Anyone who has seen the satirical television series 2012 must be beginning to wonder whether it is in reality a documentary as the subject of legacy stumbles from farce to fiasco taking in broken promises along the way…..
In this week’s episode we revisit one of the only two legacies actually promised as part of our bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, that of the stadium (the other was an increase in participation in sport).
First, a recap. What was promised was a stadium which could be used by the athletics community after the Games. It was recognised that the Olympic stadium would need a significant reduction in capacity in order to be suitable for athletics needs and the plan was to remove the top-tier once the Paralympics had finished leaving a stadium with a capacity of 25,000. The stadium staying ‘as is’ was never part of the promised legacy or of the plan.
Then enter West Ham United (supported by Newham Council with Council Tax payers money) and the plan changed. The legacy for athletics was forgotten (although obviously it wasn’t sold to the public as such) and the new ‘legacy’ became one of a football club running a multi-event stadium (with athletics track) to which athletics would be lucky to stage five events a year and gain little or no grass-roots value from. But, we were told, because the track was still there it was a legacy for athletics.
It was sold as ‘legacy’ so well that the public loved it. So when Tottenham Hotspur entered stage left they were quickly painted as the ugly sister. And yet, what Tottenham proposed was a reduced capacity (as in the original plan) and a 25,000 capacity home for athletics (as in the original legacy promise). But as the athletics legacy stadium would be at Crystal Palace (still in London last time I checked) and the track at Stratford would be removed, no one liked the idea. Tottenham were intent on seeing fair play though and court action loomed.
Also heading for the Courts were Barry Hearn and Leyton Orient who (rightly) pointed to football rules forbidding the re-siting of a larger club (West Ham) on the door step of a smaller club (Orient). It looked a mess; it was a mess and it was a mess wholly of the making of those charged with delivering the supposed ‘legacy’ (forget the ones that were promised, we’ll never see them).
Meanwhile UK Athletics (UKA) were so pleased with the whole set up that they decided to keep their head office in Birmingham and support the redevelopment of that city’s Alexandra Stadium where their new offices will be sited. Publically they always supported the West Ham move because it preserved the track – although they could never explain what use to the sport was a track at a 60,000 seat venue which the sport could rarely access and never fill.
Then, all of a sudden they could – well, for one week in 2017 at least. It was decided to bid for the IAAF World Championships which would require that big stadium in Stratford. It should be remembered that UKA had previously been awarded the World Championships for 2005 before embarrassingly having to withdraw on the back of broken government promises. The sport was given a £40 million ‘legacy’ (they do like that word) payment by the Government (apparently to stop them complaining) – £40 million which has produced a legacy which can only be described as invisible at best. Certainly the grass-roots of the sport have seen no benefit.
The IAAF received guarantees the track would remain and that Britain would definitely not cause embarrassment by pulling out again. Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, went on television and promised the nation that the track would remain (probably to yawns all round).
Whoops Minister! It then emerged that both Tottenham (they whose plan actually delivers the promised legacy) and Orient had rather strong cases and embarrassment was on the cards should they win the legal battle. So the same people who promised one legacy (well, two actually) and then changed the plans decided that they would change the plans again.
The Olympic Stadium was suddenly not going to be sold. It was going to stay in public hands (you could hear the tax-payers cheer). It was going to keep the track. It was going to stay at a 60,000 capacity. It was now going to be leased to a football club (no one doubts a deal has already been done with West Ham) for a rent equivalent to approximately 40% of annual running costs (more cheers from the tax-payer).
UKA, who are staying in Birmingham, can now continue their bid for the 2017 Championships. They love it. Although how it services any athletics legacy beyond that has yet to be made clear. West Ham probably love it too but can’t do so in public (yet).
Grass roots athletics can’t see any benefit. Tottenham lose out big time despite being the only party apparently concerned about the nation’s legacy promise being delivered. And Orient…..well, it’s not clear how this clears up their issue. If (when) West Ham do move into Stratford, it could well be the death knell for them….unless they fight it in court?
Oh yes, I forgot to mention; UKA’s only rival for the 2017 IAAF World Championships? Qatar. The only nation ever to have actually delivered a legacy of increased participation on the back of a major games (2006 Doha Asian Games). I guess if we lose we can always accuse them of corruption or has that already been done?
We await the next chapter with bated breath. It would make a great storyline for a satirical television show only surely, no one would believe it?
As for legacy? As for clear strategy? As for promises?
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, October 2011