Olympic Stadium and athletics track

Running from commitment

Failure to honour plans for an Olympic Legacy in London will cost athletics dearly, while hugely benefiting football and West Ham.

In their bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, London made clear the importance they would put on keeping an athletics legacy with the new stadium. However, when original plans to turn the stadium situated in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park into a 25,000 seater specialist athletics arena became financially inviable, a compromise would have to be found.

With two Premier League clubs (West Ham and Spurs) battling it out to become the stadium’s new tenants, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) had two very different proposals to consider.

West Ham wanted a retractable seating area to allow for an athletics track when required whilst also adding on a roof. Spurs, meanwhile, wanted to renovate the crumbling Crystal Palace athletics centre whilst removing the athletics track at the Olympic Stadium to turn it into a world class football stadium where the fans remained close to the pitch.

Yet, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) putting pressure on the LLDC to make West Ham the new tenants, the proposal from Tottenham was, in the end, rejected, thus meaning the Hammers would have strong negotiating powers when agreeing fees for the conversion of the stadium.

This resulted in what was described as the “deal of the century” with West Ham paying just £15 million of the renovation costs. In other words, they paid the same for their new stadium as they did for Andy Carrol in 2013…

With the latest figures putting the cost of the renovation to a 54,000 seater arena at £272 million, West Ham have certainly done well out of this. And costing an estimated rent of just £2 million a year coupled with a 99 year-long tenancy agreement, it seems unlikely that they will have to think about their stadium’s future anytime soon.

But how good has the deal been for athletics?

It seems likely that London will now no longer have a full-time world class athletics arena with the Crystal Palace arena heading ever-closer to demolition thanks to a lack of funding and the high cost of renovation.

Without that facility, London will be unable to host any events on the Diamond League circuit without the retractable seats at the Olympic Stadium being removed and the city’s reputation for hosting world class athletics events will surely fall, even with the capital hosting the 2017 World Athletics Championships.


 

See also: Olympics: A dying legacy?


With such a huge emphasis being placed on the legacy of the 2012 Olympics, it seems that the British Olympic Association is failing to deliver the promises that were made with their bid presentation. The hype of the competition has long worn off and some sports (including athletics) are now reporting lower participations levels compared to pre-2012.

What attracts a number of people to certain sports is when they are able to experience the atmosphere of a major event. This may inspire them to give the sport a go and if they enjoy it, they stick with it. The opportunity to use high-quality facilities only boosts this.

Take track cycling, for an example. The Manchester Velodrome is an unusual places where you can be on track for a taster session before hopping off to give Olympic medallists such as Jason Kenney some space to ride. The combination of public and professional use of this facility has greatly benefited cycling. Could athletics learn a thing or two from this?


 

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When West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium next season they will be able to greatly benefit from performing in a world class venue without having to compromise much structurally or financially. Don’t get me wrong, I hold nothing against West Ham as they have simply taken forward the opportunity that was offered to them.

Instead, the BOA and LLDC should have both made at least some effort to keep the legacy running for running. For that to happen, there was no need to spend so much money on attempting to make a single-purpose stadium host multiple sports. The renovation of Crystal Palace would have had just as strong, if not a stronger impact, in increasing athletics participation in London and beyond. Now it seems as though that opportunity has been lost for good.

Image credit: www.flickr.com/kachkaev

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Ruairidh Campbell
Based in the Scottish Borders/Glasgow, Ruairidh has written extensively on everything from rugby to politics with work published in publications including the Scottish Rugby Union's website, Scottish Field Magazine and Edinburgh Rugby's match-day programmes.
Ruairidh Campbell

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