May 14, 2021

Sports Legend

LORD COE: The Duke of Edinburgh was more than just a name on letterhead


LORD COE: The Duke of Edinburgh was more than just a name on letterhead … he was a remarkable man who fully understood the sport and contributed immensely to its development in Britain

  • The Duke of Edinburgh was more than talented in several different sports
  • This inevitably led to some roles in British sport after his years of competition
  • He was a remarkable man who fully understood the sport, his purpose and his passion.

The Duke of Edinburgh was more than talented in just about every sport he turned to, and this inevitably led to bulky roles in British sport after his years of competition.

Many felt that his greatest impact was as chairman of the Central Council for Physical Recreation and as the patron of the National Association of Playgrounds.

In both roles, he brought forward his long-held view that recreational sports strengthen social cohesion, especially in the most difficult neighborhoods, and that people need green spaces to achieve this.

Lord Coe (left) with Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh (right) in London 2012

The Duke had a long-standing association with cricket and was in partnership with more than 20 institutions

The Duke had a long-standing association with cricket and was in partnership with more than 20 institutions

The Duke of Edinburgh was never just a name on letterhead. Anyone lucky enough to be invited to one of his informal dinners where these themes were explored knew before the main course that they were deeply held beliefs.

Nor were they always confined to a private dining room. As Deputy Chairman of the UK Sports Council in the mid-1980s, I had attended many official meetings when an unlucky Sports Minister was unceremoniously undressed not only because Prince Philip knew that the minister had been parachuted into the post, but because he understood in a few minutes that the politician was far from mastering his memory.

After one of these occasions, a minister turned to me and concluded that the meeting had “gone quite well”. I didn’t have the heart to tell them in judo that it would have been an ippon. And while it was clear that Prince Philip did not willingly suffer fools – mercilessly repenting of shortcomings – he was by no means devoid of charm and humor.

In anticipation of the Mexico Games in 1968, he agreed to give a team conference to the British Olympians. The Olympic Association asked him to try to allay anxiety in the ranks that the extreme altitude would hurt performance.

He presented the Wimbledon trophy to men's champion Neale Fraser on center court in 1960

He presented the Wimbledon trophy to men’s champion Neale Fraser on center court in 1960

Dutifully sticking to the brief, he explained that he had competed at altitude several times with little to no impact. Middleweight boxer Chris Finnegan, who returned with a gold medal, waited for the Duke to take a break and politely asked if anyone asked the horse? The room fell silent. A silence broken by the laughter of the duke’s stomach.

He was also chairman of the British Amateur Athletics Board, a forerunner of British athletics. It was customary and welcomed that when a British athlete broke a world record, he was invited to the palace to receive a commemorative plaque. As an 11 record breaker, I became a regular visitor to the 11am presentation. On every occasion, I brought someone who had helped me in my career or a member of my family. On the one hand, I brought my brother Nicholas.

The Duke asked him what he was doing. My brother, who at the time was working for a global fashion brand, tried to explain his role. ‘So what are you doing?’ he probed again. “I’m in the rag business,” he replied bluntly. Again, a belly laugh.

A tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, exhibited at Wembley Stadium on Friday 9 April

A tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, exhibited at Wembley Stadium on Friday 9 April

Authenticity mattered to him. Just before the London Olympics and in his 90th year, I had the privilege of accompanying him to the Olympic Park.

From place to place we traveled at a pace that even I found demanding and at each stop it raised detailed and knowledgeable questions about design, heritage, sustainability and heating systems. . I was relieved to be able to entrust some of them to the architects and the builders who accompanied them.

He was a remarkable man and he fully understood the sport, its purpose, its passion and its place.

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