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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK

Athletics' stadium claim is pipe dream

By Rob Bonnet
BBC Sport

As the Commonwealth Games athletics programme draws to a close, so the hand-wringing begins.

Why hand the City of Manchester Stadium from needy athletics to gluttonous football?

When Jonathan Edwards, in The Times newspaper, and Seb Coe, on BBC Radio Five Live, ask the question, then we should listen.

But the sad truth is that we all know talk of saving the athletics track and leaving Manchester City at Maine Road uses the language of Never-Never Land.

For a start, the Manchester City chairman David Bernstein has a deal to take delivery by August 2003 for what he hopes will be a second successive season of Premiership action.

But there is a touch of wishful thinking too from Edwards and Coe that the track and field sports that they love might have made some kind of lasting impression in Manchester.

That somehow a financial corner has been turned, that an athletics stadium could pay its way, waiting for an Olympics or World Athletics Championships that might one day come to the North West.

I am all for diversity in sport and truly wish it could be so. But it cannot and will not ever happen.

Those heady evenings of Radcliffe, Fredericks and Edwards himself, owed almost everything to a stadium filled by a cheap ticket-pricing policy and warmed by the late July sunshine.

The capacity atmosphere was brilliant, but illusory.

Flash in the pan

The spectators were not all athletics fans - they were mostly big-occasion fans, paying their money to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The athletics was inspired but secondary.

Just as in Sydney, where Stadium Australia now stands as a non-paying monument to a sport which grabs our attention for no more than a fortnight every year.

Would those faithful fans at the Commonwealth Games morning heats fill the City of Manchester Stadium to watch future AAA's championships?

No more than they fill the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham now.

London favoured

And if it is a national athletics stadium with an international profile you want, then it is simply in the wrong place, unless the IOC and IAAF make a major U-turn.

Their view is that their Games and Championships can only take place at the bottom of the M1, and not half way up the M6.

Seb Coe's Five Live discussion floated in the direction of the World Cup and Japan's athletic-tracked football stadiums.

An example, they said, of how the two sports can co-exist.

Plain wrong. Korea's football-orientated stadiums provided far better atmosphere than Japan's, which were largely disappointing.

As a Chelsea fan in his mid-forties, Seb may remember peering into the distance across Stamford Bridge's greyhound track at his boyhood heroes.

Surely he will not tell us the newly-intimate Stamford Bridge gives an inferior view, a diluted atmosphere?

No. The answer for co-existence requires vision, ingenuity and courage, and the Lottery.

A London stadium - maybe at Wembley - where computers, electronics and hydraulics raise and lower the pitch and also reconfigure the seating into perfect sight lines without resorting to Heath Robinson platforms.

Too much to ask? If the Japanese can turn from baseball to football and back again in Sapporo, then surely our best engineering brains can come up with something?


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