The decision to award West Ham the Olympic Stadium has all become rather messy. Judicial reviews, appeals and claims of payments to officials have all overshadowed the Hammers prospective move into the stadium. Their main rivals for the stadium were fellow Londoners Tottenham Hotspur but League One Leyton Orient has been caught in the crossfire.
West Ham were announced as the successful bidder for the stadium (over only rivals Tottenham) earlier this year. Their plans to keep the running track might leave their fans concerned about how far away from the pitch they will be, but it convinced the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) that the Hammers were the right bidder to keep the Olympic legacy intact. But whilst the decision left Tottenham disappointed, it left Leyton Orient with an even bigger worry.
Orient are by far the closest current tenants to the Olympic park. The possible move of a popular club onto their doorstep threatens not the existing and loyal fan base but the floating voters and the next generation of fans looking for a local team to support. Whether the Hammers are in the Championship or Premier League by the time they move in, the lure of a hugely impressive stadium and probably higher league football will be hard for the O’s to match.
West Ham would also likely offer heavily discounted tickets and packages in order to fill the ground. These cheaper tickets are sadly not something Leyton Orient could compete with. Whilst it might just sound like a case of being sore losers in the battle for the stadium, Orient and their chairman Barry Hearn have legitimate reasons to feel aggrieved. Both Premier League and Football League rules state that they would only grant consent for a move as long as it ‘would not adversely affect clubs having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location’.
The need to fulfill the Olympic Park legacy and keep the stadium in use is an understandable concern for the OPLC. The revenues generated and worldwide interest in football makes the sport the obvious next tenants for the stadium. Destroying the current stadium after the games was never a viable option and Orient were never realistic occupants for the ground. Unfortunately for the O’s, it left the Hammers and Spurs in a fight for the stadium in what turned out to be a no-win situation for Orient.
The most recent development that could signal some slim hope for Orient (after rejected judicial reviews, possible plans for a new stadium were thrown out etc..) is the review by the OPLC into the bidding process after allegations were made against an OPLC director and her links to West Ham during the bidding process.
Whatever the outcome of the next set of reviews and any possible further appeals, the prospect of West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium looms far too close for Orient. Unfortunately the real effect such a move might have would not be properly known until it happened, which may well be all too late for the O’s. But chairman Barry Hearn seems willing to fight all the way in an effort to keep football in East London on a level playing field.
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