Questions to be asked about Olympic Stadium’s future

Questions are to be asked in the London Assembly about the 2012 Olympic Stadium’s legacy mode because of fears that the £570 million venue will “not be fit for purpose” to bring future major sporting events to the city after the Games.

Politicians and senior LOCOG staff believe that the Olympic Stadium, with athletics track, could be maintained with more than 50,000 seats after 2012, making it capable of staging world or European athletics championships and matches in football or rugby World Cups. “You can play great football in a stadium with an athletics track,” one senior LOCOG insider stated recently.

Despite the best intentions of LOCOG chairman, Lord Coe, to deliver a viable home to British athletics after the Olympics, the 25,000-capacity “legacy mode” of the stadium is less than half the minimum size demanded by track’s world governing body to stage its world championships.

Britain has never staged the track and field European championships or the IAAF’s world championships. London was awarded the hosting rights for the third largest global sporting festival in 2003 and 2005, but the IAAF had to take the event elsewhere when the Government failed to deliver on a promise to provide a suitable stadium.

Now, politicians are seriously questioning the stadium’s legacy plans, with Andrew Boff, Olympic spokesman for the Conservative group at the London Assembly, telling that he will ask a question of Mayor Boris Johnson to determine the precise costs of reducing the Olympic Stadium from its 80,000 Games mode to its 25,000-seat legacy version.

Boff has his “serious concerns” that legacy plans for London’s Olympic Stadium “would make it not fit for purpose” to host future international athletics championships.

“I will be asking a question in the Assembly of the Mayor, to find out what it will cost to reduce the stadium capacity from 80,000 to 25,000, and also what it might cost to re-instate seats to bring the stadium up to at least 50,000 capacity,” Boff said.

With England bidding to stage football and rugby World Cups in the decade after the London Olympics, Boff questioned the logic of spending millions on a prestigious new venue and not having it available for such tournaments.

Baroness Ford, who takes up the post of chairman of the Olympic legacy board in September, has also expressed her view that the stadium must be maintained in a form capable of staging major sports events after the Games.

“People you talk to say that what is needed is a much stronger sporting legacy there and I want to work very closely so that what we leave there is a knockout sporting legacy,” she said in an interview with the Evening Standard‘s Matthew Beard last week.

“I’d like to think about what we can do in terms of a really strong visitor attraction to the park. At the moment that doesn’t quite sing out to me from the master planning that’s been done with the stadium in particular.”

Coe, the double Olympic gold medalist on the track who is now a vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, and his LOCOG team developed the 25,000-seat option for the stadium after attempts floundered to find an “anchor tenant” from English Premiership football clubs or professional rugby teams.

The Football Association’s World Cup bidding team is not due to finalise its venue plans for 2018 until November. Currently Wembley and Twickenham are penciled-in as venues in the capital.

With so much public money being used to develop the Olympic Park and its transport links to the east of the city, the Government and London Assembly may apply pressure on the FA to overcome its prejudices against having a running track around a football pitch.

Coe, who is also a non-executive director of England’s World Cup bid, confirmed that the Olympic Stadium is now being considered as an option. “We seem to be about the only country in the world that seems to think it’s absolutely impossible under any circumstances to play football inside a running track.

“I see no reason why the Olympic Stadium should not be used and the evaluation team at the FA are working on this now and will be looking at this.”

Senior officials from the IAAF visited London last month and expressed satisfaction with the progress being made. Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, stressed confidence that the stadium would not be a “white elephant”, a fear expressed by IOC president Jacques Rogge.

But after the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, when the Olympic Stadium was later transformed into a ball-park, with no track facility retained. Diack is anxious that similar pragmatic sporting economics are not applied in London.

London, with a population of 6 million and one-third of the U.K.’s population within an hour’s journey, still depends on Crystal Palace as its national athletics stadium.

The near-50-year-old south London stadium with an 18,000 capacity suffers from poor road links, although it does have a railway station just a 30-minute train journey from central London.

Before the Olympic Stadium is completed, Crystal Palace will stage a meeting in the IAAF’s Diamond League in 2010 and 2011, with the prestigious track event providing a practice mkeeting for the Games in 2012. In 2013, however, while work is conducted to re-configure the Olympic Stadium to post-Games legacy mode, it will not be capable of hosting the Diamond League.

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