Jessica Ennis calls for Don Valley Stadium to be saved from demolition


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The Independent Online

Britain’s Olympic gold medal winning star Jessica Ennis has called for the track where she first discovered athletics to be saved.

The Don Valley Stadium, built for the World Student Games in 1991, could be demolished as Sheffield City Council battles to find £50m savings to meet Government budget cuts this year.

The heptathlete and poster girl for London 2012 was discovered during a summer schools training camp at the £29m arena in her home city where thousands gathered to watch her power to victory on a giant screen this summer.

Ennis said the track could inspire other youngsters. ‘’ I am really disappointed with the news that Don Valley may be closed down – the track and stadium has played a huge part in my athletics career – it is where my career started and I have some very fond memories of my times training there,” she said.

“I very much hope that commercially it can be made viable to save the facility – and that lots of kids will get to love the venue as much as I have done and discover their own sporting talents’,” she added.

Ennis’s coach Toni Minichiello said the star was not planning to move away from Sheffield where she lives close to her family. But he accused the city of not striving to attract top level competition to fill the stadium. Sheffield has not hosted a major athletics meeting since 2007.

“If you want legacy in Britain, things like the English Schools Championships, the British Transplant Games (which Don Valley is hosting in 2013), the county championships and area championships are the sorts of things you should be hosting there," he said.

"And I don't think Sheffield has worked hard enough to get a lot of those events in,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Sheffield is already home to the elite indoor facilities of the English Institute of Sport next door to the stadium where Ennis does most of her training.

Eighteen months ago the city closed an outdoor track at the Woodbourn Stadium which could now be refurbished and reopened.

The council insisted the plan to close Don Valley was just one of a number of options that would be considered by councillors in March.

It said the stadium was underused and each visit required a £5 subsidy making it one of the most expensive sports facilities in the country.It needs £1.6m of building work starting next year and officials have estimated that keeping it open could result in the loss of five community sports facilities which would impact on ten times as many users.

Cllr Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “These are extraordinarily difficult times and we have said that we will have to look at tough budget options because of the devastating Government cuts to public spending and local government.

“We have said all along that we have to consider all options and Don Valley Stadium is one of the bigger options on the table. I want to make it clear that no decisions have been made and when we are in a position to confirm our spending decisions we will do so.”

The 25,000 seat stadium, which is operated by Sheffield City Trust, was built to host the 1991 World Student Games alongside Ponds Forge swimming and diving pool and the Sheffield Arena. The Games left the city with a debt of £658m which it will continue to pay off until 2024. The council has already made £140m in cuts in the past two years and faces further savings until 2018.