Spurs bid for the use of the 2012 Olympic games stadium in Stratford has caused quite the stir since they announced that they were entering the race alongside West Ham. The latest controversy is that Spurs apparently plan to strip the stadium down and simply use the site to rebuild one of its own to fit their needs. This move is obviously a reaction to the numerous battles with their local council in their attempts to expand White Hart Lane in the past.
This honest and slightly tactless approach may be their undoing. LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) stated that after the completion of the Olympic Games that they wanted the stadium to remain one which practiced athletics. Jacques Rogge, the Chairman of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) stated this week that “we would favour a solution with a track legacy – that goes without saying” although he later added that “If a solution could be found for the track we would be happy, but don’t expect the IOC to intervene in an issue where we are not responsible.”
While Rogge acknowledges his preference and the IOC’s limitations in discussing the bids and the stadium‘s eventual new owners, the fact that his outburst came only a day or so after Spurs stated that they’d rip up and start again with the site cannot be underestimated and it therefore must represent a wider held belief within the worldwide athletics committee, LOCOG included.
West Ham have in principle agreed to keeping the track, and after all the cost and the distinct lack of opportunities around Upton Park to build a stadia of this magnitude, their stance is hardly surprising.
Spurs, however, have rather correctly estimated that the athletics track around the outside of the pitch will be an eyesore and that it will only decrease the spectacle for the 50,000 or so punters who have paid top crust for their seats. The current plan for the Olympic stadium means the site can house upto 80,000 fans, but 25,000 of these are temporary seating, so the actual site boasts a healthy capacity of 55,000. Spurs plan to increase this to 60,000 by taking out the running track.
However, this all brings us to the subject of the Olympic legacy. For anyone with even an inkling of knowledge about British athletics will testify to, its current home Crystal Palace has seen better days. I went there to watch an athletics meet about five years ago and while the atmosphere was great, it’s in no fit state to carry on being the home of British athletics.
To their credit, the Spurs bid does include a promise to redevelop Crystal Palace to make up for the lack of a running track at the Olympic Stadium and if they follow through on their promise, their bid, while controversial, isn’t as weak as first perceived by many. Without the legacy of redeveloping Crystal Palace, their latest moves what be tantamount to bid suicide, if such a term exits yet in the English language.
On the other hand though, do the organisers in charge of the handover honestly think that having a 60,000 seated stadium for athletics is a viable financial option going beyond 2012?
The legacy issue is of paramount importance for both bidders, after all, the organisation that decides the eventual winner is called the Olympic Park Legacy Committee. The announcement is expected in March and both the bids have to be ready by the 20th this month.
The argument that a lot of people are now conscribing to is that a lot of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the stadium and therefore Spurs have no right to knock it down.
If MP for Tottenham David Lammy is to be believed however, the Spurs board’s current position masks their true intentions to ’repackage’ the Olympic stadium in a move that will grant them a significant cash inflow as they seek to sell the naming rights to their new home in a move very similar to that of current neighbours Arsenal and their current stadium, the Emirates. That particular deal struck up with the Emirates airline company in 2004 fetched a hugely profitable £100m over 15 years and its thought that Spurs could now command a similar deal with their stock rising by the year both on and off the pitch.
To my mind, if Spurs’ bid wins then they are well within their rights to do with the stadium as they wish. They haven’t been dishonest or played their cards too close to their chest. They’ve been a bit presumptuously arrogant perhaps, but after all is said and done, to most people, the Olympics is simply a circus that will roll through town, an enjoyable one, sure, but little more than that. The only way to maintain a stadium of that magnitude is as a football stadium. Of course, West Ham’s at present offers the best of both worlds.
West Ham’s bid looks to be the favourite now, and in my opinion, they’re the ones who should get it. This has nothing to do with the planned re-build that Spurs are proposing, but simply because West Ham have closer proximity to the site and therefore first option as it were.
The winner of the Olympic stadium will boast some of the finest facilities in London coupled with a fantastic transport system. This will in itself be the true legacy, not the running track inside, despite any fantastic memories some may come to hold of it. Bricks and mortar do not make an atmosphere, the people do, and if there’s a running track between the pitch and the fans, the atmosphere will be as flat as a pancake.
It is an extremely difficult decision to face and to be honest I’m shocked that dispensing with the running track is even an option on the table in the first place. Surely for all the money spent on the stadium, the minimum requirement for any proposed bid should be to maintain the stadium, as it was built, running track included.
The blame in this instance does not lay at the feet of Spurs for daring to have the temerity to say what many football fans are thinking, but LOCOG for giving parameters too wide from which the bid can be decided, negotiated and built upon.