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IAAF hits back in 2012 legacy row

By Matt Slater

An artist's impression of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford
What becomes of the stadium after 2012 has become a real headache

The head of world athletics has said any move to deprive his sport of a lasting legacy at London 2012's stadium would be "totally unacceptable".

In a strident statement, IAAF president Lamine Diack singled out Olympics boss Jacques Rogge for criticism.

Diack was replying to comments Rogge gave to the BBC last week when he said London 2012 did not need to leave behind a legacy for athletics.

"I think this shows a lack of respect for my sport," said Diack.

"As an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, I voted for the 2012 host city in Singapore (in 2005) and one of the most compelling arguments in favour of London was the fact the city desperately needed a world-class venue for athletics.

"A country like Great Britain, with its magnificent tradition in our sport and a great future ahead of it, surely must be entitled to a decent athletics stadium in its capital city?

"A promise was made and I believe it is totally reasonable to expect the most important sport of the summer Olympics gets to live on after the three-week period of the Games is over."

Rogge uses the example of Atlanta but for me, and the entire athletics family, the situation in Atlanta is a source of great disappointment

IAAF president Lamine Diack
Diack's demand that athletics remains on the post-2012 agenda at the Stratford site was echoed by the chairman of UK Athletics, the sport's national governing.

"We remain fully committed to helping ensure there is an athletics legacy from the London 2012 Olympic stadium," said Ed Warner.

"That has been the pledge right from the start of bidding process and we are in close communication with London 2012 to ensure that holds true, up to and beyond the Games.

"We need a permanent home to ensure we can build upon the huge enthusiasm and excitement that 2012 will inevitably generate for athletics.

"We will continue to work with (London 2012 chairman and IAAF vice-president) Seb Coe towards fulfilling his promise that the number one Olympic sport will have a home to be proud of in Britain."

What happens to the 500m venue in east London after the IOC leaves town has become an increasingly contentious subject.

The current plan is to reduce the capacity of the stadium after the Games from 80,000 to 25,000 and use it as a multi-sports venue with athletics at its core and one or more "anchor tenant" (probably a football or rugby club) to meet most of its running costs.

But with concerns growing about the failure to find a club willing to move to a stadium with a track around the pitch, talk of London's tax-payers being straddled with an open-ended financial commitment to a venue that cannot pay for itself has also grown.

It was this fear IOC president Rogge was addressing when he told the BBC last week the priority for London 2012's organisers should be to avoid leaving behind "white elephants".

"If the best solution is to transform the track into something else then we would be in favour of that," the 66-year-old Belgian said.

"We had the same situation in Atlanta (in 1996) where the Olympic Stadium was changed into a baseball stadium, which kept an interest for sport. We don't have problems with that."

Not only did this signal a shift in the IOC's position London must stick to its bid commitments on maintaining an athletics legacy at the stadium, it also raised speculation a more radical solution - removing the track completely and handing the venue over to a Premier League team, as happened at the City of Manchester Stadium after the 2002 Commonwealth Games - was back on the table.

Diack, however, is adamant this must not be allowed to happen in London.

"Rogge uses the example of Atlanta but for me, and the entire athletics family, the situation in Atlanta is a source of great disappointment," the 75-year-old IAAF chief said.

"The fact the site of magnificent performances such as Carl Lewis' last Olympic long jump gold or Michael Johnson's amazing double at 200m and 400m is no longer able to host athletics - is no longer a source of inspiration for young athletes - but is instead a bargain venue for baseball is nothing to be proud of at all."

Usain Bolt
Rogge was unimpressed with Bolt's grandstanding - Diack loved it
Diack, a former French long jump champion from Senegal, went on to point out the fact the US lacks a single venue capable of hosting an IAAF world championships. He also promised his full support to Coe in his efforts to ensure athletics has a permanent home at the Stratford site.

But Diack's personal criticism of Rogge did not finish there: he also berated him for his comments about Jamaican sprint sensation Usain Bolt's Beijing celebrations.

The 6ft 5in star created almost as many headlines for his exuberant antics before, after and even during his races in China as he did for his remarkable performances on the track, and Bolt's obvious star quality was a welcome boost for a sport tarnished by doping scandals.

But Rogge was not impressed by what he saw and accused Bolt, who would eventually win three gold medals, of showboating.

Speaking after the 22-year-old completed a stunning 100m/200m double, both in new world-record times, Rogge said: "That's not the way we perceive being a champion.

"I've no problem with him doing a show. But I think he should show more respect and shake hands after the finish."

Diack, however, said he was surprised by Rogge's comments and intends to mention them when the two meet at the World Athletics Gala in Monte Carlo on 23 November.

"We live in a time when Olympic sports are struggling to remain attractive to young people, when we all need to make sport exciting and relevant to them," he said.

"Since we need to create heroes that young people identify with, why criticise the behaviour of a young man who is instantly and completely appealing to young people?"

see also
IOC reopens 2012 stadium debate
30 Oct 08 |  Olympics
2012 chief makes stadium demand
08 Oct 08 |  Olympics
Hearn casts doubt on 2012 stadium
15 Sep 08 |  Leyton Orient
2012 bosses deny demolition plan
05 Sep 08 |  London 2012
Olympics boss rebukes showy Bolt
21 Aug 08 |  Athletics
Q&A - Olympic Stadium 2012
07 Nov 07 |  London 2012
London unveils 2012 stadium plan
07 Nov 07 |  Olympics 2012
London 2012 stadium in pictures
07 Nov 07 |  London 2012

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