IAAF president Lamine Diack on Thursday issued his strongest criticism yet of plans to tear down London’s new Olympic Stadium after next year’s Summer Games and replace it with a soccer venue with no running track, calling it “outrageous.”
English Premier League clubs Tottenham and West Ham are bidding for the use of the stadium after the Games are completed and only West Ham plan to keep the running track used for athletics events. Tottenham plan to tear down the stadium and build a new venue to be used only for soccer.
Those plans were put in doubt on Thursday, however, when the Olympic Park Legacy Co (OLPC) told reporters it could still go ahead with its original plan to downsize the stadium to a 25,000-seat athletics venue if neither bid was “viable.”
Diack then reiterated his criticism of the plans and urged London organizers to stick to its original promise.
“To now demolish the Olympic Stadium, throwing away the original ￡500 million [US$795 million] investment of public money seems to me an outrageous proposition, especially in the present world economic climate,” Diack said in a statement. “Instead, let us keep London’s promise alive and leave an athletics legacy at the venue with a top football club as a valued partner.”
Both Tottenham and West Ham had to submit their final plans for the stadium to the OLPC yesterday. West Ham’s plans involve rebuilding the stadium and reducing seating from 80,000 to 60,000, while keeping the running track.
If the OPLC board rejects the soccer bids, it would have to reopen the search for a tenant, although the 25,000-seat design is the only option that already has planning permission.
Diack said the pledge to maintain the stadium as an athletics venue was part of the reason London was awarded the games in the first place.
“This promise was not a footnote of London’s bid — it was a core policy of their presentation to convince the Olympic family of their exciting, viable legacy plans,” he said. “There is no doubt that this commitment played its part in the UK winning the right to host the 2012 games.”
Tottenham’s plans have angered both its own supporters, who are unhappy that the club would be moving from north to east London, and track stars, including Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
West Ham, meanwhile, is currently at the bottom of the Premier League and facing a costly relegation to the League Championship.
Former British Olympic Association chief executive Simon Clegg has said the stadium was unsuitable for both athletics and soccer.
Tottenham have produced documents showing that having a running track around the field would hamper the ability of fans to see action during soccer matches, while raising questions about West Ham’s ability to fill a 60,000-seat stadium if the team is relegated.
The initial plan was for the stadium to also house a secondary school for about 500 students, the National Skills Academy for sports and leisure industries and the English Institute of Sport.
Those plans were criticized in 2009 by the London Development Agency, which warned that the stadium could become a white elephant “without a credible anchor tenant.”
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