Alan Hubbard ©ITG

The race is now under way to become the next leader of Britain’s Conservative Party with a huge field of 10 runners already out of the blocks now that the hapless Theresa May has been shot in the back by the starter’s pistol.

Former Mayor of London and one-time Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson apparently is in pole position of an otherwise pretty undistinguished bunch, which leads me to contemplate how much more intriguing it might have been had Lord Sebastian Coe been in the mix. My guess is he would have been as much the front runner now as he was in his days on the track.

Then double Olympic champion from Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 curtailed his brief political career to become the principal architect of London 2012 and subsequently head honcho of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the job he has always wanted, he says.

It may yet lead one day to the ultimate goal, the Presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) although astonishingly he has yet to be invited to become a member.

Coe was always on the liberal wing of the Tory party whom he represented in Parliament as MP for Falmouth in Cornwall from 1992 to 1997. He returned to politics for a short time as Leader of the Opposition William Hague’s chief of staff, having accepted the offer of a Life Peerage in May 2000.

He spurned a plea from the Conservatives to run for Mayor of London in succession to Johnson but many in the Party believe that had he remained in politics he would have been an ideal candidate for the leadership, and his charisma and track record in heading up both London 2012, the British Olympic Association (BOA), several businesses and  now world athletics suggests this could be so.

Double Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe entered politics after retiring from athletics in 1992 as the MP for Flamouth before losing his seat five years later in the Tony Blair landslide ©Getty Images
Double Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe entered politics after retiring from athletics in 1992 as the MP for Flamouth before losing his seat five years later in the Tony Blair landslide ©Getty Images

Some bookmaker friends certainly think so, saying he would be favourite even with his good friend Bojo in the field. One prominent former political figure who believes he would have been a leading contender is the current BOA chair Sir Hugh Robertson, who did such an impressive job as Sports and Olympics minister and as Coe’s cohort in the 2012 organisation.

As Sir Hugh points out, Coe had the lowest swing against him of any Conservative candidate who lost their seat in 1997 in the landslide that saw the Labour Party led by Tony Blair replace the Conservatives in Government. 

He told insidethegames: "If he had survived [in Parliament], he would have been a very major player in Conservative politics thereafter and definitely a leadership candidate - and one I would have backed! - in one of the subsequent leadership elections. However, involvement in Conservative politics would have prevented him being Chairman of LOCOG (London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and London 2012 would not have been the success that it was without his leadership.

"I am sure that he would have been a Secretary of State, and a very good one, in a major Government department if he had gone back into politics after London. Politics’ loss has been the IAAF’s gain. He would also have been an outstanding Mayor of London.”

I suggested to Sir Hugh that he too might have been a welcome runner in the current race had he remained an MP but he replied: "Personally, I always count myself extremely lucky in that my five years as a Minister encompassed two things that I cared about deeply - namely London 2012 and The Middle East, where I had served as a soldier during The first Gulf War. 

"I am not sure that I was ever Party political enough to win the support necessary to stand for Leader - nor would I have welcomed the public exposure. I am also hugely enjoying my time at the BOA which could not have happened if I had stayed in Parliament."

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, left, is favourite to become Britain's new Prime Minister but Sebastian Coe,right, may have given him a run for his money if he had still been involved in politics ©Getty Images
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, left, is favourite to become Britain's new Prime Minister but Sebastian Coe,right, may have given him a run for his money if he had still been involved in politics ©Getty Images

The fact that he is a peer sitting in the House of Lords would not have ruled him out of occupying No 10 Downing Street. In the 312-year history of the British Parliament several have done so. The last peer to serve as Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home renounced his peerage shortly after taking office in 1963. The Marques of Salisbury, whom retired in 1902, was the last Prime Minister to lead a Government from the Lords.

Neither would 63-year-old Coe have been the first former sports star to become leader of a country. The former World Footballer of the Year and Ballon D’Or winner George Weah has been President of Liberia for the past 18 months and the great cricketer all-rounder Imran Khan is now Pakistan’s Prime Minister.

Weah, 52, who won 60 caps and scored 22 goals for his country, played for several top European clubs as well as in the Premier League for Chelsea and Manchester City. His 19-year-old son Timothy is with one of his father’s former clubs, Paris St Germain.

Weah, took over as the African nation’s President from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel peace prize laureate.

Khan, indisputably the greatest cricketer to emerge from Pakistan, and arguably the world's second-best all-rounder after Gary Sobers became his nation's 22nd and current Prime Minister in 2018. He is the founder and chairman of the centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Khan, 66, retired from cricket in 1992. In total he made 3,807 runs and took 362 wickets in Test cricket. After graduating from Oxford University, he played n England for Worcestershire and made his home debut for Pakistan in 1976, and played until 1992. He also served as the team's captain intermittently between 1982 and 1992, notably leading Pakistan to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Pakistan's first and only victory in the competition.

Former cricketer Imran Khan is among ex- sportsmen to have entered politics and is now Pakistan Prime Minister ©Getty Images
Former cricketer Imran Khan is among ex- sportsmen to have entered politics and is now Pakistan Prime Minister ©Getty Images

Both he and Weah are battling corruption in their respective countries, a situation with which their former sports are not unfamiliar with.

Back on the home front, the only one of the ten candidates for the Tory party leadership and thus PM is dear old Boris Johnson, whose support for 2012 helped make the Olympics the great success they were. He played rugby at Oxford University as a tighthead prop for his college Balliol. He jogs and  cycles regularly and once challenged Coe to a race down Fifth Avenue in New York. "I didn’t win," he recalls. "He’s rather fast, you know."

A re-run for the ultimate prize in British politics might have been much closer, and would certainly have taken our minds off Brexit.