Delay over Olympic Stadium is a "Stratford farce" claims UK Athletics chairman

Wednesday, 14 November 2012
By Duncan Mackay at UK Sport in London

Ed Warner by Olympic StadiumNovember 14 - Ed Warner, the chairman of UK Athletics, today branded the continuning uncertainty over the future of the Olympic Stadium as a "Stratford farce" but insisted that he did not believe it put in jeopardy the 2017 World Championships, which are due to be held there. 

The delay in re-opening the stadium may see it not ready to host events until 2016, as the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), meaning it will have taken longer to convert for its post-Games use than it took to build – and may not be ready until after the Opening Ceremony for the next Olympics at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. 

A decision over which of the four bidders will be given a 99-year lease is expected on December 5 – with pressure to get contracts signed by the end of the year to allow the re-construction process to be put out for tender early next year – with Premier League West Ham United remaining favourites.

"I wouldn't say this is a Whitehall farce but this is fast becoming a Stratford farce," said Warner when questioned by insidethegames over whether he was concerned that it could affect London hosting the World Championships. 

"West Ham have been phenomenally patient over the last few months.

"I would urge those making the decision to please get on and do it.

"Get it open.

"I'm delighted [London Mayor] Boris [Johnson] has taken direct control but he has put himself at risk in that regard because this could end up with his mayoralty ending in 2016 with the Stadium not being open."

athleticsraceUK Athletics chairman Ed Warner (right holding tape) remains confident that the Olympic Stadium will be ready or the 2017 World Championships and it will not turn into a race against time

The delay is in part due to negotiations over who will pay for the conversion cost.

There is £38 million ($60 million/€47 million) of Government money set aside but installing retractable seating and extending the roof, as well as reducing the capacity from 80,000 to 60,000, is expected to require around £180 million ($286 million/€224 million)

UK Athletics had planned events such as Diamond League meetings, trials and school competitions from 2014 and Warner admitted he had been shocked to learn of the delay, although he does not believe there is any danger to the World Championships.

"My biggest concern is that we have some major events planned for that Stadium and we thought they were going to be from the summer of 2014 onwards," said Warner here at the launch of UK Sport's Gold Event Series, in which the World Championships were described as the "jewel in the crown".

"All of the legacy use was scheduled to start in two years' time and now it might be four years' time which strikes me as ludicrous and to be a paralysis of decision-making which I hope the Mayor is going to cut through.

"We want to lock into the legacy of the Games while people still remember the Mobot, Greg Rutherford, Jonnie Peacock and David Weir."

The delay is particularly embarrassing because London's bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics was nearly strangled at birth after UK Athletics were forced to give the 2005 World Championships back to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after Tony Blair's Government failed to keep its promise to build a Stadium at Picketts Lock to host the event.

An earlier attempt to host the 2003 World Championships were shelved after plans to build an athletics track in the new national stadium at Wembley were abandoned and a planned bid for the 2015 edition had to be withdrawn because of uncertainty over the future of the Olympic Stadium. 

Warner claimed that the IAAF were not concerned at the moment over the continuing delays following reassurances from Sebastian Coe, the London 2012 chairman who is a vice-president of the world governing body.

IAAF athletics race Olympic StadiumSebastian Coe (centre) has helped reassure the IAAF that the 2017 World Championships are not in doubt because of the uncertainty over the future of the Olympic Stadium

London were awarded the Championships by the IAAF last November, beating a strong bid from Doha.

"We know the 2017 World Championships will be fine because that is a contractual commitment we have made," said Sports Minister Hugh Robertson.

"The question is how quickly can this be done.

"There is a commercial negotiation going on with West Ham and it's a question of how quickly the Mayor and the Legacy Company can close the gap.

"There is a package on the table which includes the conversion costs that were built into the budget and a contribution from the local authority and some money that West Ham might put into it, and then there is the bill for all the things they would ideally want to do to have what they would see as a modern stadium."

Contact the writer of this story at duncan.mackay@insidethegames.biz


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