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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 14:39 GMT
FA comes in for Wembley criticism
Images of what Wembley might look like
Developers say it will be the finest covered stadium in the world
The Football Association has come under fire from an influential group of MPs over its handling of plans to rebuild Wembley Stadium.

The project, now well under way, will result in a national stadium for football and rugby, with provision for staging major athletics events.

But the MPs claim the FA only decided to restore athletics to their plans as "a device" to keep 20m of funding.

The critical report was produced by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Athletics question mark

The MPs were looking at whether public money on the controversial project was being spent properly, with 161m of the 757m cost being contributed by the public sector.

They said the FA had shut the old stadium too early, and should have waited for the financing package to be secure.

The decision had "weakened" Sport England, the lottery backed organisation which contributed 120m to the rebuilding.

The decision to restore provision for athletics was little more than a device to keep in the project the 20m that the FA would otherwise have had to repay
Public Accounts Committee

The committee also questioned whether the public would ever be able to watch athletics at the new arena, which is due to be completed in 2006.

"Now the decision has been made, after much toing and froing, to include athletics provision, it is not clear that the new stadium will ever actually be used to stage a major athletics event," the MPs said.

"It seems to us therefore that the decision to restore provision for athletics was little more than a device to keep in the project the 20m that the FA would otherwise have had to repay."

The FA defended its position and said the stadium would be ready to host athletics championships "whenever required".

Sport England was also blamed for leaving "itself exposed" after it handed over 120m at the beginning of the project without requiring the FA to contribute funding or to provide a guarantee to underwrite the grant.

Public seats

"Had the project collapsed, it is doubtful that the lottery money would have been recovered."

The MPs warned that even if the stadium is financially successful, "the FA will receive all the profits" despite a fifth of the funding coming from the public sector.

The committee said any plan to "diminish" the number of public access seats "as a way of providing further support for the project if it gets into financial difficulty should be considered as if it were a request for additional funding".

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the Wembley project had a "chequered history", with 120m of public money "committed without proper consideration of the financing and viability of the project".

"The old stadium was allowed to close, further threatening the recovery of the initial grant," he said.

"An additional 41m of public funds has had to be put in, whilst the number of public access seats has gone down and the justification for retaining 20m in the project for athletics is dubious, with the stadium likely to be used for this once or twice in 20 years, if at all."

Mr Leigh added that he expected the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, plus Sport England, "to keep close watch on the project".

The FA said in a statement on Tuesday: "Although primarily designed for football, rugby and music events, Wembley will have the capability to host athletics events, whenever required.

"When it is completed early in 2006 Wembley Stadium will be the finest in the world."

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