diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 26, 2009

London 2012  Olympic update
  The white elephant in the room

In three years time, when the Olympics and Paralympics are but an afterglow, work will already be underway cementing 2012's permanent legacy. We know that the Aquatic Centre will be downsized to a local swimming pool, that the Velodrome will be tweaked into a cycle park and that various temporary arenas will be either relocated elsewhere or dismantled. But we're not yet certain what's going to happen to the centrepiece of the Games - the Olympic Stadium. Neither, it seems, do we care.

Olympic StadiumLondon's Olympic Stadium has been designed to a special "sustainable" brief, and has particular features which ensure that an athletics legacy could continue after the world has moved on. Very few sporting organisations (other than a top-flight football club) could have sustained an 80000-seater bowl in perpetuity. The entire top tier of seating is therefore a temporary structure, and can be removed after the Games to leave a 25000-capacity arena. The stadium's in-built slimmability means that rugby, athletics or even cricket might be interested in taking over after 2012. But this initial design, coupled with a desire to maintain an athletics track at all costs, is making certain alternative legacy options very awkward indeed. So London's pretending it doesn't matter.

The 2012 Olympic Stadium is being built, indeed has already been built, assuming that all of the important facilities will be on the outside. Catering and toilets will be located in exterior pods, with absolutely no such facilities on the grandstand decks. There'll be no executive boxes, always an essential moneyspinner where corporate entertainment is concerned. And there'll be no segregating barriers between home and away fans, because Olympic stadia definitely don't need those. All of which makes the in-progress structure a desperately unattractive future proposition for any potentially profitable use.

Arsenal already have a new stadium, Tottenham are planning their own, and Chelsea are too far away to ever be interested. That's football's big guys dealt with, which leaves West Ham and maybe Leyton Orient as potentially interested parties. But eight-lane running tracks around football pitches don't make for good visibility, which'll probably also scupper the likes of rugby hopefuls Saracens or Wasps. Cricket might be interested, apparently, as the Twenty20 game takes off and may require an additional London venue. But at this stage, quite frankly, nobody's genuinely interested and no plans are in motion.

Olympic Stadium, upper tierToday there's another iron in the fire, as the London stadia to be considered for our 2018 World Cup bid are announced. Wembley's one, Arsenal's another, and the not-yet-rebuilt White Hart Lane is a third. And what do you know, London's number four is to be the Olympic Stadium, preserved with its upper tier at a size appropriate to hosting a top notch soccer international. Legacy bosses are no longer quite so tied to the promise of an athletics facility, it seems, even if that means breaking a pledge made when London won the games back in 2005. "Nothing is ruled in or out at this stage," they now say, as pragmatism replaces principle.

It's madness, pure and simple. Even if the 2018 World Cup bid is successful (and we'll only find out next year), our East End cupcake will be used a mere handful of times for a few qualifiers and quarter finals. And for this, just for this, we'd be keeping open an 80000-seater stadium for six whole years after the Olympics have gone away. If ever misplaced pride risked clouding an important legacy decision, this is it.

More to the point, our 2018 World Cup bid is clearly doomed. It's being assembled by a bickering committee of sporting bureaucrats who seem more interested in point-scoring than assembling a coherent and convincing argument. At this rate England's World Cup bid, which ought to be one of the firm favourites to win, looks a dead cert to fall by the wayside. "If they can't organise a bid campaign", FIFA delegates will judge, "what hope have they of organising a tournament?"

I'd suggest, therefore, that the inclusion of the Olympic Stadium in our 2018 World Cup bid is merely a cunning way of postponing any decision on its future for another 13 months. Nobody has a clue how its legacy should be funded, and nobody now needs to think about this again until next Christmas at the earliest. But by December 2010 there'll only be a year and a half before the Olympics take place, which really doesn't bode well for attracting an alternative post-Games tenant. My local community risks inheriting a pointless bowl that nobody wants, rather than a carefully planned and costed sporting facility. It is the white elephant in the room. Sssh, nobody look at it, and maybe it'll go away.

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