Banks refuses to be made a scapegoat

Ex-sports minister hits back over the Wembley fiasco.

The former Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, came out fighting yesterday and declared he is not prepared to be the fall guy over the Wembley fall-out. He reacted angrily to suggestions that he colluded with the Chelsea chairman Ken Bates to keep athletics out of the new stadium. "It is absolutely untrue," he said of the newspaper report which alleged he had told Bates, then co-chairman of the Football Association's Wembley Committee, that he wanted to "destroy" the proposals to make Wembley an all-purpose sports arena.

The former Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, came out fighting yesterday and declared he is not prepared to be the fall guy over the Wembley fall-out. He reacted angrily to suggestions that he colluded with the Chelsea chairman Ken Bates to keep athletics out of the new stadium. "It is absolutely untrue," he said of the newspaper report which alleged he had told Bates, then co-chairman of the Football Association's Wembley Committee, that he wanted to "destroy" the proposals to make Wembley an all-purpose sports arena.

Banks, who quit as sports minister three months ago and is now the Government's ambassador for the 2006 World Cup campaign, says he has issued writs against the newspaper in question and also Jarvis Astaire, the former deputy chairman of Wembley plc, who made a similar allegation in his biography published earlier this year in which he wrote of the "close relationship" between the Chelsea fan Banks and Bates.

Astaire, a millionaire socialist and boxing and business entrepreneur, also says he once told Banks, who was having dinner with friends at Stamford Bridge, that he was "a disgrace to the Labour Party" over his support of Dennis Wise after the player's trial on charges of assaulting a taxi driver.

"The story that I wanted to keep athletics out is a complete fabrication," Banks told me. "I have spoken to Ken Bates who denies that any such conversation took place. It is true that I have never been in favour of a running track that would be permanently visible between the pitch and spectators in the new national stadium, which has been policy all the way through. But that does not amount to destroying athletics, which is a sport I happen to love.

"I have always wanted to have the Olympic Games at Wembley, and still do. The minutes of all the meetings I was involved in make that quite clear. I happen to think that if athletics was forced out of Wembley it would imperil any future Olympic bid. This is why I am bitterly contesting these allegations.

"I feel entitled to defend my own position over this. Whatever anyone says about me, I might be mouthy and I might be opinionated, but I'm not dishonest. I do have integrity. I'm not prepared to take a dive on behalf of anybody."

In fairness to Banks, in none of the several conversations I had with him in his two years as sports minister did he express anything other than enthusiasm for Wembley as a multi-sports arena. In fact he once revealed that he had argued, unsuccessfully, for the Government to underwrite the entire cost of the stadium. "Then we could develop the whole area, as the French have done with the Stade de France, which is now being held up as a role model. But I was told there was no money.

"The idea of a permanent athletics track was rejected a long time ago and I agree with that. I think you lose too much in terms of atmosphere, though there are some stadiums, such as that in Rome, where it works very well. But I would be quite happy with retractable seats over a permanently installed athletics track.

"However, I am confident that the design as launched by Chris Smith last July is perfectly adequate to meet the requirements of the British Olympic Association and athletics, although some slight modifications may be needed. I happen to agree with Wembley that the report upon which Chris Smith based his statement in Parliament is grossly flawed."

If this proves to be true - or even if it does not - the Secretary of State, who has called for a re-think of the entire Wembley project, will face an embarrassing impasse when he brings together the relevant parties involved in the dispute on 15 December. Prospects of a happy ending to the wretched tale of Wembley's woes are remote, with Wembley digging their heels in and refusing to pay back all or part of the £120m Lottery funding provided through Sport England.

There is a growing feeling in sport that some elements of the Government, though certainly not its new sports minister (nor even the old one, it seems) would now prefer to see Wembley built as a football-only stadium with athletics being given a new Lottery grant to build its own arena somewhere outside the capital.

The question of who takes the blame for the fiasco also remains unresolved, though it is likely that once the dust settles, some heads will be rolling in it. If he doesn't get it sorted, will Chris Smith's be among them?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms