London 2012 nears its conclusion, but what's next for Lord Coe?


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The Independent Online

When Kenya's David Rudisha rocketed across the finishing line in the 800m to set the first athletics world record of London 2012, Sebastian Coe was there in the stands of the Olympic Stadium cheering.

Alongside Mo Farah’s double triumph, Lord Coe declared Rudisha's gold the “stand out” performance of the Games and it was not difficult to see why. It took place in the stadium that the London 2012 chairman ensured got built, in the event that was once his own and involved an athlete who was inspired as a child by watching videos of the British runner.

But the crowning moment of the 30th Olympiad for the man most closely identified with its organisation also encapsulates the next big question for him - what will he do once London 2012 is over?

Part of that conundrum was answered today when David Cameron announced Lord Coe would become the Government’s Olympics Legacy Ambassador. His job – which will be part time and unpaid - will be to work across departments to ensure that momentum created by the success of the Olympics is driven into increased sport in school, investment and business and volunteering.

But that is only one – and probably quite small - element of where the debonair peer is heading.

After hanging up his spikes with four Olympic golds and eight world records, Coe concentrated on a business career developing a chain of eponymous health clubs before entering Parliament, first as a Conservative MP and then, when he was unceremoniously dumped out of his seat in 1997, as chief of staff to then Tory leader William Hague.

But, as his enthusiasm for the performance of Rudisha showed, Coe's heart still belongs to sport. And, despite a politick refusal to publicly countenance the future, it is a reasonable bet that it lies in the Byzantine world of sports governance.

When asked by The Independent what he considers to be his own London 2012 legacy, Coe laughed and said he was still focused on completing the Olympic programme. He said: “I am just getting this across the line with our teams. I am not really thinking much beyond, well, not thinking anything beyond the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games.”

The reality is that while he is indeed concentrating on the matter in hand, Coe has thought beyond the end of London 2012. Earlier this year he announced his intention to stand as president of the governing body of international athletics, the IAAF, when the incumbent, former Senegalese long jumper Lamine Diack, steps down in 2015.

Speaking last month, Coe said: “I'd be happy to run my sport. I'm ready. I know how to do this.”

In order to assume the helm, Coe is likely to have to surpass another Olympian legend and formidable operator in the shape of former Russian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, who like Coe is also an IAAF vice-president.

But beyond this lies the ultimate prize for the sporting blazerati - the presidency of the International Olympic Commission. Modesty, and the fact that leadership of the IOC is only conferred on those who have done long service, prevents Coe from expressing any ambition to head perhaps the most self-consciously august body in world sport.

The presidency of the IAAF confers automatic IOC membership on its holder it represents Coe's best chance of getting his feet under the table at the body's opulent Swiss headquarters. Britain already has four members, including Princess Anne and Sir Craig Reedie, and although there is no quota, it is highly unlikely the country would get another.

Coe, who set up and led the IOC athlete's commission and whose impeccable credentials would be valuable to a body where memories of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal, is in a strong position. The previous IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, widely considered the architect of the modern Olympics, was a close friend and treated Coe almost as a son.

But, in a world where the jockeying for position is every bit as tight and ruthless as that experienced by Coe on the running track, it is very far from a foregone conclusion. An IOC member said: “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.”

A great job indeed. With London widely regarded to have produced one of the best Olympics ever, Coe emerges from the last 16 days with enormous credit. The peer took over the stewardship of the London bid in 2004 after its previous head, American businesswoman Barbara Cassani, stood down and the capital was widely regarded as lagging behind New York and Paris. Even after victory in 2005 with a cleverly aimed emphasis on inclusivity and sustainability, Coe had to steer the vast edifice of the London organising body, Locog, through its £9bn budget.

The result has not been without glitches and failures. The London 2012 ticketing website has been a place of fear and loathing for many of its users while Locog was criticised for the zealousness with which it sought to protect the marketing supremacy of the Olympics’ corporate sponsors. Flip-flopping over the Olympic Stadium, which was originally announced by Coe to be handed on as a 25,000-seat athletics arena and is now planned to remain largely intact as a 60,000-seat stadium, has also been unedifying.

But, amid the eulogies of praise that will rain down on London for its 30th Olympiad, Coe can bask in reflected glory. Jacques Rogge, the man he might yet follow as president of the IOC, said: “I have great confidence in Sebastian Coe. He is a very knowledgeable man. He has his heart in the right place and the heart in the right place means he thinks about the athletes first. He is very talented; he can build a team, so I have high respect for him. And I think he did a very good job.”