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The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The new stadium is ideal for football, not for athletics"
 real 28k

UK Athletics chief David Moorcroft
"It's a difficult mix to get a national stadium that's suitable for football and athletics"
 real 28k

Culture Secretary Chris Smith
"Some fundamental questions have to be answered"
 real 28k

Stadium expert Simon Inglis
"Financial realities mean a modern stadium cannot depend solely on athletics"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 19:57 GMT
Wembley: Back to the drawing board
Drawing of new stadium New stadium: Soccer and rugby but no athletics?

Plans for a new national sports stadium at Wembley have been thrown into confusion after a report claimed there were "serious doubts" about the project's ability to accommodate athletics events.

Ministers have been told the 475m design is suitable for football and rugby, but not for athletics.

The Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, warned any British bid for the Olympics might now been in doubt and Wembley could lose 120m worth of lottery funding.

Chris Smith MP Chris Smith: Set tough deadline for developers
Mr Smith said he had reached the "reluctant conclusion" the present design "cannot readily provide the central venue for an Olympic Games bid for London".

He gave the developers two weeks to come up with new plans.

Wembley National Stadium Ltd (WSNL) said they were confident they could provide satisfactory answers in time to meet the deadline.

Mr Smith also said it was unlikely the stadium, as designed, could provide an appropriate venue for the World Athletics Championships which Britain hoped to host in 2005.

The government has launch a separate investigation into whether athletics should be given their own home away from Wembley.

The Conservatives accused Mr Smith of "dither, delay and incompetence".

Norman Foster Architect Norman Foster at launch of design last month
Under the plan announced last month, Wembley was to be demolished next summer and replaced by a new 90,000-seater venue topped by a 153 metre tall arch.

Building due to start in months

But to stage athletics events a running track will have to be inserted above the pitch, which would reduce the capacity to 65,000 and lead to other problems.

The re-designed stadium is intended to be the centrepiece of England's 2006 World Cup bid but ministers and the British Olympic Association also want it to form part of a possible Olympic bid in 2012.

Rebuilding work is due to start next year with the new stadium scheduled to be ready in time for the 2003 FA Cup Final.

The independent sports architecture report raised doubts on a number of issues:

  • Dismantling the temporary athletics platform could close the stadium for major soccer events for two years
  • Sight lines for a large number of spectators would be poor, it suggested
  • Seat space would be far from ideal
  • The roof would cover some athletics lanes but not others
  • The east-west alignment of the finishing straight was not best for top class athletics.

    'Magic solution'

    "Wembley National Stadium Ltd may have a magic solution in their back pocket but I doubt it," said Mr Smith.

    "If they come up with an answer by 15 December then fine, maybe there is a way of Wembley doing both. But if not, then we need to make a decision whether we are looking elsewhere for athletics."

    WSNL issued a statement saying the report contained a number of factual inaccuracies.

    They were confident they would be able to provide satisfactory answers to all technical questions by December 15th.

    They also believed that "given the flexibility shown by all stakeholders...the stadium can accomodate all three sports satisfactorily."

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    See also:
    01 Dec 99 |  Sport
    Welcome for Wembley rethink
    15 Nov 99 |  Sport
    'Triumph' arch to crown Wembley
    15 Nov 99 |  Sport
    Picture gallery: The future of Wembley
    17 Oct 99 |  Sport
    Capacity boost for Wembley
    Links to other Football stories are at the foot of the page.