Edwards feels shame of the Lock-out

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The Independent Online

In Berlin they are already busy refurbishing the 67,000-seat Olympiastadion. In Sydney they have the 110,000- capacity Stadium Australia ready for use. In Britain we have the 25,000-seater Don Valley Stadium that has been overlooked for major domestic athletics meetings in recent years. We also have a history of empty promises and broken dreams.

It is not difficult to guess what the council members of the International Association of Athletics Federations will conclude when they meet in Monte Carlo next month to consider the fate of the World Championships won and lost by London. The memory of the best-ever Olympics will be fresh in their minds, not to mention the images of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The words of Klaus Boeger will also be ringing in their ears.

"Berlin offers ideal conditions," the Berlin local government sports minister said on Friday. "The modernised Olympic stadium will be available and will meet all standards required to host the competitions." The irony is that the stadium which hosted Hitler's 1936 Olympics is being overhauled in readiness for the 2006 football World Cup finals that England lost to Germany. And while Britain has not been officially ruled out of the re-opened running for the 2005 World Championships, after the failure to deliver Wembley or Twick- enham or Picketts Lock, it is difficult to imagine the IAAF countenancing another passing of the bricks-and-mortar parcel to Sheffield.

Indeed, that much was made clear on Friday when Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, told Tessa Jowell, the Culture secretary, that the Don Valley Stadium would not be accepted as an automatic alternative to the Picketts Lock Stadium that will now never be. "If they cannot stage it in London, then Sheffield will have to bid like everyone else," he said. Giorgio Reineri, an IAAF spokes-man, said Sheffield "would start with the same chance as the others". But Nick Davies, another spokesman for the world body, suggested otherwise. "Can Sheffield compete with Sydney and that wonderful stadium?" he said. "I would not be surprised if they did not bid at all."

The Government may not even back a Sheffield bid if it does not think it can win against major international cities, but Peter Elliott, the South Yorkshireman who became one of the world's great middle-distance runners, believes the Steel City has a strong case. "It's certainly as good a place as Picketts Lock would have been," the former Commonwealth 1500m champion said. "It's a big city. The World Student Games were held there in 1991, so it's shown it can stage a major event. And the infrastucture's already there.

"You've got the big stadium. I've raced there against Steve Cram with 25,000 people watching. It would be quite easy, I would imagine, to bring the capacity up to the 40,000 needed. There's a warm-up track quarter-of-a-mile away. You're a mile from the M1. You're an hour from Manchester, which has an international airport. There's a Supertram system that runs from the city centre right to the stadium.

"The IAAF are saying if it's going to be in Britain it's got to be in London because it's the capital but Sheffield have thrown their hat into the ring and I think everyone should get behind them. What's happened with Picketts Lock has been an embarrassment and it would be even more of an embarrassment if we couldn't stage the championships in Britain. We've had a long tradition of producing star athletes and yet we can't put on a major athletics event."

Jonathan Edwards, the most successful British star in recent times, wrung his hands in frustration and bowed his head in shame when the Picketts Lock project became a pipedream on Thursday. "There's no chance of Britain holding the championships if it's not in London," he said. "If it could be renovated, Crystal Palace would be a great venue, with all the history surrounding it. It's a shame because we should have a national stadium for athletics – probably in London."

That is a view shared by many in the British team, according to Donna Fraser, the 400m runner who finished fourth in the Sydney Olym-pics. "I've always thought Crystal Palace is a great venue," she said. "A lot of athletes do love to run there. It does need a total revamp. It is dated. But it's got potential."

Not that every British athlete could care where a world championship might ever be held in Britain. "To be honest, it wouldn't matter to me," Dean Macey said, "because wherever it is in Britain you can guarantee it's going to piss down – and that the track's going to be 400m all round."

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