Athletics: Athletes fear loss of Crystal Palace

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace is on the brink of losing all its athletics facilities, to the dismay of leading athletes and coaches.

A report due out next month will recommend that the outdoor stadium and indoor track at the National Sports Centre be demolished as part of plans by Bromley Borough Council and the Sports Council.

The report by Financial Consultants KPMG, jointly commissioned by the two councils, could signal the end of a 30-year connection between athletics and the South London venue.

"It would be disastrous," Richard Simmons, the British Athletic Federation national coach for the South East, said. "The National Sports Centre is a training venue for a large number of international athletes and hundreds of participants in the sport, with use made of the facilities every day of the week. Major investment into the athletics facilities is badly needed and yet the sport is facing a situation whereby there will be no indoor training facilities available anywhere in London."

The recent decision to include athletics as part of the new National Stadium at Wembley is clearly a factor in this situation. But Simmons has been mobilising support against a proposed action which would disrupt the preparation of some of Britain's leading athletes - among them two of this weekend's champions at Birmingham, Jason Livingston and Judy Oakes.

"I think it spells disaster," said Oakes, three times Commonwealth shot put champion. "I have been going to Crystal Palace since 1974, and this is desperate. When they closed Harringay two years ago, Harringay athletes started to come to Crystal Palace. That shows how desperate it is - people coming from North London.

"You can't do winter quality work outdoors in this country. I don't want to go back to chipping ice off the side of the throwing circle like I did when I was 13. If this plan goes through it is going to force athletes to go abroad or force them out of track and field altogether."

Bromley Council, which is due to take over the full running of Crystal Palace from the Sports Council next year, has been concerned over the commercial viability of athletics on the site. The uncertainty over whether the London Grand Prix will be held, as usual, at Crystal Palace or moved to Gateshead, has done nothing to lessen the councillors' concerns.