Inside Lines: Mandela's a coup but Muslim vote is the key

Sebastian Coe will not be making a unique sporting pilgrimage to Mecca, where the inaugural Islamic Solidarity Games - the biggest multinational sports event outside the Olympics - opened yesterday amid splendour in the holiest of Muslim citadels. But he has passed this way before and doubtless will do so again in the quest to win vital Muslim backing for London 2012. He has already had informal talks with Saudi's influential IOC member, Prince Nawaf, and although he can't make it to Mecca he will be in the Middle East again next weekend, attending an IAAF Council meeting in Qatar.

Getting Nelson Mandela's backing is perhaps the biggest coup so far in the London campaign, but Coe knows that wooing the 15-strong Islamic vote is even more vital, as it could sway the decision in Singapore on 6 July. It is a pity his commitments in Australia did not allow him to be here, as rivals Paris and New York have sent Olympic envoys, but the good lord's feet have hardly touched the ground recently. After Qatar there will be more flesh-pressing at sports conventions in Berlin and then Accra.

At this rate he will acquire more air miles than the man who invented them, Keith Mills, now his chief executive at London 2012. Coe is not among those who writes off the Islamic vote because of the Iraq war, but it is clear from talking to sports and political leaders here that it remains a factor, as does antipathy towards Bush and Blair. The likelihood is that while the Saudis may vote for London the majority will plump for Paris.

Son of Gaddafi seeks to take Roman route

How long will it be before an Arabian Abramovich takes over a British football club? There is no shortage of potential benefactors from a region where pockets run as deep as the oil wells. At least one member of the Saudi royal family is known to have expressed an interest in buying into a Premiership club, as have a group of billionaire businessmen from surrounding Gulf states. But the man determined to get in first is Saadi el-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, who is said to be planning a £200m offer for a "well-known British team". Having failed to make his mark as a player with the Italian club Perugia, Gaddafi, 31, apparently with dad's approval, is reactivating his plan to buy a United Kingdom club. Aston Villa, Everton, Tottenham and West Ham are believed to be among his targets, but all he will say publicly is: "This is very sensitive. It is like the Anglican church, they don't want foreigners to take control. But buying a British club would help broaden Libya's image."

Saudi's World Cup aspirations no mirage

Many observers here believe the Islamic Games are a dry run (in every sense) for a future bid to stage football's World Cup in the Middle East. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, is keen for the event to be held for the first time in this region, where opulence is no object and the passion for the game is growing. Saudi Arabia have the stadiums and the financial resources to host the tournament on their own, but Fifa might favour a joint bid to be assembled with one of the Gulf States - Oman, Kuwait, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates. With 2010 set for South Africa, and 2014 likely to go to South America, 2018 could be the date for football's desert song.

It is not unusual when those from Africa or Asia to whom you have just been introduced say: "Ah, British. Manchester United!" Occasionally Arsenal, Liverpool or perhaps these days Chelsea will be the first phrase that springs to their lips. But Bolton Wanderers?

Such was the greeting from a large, jolly gentleman from Senegal, with whom I shared a breakfast table in Jeddah. "Can you ask Big Sam to bring them to play in Dakar?" he beseeched. There, obviously Sam Allardyce is as big as he is in Bolton, thanks to live telecasts of all their Premiership games. Of course, Senegal's own El-Hadji Diouf really is the main man, and off his back Bolton's shirt sales now outstrip all others. Senegal's World Cup exploits in 2002 have spawned a phenomenal upsurge of interest in football in the country, with five daily sports newspapers where once there were none. But what about Diouf's spitting image? "Can't understand it," said my friend. "He really is such a nice boy." He beamed when I told him that is what Big Sam says, too.

The last time we visited Saudi Arabia, 18 months ago, we chronicled the return of the Iraqi football team to world competition following the fall of Saddam.

However, as they are involved in World Cup qualifying matches, they miss the Islamic Games football event, one of the 13 sports scheduled. These include athletics, swimming and tennis but not boxing - the only contact sport is karate, which has attracted the biggest entry, of 34 nations. This will disappoint Maurice "Termite" Watkins, the Texan who coached their Olympic squad. The former light-welterweight did such a good job, often literally under fire in Baghdad, that he is to receive a special award from the American Boxing Writers next month.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Co...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Part Time

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency based in Ashford, Ke...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent