INSIDE LINES: Mayoral race is a no-Coe area

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SEBASTIAN COE has resisted strenuous overtures, not least from his boss William Hague, to step into Jeffrey Archer's spikes in the race for Mayor of London. "It was never a runner," Coe assures me, despite high-level pressure from top Tories who believed his clean-cut image would have been the perfect antidote to the aroma left by the Lord of the Lies. Coe's athletics achievements, unlike Archer's, are beyond question and Hague is among those who felt the double Olympic champion has the charisma to capture the London vote. But the only London race Coe is likely to enter next year is the marathon, not that for mayor. "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing," says the ex-MP for Falmouth who is Hague's chief henchman and judo partner. However, whether Coe will eventually be able to resist taking another top job early in the millenium is more doubtful. Before his sudden death recently, Primo Nebiolo, president of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, was strongly hinting that Coe, perhaps the only Englishman he truly admired, should be his successor. Coe was an honoured guest at the recent IAAF congress in Monaco where he could not fail to be aware of the growing clamour for him to take over from interim president Lamine Diack in 2001. Michael Portillo might hold the key to all this. Should Iron Mike eventually KO Hague as Tory leader, Coe may well be happy to forsake politics and run for mayor of athletics.

Athletics' laser show, page 17: The Diary, page 19

Spit and polished off

Kate Hoey is spending the weekend digesting the top-secret contents of the report she ordered into the rebuilding of Wembley as all-purpose Olympic arena as opposed to a super-domed football stadium. This has been prepared - at a cost of pounds 25,000 to the taxpayer - by an American experts in stadium construction and all interested parties will be called in to hear the findings this week. These are expected to show that New Wembley can be adapted as an 80,000-seater Olympic venue but that to do so satisfactorily will mean further expenditure of up to pounds 54m. Who foots the bill for this will be the subject of heated debate, with Ken Bates insisting that Wembley will not cough up another penny. He says Wembley have a binding contract with Sport England,who have contributed pounds 120m towards the astonishingly high figure of pounds 475m and that's an end to the matter. We shall see. Government lawyers have been called in to examine the small print of this contract and it is conceivable that, unless a happy compromise is reached with both UK Athletics and the British Olympic Association over Lord Foster's ridiculously expensive and convoluted design for a portable track at the stadium, Sport England will be pressed to withdraw their financial support. The Sports Minister is said to be "spitting mad" at the arrogance of Bates and his cohorts." Well, she would be except for the fact that, as she, er, phlegmatically pointed out last week, you don't see sportswomen, unlike their male counterparts, "going around spitting".

One snowman and his dog

One of the great characters of winter sports died last week. Serge Lang, the 79-year-old Frenchman who created the World Cup of skiing, was for many years the tsar of the Alps, not only running the shows but reporting on them for L'Equipe newspaper. He was so powerful that once he even had his pet dog accredited to accompany him in the press tent. And no, it wasn't a St Bernard.

Chris cross with the French

Chris Brasher is still doing his bit for Britain. The former Olympic steeplechase champion, founder of the London Marathon - and now one of the country's leading racehorse owners - traditionally provides a case of wine for the celebration dinner after the Thames Hare and Hounds mob match, an annual cross country run in Richmond Park, west London. In the past it has always been Beaujolais Nouveau but yesterday the wine had a distinctly Australian flavour, Brasher's personal protest against the French ban on British beef.

Sam plays it again, and again

Only Peter Hain was missing when the old anti-apartheid campaigners gathered in Kenilworth last week for the CCPR conference, much of which was dedicated to the problems of social exclusion in sport. Sam Ramsamy, the one-time rebel who now heads the South African National Olympic Committee after 22 years in exile here, paid a flying visit - in on the morning flight from Johannesburg and out on the evening return - to renew his acquaintance with now London-based Donald Woods, the former newspaper editor whose anti-government stance was the subject of the film Cry Freedom. No doubt Hain would love to have swapped stories with smiling Sam about their days carrying the banners outside the South African Embassy, but he, too, is now part of the Establishment as minister for state at the Foreign Office, where duty called. All would have been disappointed at the meagre representation of ethnic minorities in the audience.

United in song

Exotica Records chief Jim Phelan is sending out a worldwide appeal for songs about Manchester United. He says he already has a "rap" in Welsh about Ryan Giggs and a fan in Australia has promised a United ditty with a didgeridoo accompaniment. "There must be many more out there, perhaps from places like Japan and China," he says. Maybe Posh Spice can tell him what he wants, what he really, really wants.

Fears over forged passports

Gordon Taylor, chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, last night called on the Football Association to investigate a possible bogus passports racket. The move follows concern over the case of the Argentine striker Esteban Fuertes, who Derby had hoped to sign for pounds 2.5m but who was refused entry back into Britain after being found with a fake passport. There are fears that two other players have been under suspicion for holding forged documents. According to a Sunday newspaper, "the scandal involves players from countries outside the European Union drawn into a web of deceit to get round Britain's work permit regulations". Taylor is quoted as saying: "We have heard rumours. It's a big concern to us. The Fuertes case smacks of an underworld trade in passports. The FA should be concerned. It is their duty to look after homegrown players and English nationals." A Home Office spokesman said: "I'm sure the Immigration Enforcement Agency will be interested in other possible irregularities." Graham Bean, the FA's compliance officer, has visited Derby and exonerated the club of any blame, adjudging them unwitting victims.