Wed 20 August 2008, BBC News

Coe's London legacy challenge

By Mihir Bose
When London stages the Games in 2012 , organising chairman Lord Sebastian Coe faces a very different challenge to those he faced on the track. During a tour of Beijing's Olympic venues , I asked whether it compared to the 1980 Moscow Olympics when, having lost in his favourite distance of 800m to his great rival Steve Ovett , he then went on to win in Ovett's favourite distance of 1500m. Coe's reaction was a barely disguised smile. But I suspect it attempted to hide the fact that he considers this the greater challenge, although as the fascinating story of London's successful bid for 2012 shows, Coe has been very adept at reinventing himself for new challenges and proving his detractors wrong. Back in October 2002 when the government was being very reluctantly pushed into bidding for the Olympics by the British Olympic Association , Coe was not even being considered as bid leader. Eventually when Tessa Jowell , then minister for culture media and sport persuaded prime minister Tony Blair and a very lukewarm chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown , the bid leader chosen was the American businesswoman, Barbara Cassani . Coe came in as part-time deputy leader. He only became leader in May 2004 after Cassani had left and London had been adjudged by the IOC to be a poor third to Paris and Madrid in their initial assessment of the cities bidding for 2012. Even then to become leader it required Richard Caborn , the then sports minister to persuade his mentor and deputy prime minister John Prescott , and also for Craig Reedie - Britain's IOC member - to be convinced Coe was the right choice. During the bid Coe rediscovered his roots, which played a crucial part in London winning. Coe's mother was of Indian origin but Coe had never visited India . He was invited by India to run for them in the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Britain refused to choose him. But Coe declined. But during the London bid Coe visited his mother's country for the first time. Soon he had built up a successful coalition of the entire Commonwealth - and not just the old white one that had often in the past been the domain of previous British sports administrators. This coalition was crucial to London's success in Singapore . Before that it used to be said in a contest between London and Paris, Paris would always win because the French always made sure their old colonies voted for them. Coe showed the same could be said of the old British colonies, of whatever colour, and it demonstrated Coe's political touch and his ability to use it to win a sporting contest. Similar political skills will be needed if Coe it to make sure London 2012 is not eclipsed by Beijing 2008 . Coe is well aware that the two Games will be different. For a start London will spend a lot less. Its budget of £9.3bn is well under half that of Beijing's £22.6bn. Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister, has told me there is no more money. If any part of the programme needs more money then there will have to be cutbacks elsewhere. It is interesting to observe how Coe reacts when asked about the challenges posed by Beijing. In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions His response is that the Beijing Games marks a zenith in terms of grandeur and scale. Of course this means London will be different but he insists it will not be in any way inferior. The word here is that London will do it its own way, with a touch of British funkiness. That British ability to surprise people by being different will make up for the fact that stadia will not be iconic. There will be nothing like the Bird's Nest in Stratford , where the venues will be smaller and the whole thing much more functional than here in Beijing. Coe sees legacy as London's trump card, building not just for the 17 days in July-August 2012 but creating venues that will become an essential part of the local community. Coe can be eloquent on legacy and how it is an intrinsic part of London 2012. The problem for Coe and 2012 is legacy is still very much a work in progress. London needs to move quickly to make sure structures are in place, so that come August 2012 the Games can move into legacy mode. Sydney stands out as a missed opportunity. Although the 2000 Games was a huge success, it made no plans for legacy and it is only now eight years later that legacy use is coming together. London does not have that time. From Sunday evening it will be the Olympic city, the rush to get ready for 2012 will begin. There will be Olympic pressure, media pressure and many in London who have no experience of the Olympics will not know what has hit them. Coe knows all about the Olympics but having said legacy is his trump card, and that this will set London apart from other Games, he needs to make sure he plays the card well and soon. Otherwise the extravagance and grandeur of Beijing will still end the winner.
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