Decision due on Olympics at new Wembley stadium

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT and senior sports officials will decide today whether the proposed pounds 475m national stadium at Wembley will be a suitable arena for hosting an Olympic Games.

If, after considering an independent report into the project ordered by Kate Hoey, the Sports Minister, they conclude it is not, the plans may have to go back to the drawing board.

The report, by US-based stadium experts Ellerbe Becket, focuses on whether the stadium, which will seat 90,000 people for football and rugby league matches, can be adapted to meet the rigorous standards required for an Olympic Games.

Under current plans, the stadium would undergo a temporary conversion into an 80,000-seat athletics arena - costing pounds 20m and taking six months - for a future Olympics.

It is understood that the report will not be critical of Lord Foster's stadium design, per se. However it may fall short of saying that the venue, in a converted state, would meet the exacting requirements of the International Olympic Committee. If so, the British Olympic Association (BOA) may call for the current plans to be scrapped. And such conclusions would not impress the Sports Minister, who is already angered that pounds 120m of Lottery funding has been awarded to a so-called "national stadium" that will not be suitable for a variety of the nation's sports.

Ms Hoey will meet today with the BOA, UK Athletics, Sport England and Wembley National Stadium Ltd (WNSL), the stadium's owners. If unhappy with the report's findings, she may ask for changes to the design or may call for the Lottery money to be refunded.

WSNL has said it will not return the pounds 120m grant, which it spent on buying the site, and will not contemplate spending more to change its designs.

Only if Ms Hoey backs down - perhaps after government officials remind her that England's 2006 football World Cup bid could lose credibility if the stadium is stalled - will there be a swift resolution.