bid officials had done enough "schmoozing" and lobbying the 126 International Olympic Committee members who will vote in July 2005.
Cassani added: "There will be a moment for us to sit in the lobbies and catch IOC members but in order to sell something the product must be in top shape, and that is our first target."
Coe's role will be to encourage support among the UK sporting community and use his international influence abroad to help London's bid. "The Olympic Games is the ultimate ambition for many of our young sportsmen and women," he said. "And I will do everything in my power to help them realise their ambitions of competing in front of a home crowd in 2012."
The appointments of Coe and Allen, the chairman of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester last year, are no surprise but Pascoe's involvement was not expected.
The former hurdler won silver in the 1972 Olympics and has become a leading figure in sports marketing through his company Fast Track.