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Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

IOC reopens 2012 stadium debate

By Matt Slater

An artist's impression of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford
An artist's impression of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London

Olympics boss Jacques Rogge has told the BBC that London 2012's main stadium does not need an athletics legacy.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief said the main concern 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," he said.

This would seem to mark a shift in IOC policy and open the door for a football club moving to the Stratford venue.

"We had the same situation in Atlanta where the Olympic Stadium was changed into a baseball stadium, which kept an interest for sport," added Rogge, who also confirmed he would be standing for a second term as IOC president next year.

"We don't have problems with that. I don't want to enter into specifics but we don't want to leave white elephants."

We have always said we want the stadium to be a multi-sport venue for elite and community use, with athletics an important part of that mix

London 2012 statement
It had previously been believed the Lausanne-based organisation wanted London 2012's organising committee (Locog) to keep its bid promise about having athletics at the heart of its post-Games plans for the stadium.

But concerns about the implications of such a promise have grown since 2005 and negotiations with potential "anchor tenants" - professional teams who would make the venue financially viable - have failed to find a solution.

Talks with a number of different London-based football and rugby clubs have been dragging on for some time and the BBC understands the issue of keeping an athletics presence at the stadium is the main sticking point.

Spurs were one of the clubs frequently suggested as a potential tenant but the Premier League outfit's interest in a move east petered out long before they announced their intention to build a new ground next to their existing home.

The depth of opposition from football clubs to having an athletics track at the stadium presents a major headache for London 2012's organisers, specifically the London Development Agency, which takes control of the Olympic site the moment the Paralympics finish.

John Armitt, the chairman of Olympic Development Agency (ODA), the body responsible for building the Games, has already admitted it is very unlikely a Premier League club will move to the stadium.

The contrast between the situation following the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester could not be more marked. Then, Manchester City were lined up as tenants right from the outset and the running track was removed immediately after the Games.

City moved to the Eastlands site on a 250-year lease in 2003 and are now believed to be interested in buying the ground outright from Manchester City Council.

Armitt maintains a Football League or rugby team (with union team Saracens or a new Super League franchise being the usual suspects) could use the venue as long as it kept its athletics track.

"We had a legacy commitment to ensure the stadium was to be used for athletes and athletics," Armitt told BBC Sport.

"You then have to say, is it possible to mix a Premier League club with an athletics stadium? That's not easy. I think the likelihood of those two things coming together was always slim because we have this commitment to athletics.

"The plan is to reduce it in scale from an 80,000 to a 25,000-seat stadium. That's how it is being designed, that's how it is being built.

"If you wanted to use it for a Premier League club you would have to completely redesign it and I think we have gone past that point."

Rogge on London 2012's plans to reduce costs and secure a tenant for the stadium

League One side Leyton Orient, the closest professional sports team to the site, are known to be in talks with London 2012 but their chairman Barry Hearn told BBC London last month they too were unhappy with the athletics legacy commitment.

"Leyton Orient will not be going to the Olympic Stadium that has got an athletics track around the middle," said Hearn.

Rogge's comments will please London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has voiced concerns about the long-term viability of the 2012 venues, but disappoint Locog chairman Sebastian Coe and UK Athletics (UKA), who both wanted the Stratford site to become a focal point for British athletics.

Lord Coe has previously said the 525m complex would be a "stadium with track and field as its primary legacy".

And UKA, the sport's national governing body, is keen to stage leading international events at the venue and use it as a community athletics centre that could also stage national meets.

A Locog spokesperson told BBC Sport it agreed with Rogge's concerns about viability and avoiding "white elephants".

"We have always said we want the stadium to be a multi-sport venue for elite and community use, with athletics an important part of that mix, and that's what everyone is working towards," they said.

"We have never said the stadium would be used solely for athletics in legacy."

The Olympic Park
Building work on the 2012 site's centrepiece is ahead of schedule
The 66-year-old Rogge, who has led the Olympic movement since 2001, is expected to be unopposed for a four-year term when the IOC holds its next congress in Copenhagen next October.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, the Belgian told reporters he is determined to build on the progress the organisation has made in recent years, particularly in the areas of tackling doping and promoting youth participation in sport.

He also said the IOC's finances were in good order despite the gloomy state of the global economy and dismissed fears about the downsizing of London's Olympic Village.

Rogge said the "quality of the Village was a bottom line for the success of a Games" but was confident media reports of athletes being crammed three-to-a-room were wide of the mark.

He joked it was "six to a room in Mexico City and Montreal", pointed out the key factor was the ratio between people and floor space and concluded by saying he was certain Sebastian Coe ("who used to be an athlete himself") would meet the accommodation specifications laid out in London's Olympic contract.

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see also
Rogge hopeful of IOC re-election
24 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
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
Hammers' Olympic move ruled out
07 Feb 07 |  West Ham
Spurs rule out 2012 stadium move
16 Oct 06 |  Tottenham

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