Tottenham and AEG’s joint proposal to take over the Olympic Park Stadium as and when the Olympic bandwagon rolls out of town in the Autumn of 2012 has suffered a potentially devastating setback after being branded as ‘completely unacceptable’ by UK Athletics (UKA) chairman Ed Warner.
Premier League rivals Spurs (with the backing of AEG) and West Ham (with the backing of Newham Council) were announced as the only two ‘final bidders’ on the short-list for the acquisition of the stadium earlier this month, although a final decision has been delayed until sometime next year by the Olympic Park Legacy Committee (OPLC).
However, Spurs’ plan to remove the athletics track from the stadium has been admonished by the UKA, who believe that the club are reneging on the core principle that Olympic Park should retain ‘British athletics at it’s heart’ even after the games culminate.
Whereas Tottenham/AEG intend on transforming the east-London stadium into an 80,000-capacity venue with football as it’s sole use, West Ham have submitted plans to create a 60,000-capacity arena that will be used primarily for football, but also for athletics, concerts and unspecified community use via the club’s collaboration with Newham Council – which seems to sit rather more easily with UKA chief Warner:
“Tottenham and AEG have made it clear that they will rip up the track and make it a football only venue and that is hugely concerning to me. There was a promise made back in 2005 by London 2012 chief Lord [Sebastian] Coe to bring the Olympics to London.
The greatest city in the world deserves a facility that is capable of hosting world championships and major athletics events. That is really the legacy we need from the Games for our sport.
We’ve had sporadic conversations with AEG over the course of the year and one brief conversation with Spurs.
Anything they might propose for an athletics legacy has to be a compromise to the stadium continuing to operate at a world-class level. To my mind that is completely unacceptable.”
Warner went on to suggest that Tottenham/AEG have offered several athletics-centric compromises, by promising to either add a negligible amount of seating next to the warm-up track (as was the case when Manchester City moved into the City of Manchester Stadium after the 2002 Commonwealth Games), or by upgrading existing facilities elsewhere (updating the crumbling athletics park in Crystal Palace has been mooted)
However, both of Tottenham’s olive branches have been described as ‘very inferior’ – which is fair enough if you bear in mind that West Ham/Newham have vowed to maintain the stadium as a ‘bastion of British athletics’.
Warner also admitted that he is fearful of a backlash from his international superiors:
“Britain has a history of letting down the IOC and the IAAF in not delivering on promises on athletics. I think it was instrumental in the Games coming here that that promise was made and if Britain reneges it would be a very sorry state of affairs.
There is an important opportunity here to invest in a whole range of sports to sustain them for the future. West Ham and Newham have shown that they can embrace that opportunity and work with athletics with a very credible proposal.
I would like to see Spurs and AEG come up with something equally exciting.”
The legitimacy of Spurs’ interest in moving to the Olympic Stadium has been called into question a number of times, and the cynic in me would suggest that the club are merely trying to gain as much leverage as they can against Haringey Council as their ongoing stratagem to redevelop White Hart Lane continues to misfire.
That said, with the potentially prohibitive rise in costs of their Northumberland Park Development Project (i.e the aforementioned redevelopment of White Hart Lane), and Transport for London‘s reluctance to commit to the necessary overhaul of Tottenham Hale tube station (the transport links are undeniably more suitable in the Stratford area surrounding the Olympic Park) it would seem that Spurs’ may have to begin to pander to the relevant athletics authorities if they don’t want to suddenly find themselves effectively rendered ‘homeless’ in two year’s time.