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Page last updated at 20:27 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

West Ham owner attacks athletics plan for 2012 stadium

The London 2012 Olympic Stadium
West Ham's renewed interest in the 2012 site has reopened the legacy debate

By Matt Slater

West Ham co-owner David Sullivan has attacked plans to convert the Olympic Stadium into an athletics venue as an "appalling waste of public money".

The £537m site is set to be reduced from 80,000 seats to 25,000 after 2012, with athletics as its primary use.

But Sullivan says the only "sensible option" is to opt for a 60,000-capacity venue that West Ham could rent.

"To build an 80,000-seat stadium and reduce it to 25,000 for athletics makes no sense at all," said Sullivan.

"The whole concept was misconceived. I can't get my head around it.

"Let's be honest, that stadium should not have cost £537m. It's a temporary stadium with limited facilities - that's public money appallingly badly spent. The Emirates [Arsenal's ground] was built for half the price."

London needs an athletics facility but there is no reason why it has to be at the Olympic Park

Sir Robin Wales
Mayor of Newham

Sullivan's solution is simple: give West Ham United a similar deal to the one Manchester City were given at the City of Manchester Stadium after the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

The Hammers would rent the stadium from the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) - the local and national government partnership set up to develop the site after the Games - and share half the gate proceeds above an agreed level (Sullivan suggested 40,000).

The Premier League club would also contribute to the estimated £100m costs of converting the stadium from its Olympics configuration, which does not incorporate catering outlets or hospitality boxes.

This expense would be softened by the £38m already in the budget for converting the stadium after the Games.

"It might cost tens of millions of pounds to get it fit for football but we'd happily chip in for that," said Sullivan, who bought a 50% stake in West Ham with his business partner David Gold in January.

West Ham's renewed interest in the site has reopened a long-standing debate about London 2012's bricks-and-mortar legacy.

Amid concerns about leaving behind "white elephants" in some of the capital's poorest areas, the debate has focused on the affordability of London 2012's "pledge" to ensure a future for athletics at the stadium.

West Ham owners David Sullivan and David Gold
David Sullivan and David Gold took control of West Ham in January

London 2012 chairman Seb Coe, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell are among those who have claimed London promised the International Olympic Committee the stadium would remain an athletics venue.

"We made a commitment to a legacy for track and field in London," a spokeswoman for London 2012 told BBC Sport.

"But we were always clear we wanted other sports to use the stadium alongside track and field, and that we were never talking about athletics being the sole legacy use for the stadium."

This stance has been interpreted as meaning the track must stay, a prospect that has put off potential suitors, including West Ham, in the past.

But as fears about the sustainability of a 25,000-seat athletics venue have refused to budge, the entire post-2012 plan is up for grabs once more.

Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham and a member of the London 2012 and OPLC boards, has been an outspoken advocate for moving the borough's biggest sports team to the new venue.

"We are concerned about it being a white elephant," Wales told BBC Sport.

"We were concerned [at the time of the bid] and we continue to be concerned. Unless somebody comes up with money from somewhere else, the only realistic solution is to make the stadium work for a Premier League football team and that would be West Ham.

We aim to reach a settled position by March 2011

Olympic Park Legacy Company spokesman

"We have never understood why that wasn't obvious. Look at what Manchester did after the Commonwealth Games. Why didn't we do that here? It's daft we didn't do it in the first place."

Like Sullivan, Wales believes it might be possible for football and athletics to co-exist at the stadium. But both men make it clear this needs to be explored properly and if it proves too difficult it is athletics that should make way.

"London needs an athletics facility but there is no reason why it has to be at the Olympic Park. You could renovate Crystal Palace with the money you make from this deal," said Wales, an ardent Hammers fan.

Sullivan suggested they would consider covering the track for 10 months of the year but if that did not work they could build a new athletics stadium somewhere else, perhaps even at Upton Park.

A move to West Ham's current ground is unlikely to satisfy UK Athletics, the sport's governing body, but there are indications a compromise is possible. West Ham vice-chairman Karen Brady is believed to have had constructive talks with UKA on Wednesday.

For its part, OPLC has welcomed West Ham's interest but has been careful not to upset UKA, which has just announced its bid to host the 2015 world championships at the Olympic Stadium.

A spokesman for the legacy company said it wanted to safeguard the "significant public investment in the stadium" as well as "making sure that legacy promises are fulfilled".

"In the coming weeks, we will put in a place a process which will allow appropriate uses for the stadium to be brought forward, which we will then evaluate prior to the OPLC board making recommendations to the Mayor and Ministers," he added.

"We aim to reach a settled position by March 2011."

The one other variable in the Stratford equation is the Westfield shopping mall development.

It has been reported that Westfield's Australian owners were unhappy about the prospect of having West Ham as neighbours. Some have even suggested Westfield, which opens its mall in 2011, had a veto.

But this was dismissed by both Sullivan and Wales, who claimed Westfield was perfectly relaxed about West Ham's proposed relocation, give or take a few minor issues that could easily be resolved.

"When they look at the concept they'll love it," said Sullivan.

"What will happen is dad and the kids will go to the football and mum will go shopping. You'll have 40,000 mums there 20 Saturdays a year - it will be the most vibrant shopping centre in London."

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see also
London bids to stage 2015 Worlds
15 Mar 10 |  Athletics
Olympic park legacy deal agreed
16 Mar 10 |  London
Hammers venue plan irks Sotherton
24 Feb 10 |  West Ham
West Ham stadium plan hit by snag
22 Feb 10 |  West Ham
Stadium move setback for West Ham
17 Feb 10 |  West Ham
West Ham revive Olympic stadium hopes
03 Feb 10 |  West Ham
West Ham in talks on 2012 stadium
20 Oct 06 |  West Ham
Hammers handed Olympic blow
06 Oct 04 |  Olympics 2012
Hammers keen on Olympic move
16 Jan 04 |  West Ham

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