The Olympic Stadium Debate

olympic games image to go with the article
As a keen athlete and grassroots athletics coach, it should made clear from the outset that I’m quite obviously biased towards the retention of the track at the stadium. But as a result of my heavy involvement in the sport, however, I like to think that I have a good understanding of athletics at a grassroots level, and just how important a role that 2012 is going to play in the sport as a whole. Down at Croydon Arena, our training groups have ballooned dramatically over the past 12 months from handful of athletes to 30-40 regulars within the 11-18 age-bracket. The senior coaches with over thirty years experience can’t explain the influx. We’ve done no promotion, no hard sell to schools, nothing. My theory… it’s the carrot of 2012 that’s causing our sport to boom. What’s more, the sport’s increased popularity isn’t just isolated in the microcosm of Croydon, but can be seen throughout the UK. Between 2009-2010, the participation figures of athletes taking part at least once a week jumped by 263,400 to 1.87m people, making it the third most popular sport in the UK, behind football and swimming. In short, with this renewed interest in athletics, we need something as nation to showcase the sport to the UK and to the world and continue this excellent growth. And it comes in the form of the Olympic stadium. Not only will it inspire athletes to want to compete there, with at least 20 days of high calibre competition promised throughout the year, but it will give us the chance to host top class international athletics and show it to the world. It will help enhance the sport in the UK, provide a long-lasting Olympic legacy to a sport which has longed for a national centre-piece for so long, and could act as a strong community centre at the heart of east London. Alas though, things are not this simple, and the arguments made against the stadium are as passionate as those that support the move to keep it. Here’s a selection: The ground will provide little atmosphere and will make for poor spectating for West Ham’s matches – This is true to an extent but surely you are further away when you sit down at Wembley to watch an international or final? Three out of the last Champions League finals have had running tracks and there were no complaints about the atmosphere. Rotherham currently plays at the Don Valley stadium which also has a track. The move will mean the death of Leyton Orient – This is obviously a real shame, but this would still be an issue if Tottenham had won. In truth, the powers that be in the government have gone on record stating that if Orient had made more of a fuss when the bidding process was put out to tender then both Spurs and the Hammers may well have both been unsuccessful. Harsh, but unfortunately true. If athletics was so important, they’d have the stadium and it would pay for itself – Unfortunately, a sole athletics stadium wouldn’t pay for itself and that’s very disappointing. The original plan remember, was to rip the main stand down and have one sole covered stand in the 25,000 seater stadium. The artist’s impressions of this looked truly horrendous, and thankfully no investors thought they could make it work, so it was put out to tender to the football clubs. The argument from UKA has never been that the stadium would be commercially viable as a sole entity. West Ham said they could make it work, so athletics piggy backed on their promise. West Ham will rip the track up within three years – This won’t happen. If it does (which it won’t), Tottenham will take legal action and the athletics fraternity will want to lynch the West Ham owners. But just to reiterate….it WON’T HAPPEN! Tottenham would have rejuvenated athletics at Crystal Palace – Crystal Palace is in desperate need of being rejuvenated, but it’s in such a bad state that the only way to improve it would be to knock it down. It’s also in the wrong location to host major competitions and championships, the Crystal Palace Gran Prix (although well organised), is always absolute chaos . Crystal Palace FC however now plan to move onto the site and also build a new athletics stadium in addition to their proposed new replacement for Selhurst Park, so in this sense everyone wins. Ultimately this debate will rumble on and on even though the decision has already been made. In my opinion though, it shouldn’t have even be a debate in the first place. The very notion that a track should be ripped up after one week’s use is utterly absurd. The same thing happened with the Commonwealth stadium in 2002 – it was ridiculous then and would be even more so now. So well done Boris Johnson and co for making the right decision. Roll on 2012 and beyond!


mAR5ter_'s picture

Amen Matt! Those figures are astonishing about the uptake in athletics! It makes me feel priveleged to be one of the originals who felt the passion of sport and athletics before the bid for London 2012 :-D