Ringmaster Coe lords it over sport

London 2012: Government quangos will take a back seat to a leader with even more power. Alan Hubbard reports
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The Independent Online

He was invited to Downing Street's inner sanctum to outline to the Government what he described as Plan A for the staging of the Games. Plan B, which would have been used to salvage something for the future of sport following a failed bid, is thankfully screwed up in a waste paper basket.

Ministers listened, and nodded their agreement, something they will be doing from now on. For Coe, as Olympics ringmaster, will be in charge of not only the 2012 show but, effectively, British sport for the next seven years, because there is barely an area of it that will not be affected by having the Games in London.

Thanks to events in Singapore, the lord is now an overlord. Because of who he is and what he has achieved, Coe is virtually unsackable in his new role as president of Locog, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.

Never mind the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, their hand-picked Exchequer-funded quangos, or even the Government itself. All will take a back seat to the double Olympic gold medallist and ex-Tory MP for Falmouth while he gets on with the job of running the Games.

Of course, he needs their support, which he acknowledges. But he makes it clear that he and his 16-strong board will make all the key decisions. "This is not to say we shall subsume the role of any domestic agency but we are organising an Olympic Games, not UK Sport, or Sport England, whose role is to promote sport, and where appropriate fund it.

"But I shall be watching like a hawk to make sure that they deliver, and no one slips up in our commitment to youngsters. I want more British athletes on the medal rostrum. It is no use having a state-of-the-art Games without a shop window of domestic sport that is worthy of those facilities."

Coe clearly knows who, and what, he wants to ensure the Games are economically viable and a sporting triumph, and will stand no truck from anyone in Westminster or Whitehall. He has the ear of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and direct accessibility to him. "I wouldn't say we are pals. We have different political ideologies but we do have a good professional working relationship, and I respect and admire what he did in helping us to get the Games."

He has a similar rapport with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who was reported to have exclaimed "Effin' 'ell, a bloody Tory!" when told Coe was taking over from Barbara Cassani. "John is someone who when you want something, picks up a phone and bellows, 'Get it done!' And it is," says Coe.

He must now establish one with the equally forthright Charles Clarke, who as Home Secretary will chair a Games security committee following the terrorist attacks. Coe says the Games will become a monument to 7 July, as well as the day before. "Our actions are now dedicated to those people who suffered and to the next generation. Those who died and were injured will not be forgotten."

But of course by 2012 there will be regime change, with a new government, a new prime minister, new Olympics and sports ministers and probably a new mayor (some believe that could even be Coe himself should he decide to run in a spring election that year).

So is he happy that he will have the same relationship with, say Gordon Brown (who was initially apathetic about the Games) as he has with Blair? "One of the strengths of our bid was that across-the-board political support was enshrined in the guarantees we gave to the Olympic movement. What is important is that we produce the best Games ever, on time and to budget.

"But this process is not just about bricks and mortar. We want to make sure that off the back of these Games more young people in this country and beyond become involved in sport. These were not warm words to get us through the vote and I didn't take the job just to have a 17-day celebration without any tangible or observable benefits at the end of it. The deep wiring of my DNA has always been for the welfare of competitors."

This is why Coe insists that the role of those sporting ambassadors, including David Beckham, recruited to boost the bid, will continue. One will be appointed to his board as a non-executive director alongside Ken Livingstone, Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, and the successor to Craig Reedie as BOA chairman (probably Sir Matthew Pinsent). "The choice is the prerogative of the BOA, but I have a very clear idea of who I want," says Coe. It is likely to be either Jonathan Edwards or Denise Lewis.

Coe and the admirable Keith Mills, who becomes his deputy while head-hunters seek a new permanent chief executive of Locog, will be instrumental in other top- drawer senior appointments, some of whom will certainly come from Australia, who had a number of emissaries from Sydney's benchmark Games working with the bid team.

"Seb's diary is the size of the London phone book," says Craig Reedie. "He knows everybody."

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