No to platform ticket for Games

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The Independent Online

Despite fiery rebuttals of criticisms of Wembley plans by Lord Foster and his architectural partners HOK Lobb, the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, will refuse to accept their idea of a portable platform track for athletics events when he announces his decision on the future of the new stadium this week. I understand Smith remains unswayed by their counter-arguments, believing it is too big a risk financially and unsound technically. This view will be reinforced with the news that the rival architects who have designed the new stadium for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester rejected a similar project as "flawed". World-renowned Arup Associates were originally asked by Sport England whether such a track could be incorporated into the new state-of-the-art stadium now being built in Manchester's Eastlands district but decided it was unworkable. "They looked at it early on and decided it wasn't a runner," said Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council. "It was agreed that the best solut

Despite fiery rebuttals of criticisms of Wembley plans by Lord Foster and his architectural partners HOK Lobb, the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, will refuse to accept their idea of a portable platform track for athletics events when he announces his decision on the future of the new stadium this week. I understand Smith remains unswayed by their counter-arguments, believing it is too big a risk financially and unsound technically. This view will be reinforced with the news that the rival architects who have designed the new stadium for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester rejected a similar project as "flawed". World-renowned Arup Associates were originally asked by Sport England whether such a track could be incorporated into the new state-of-the-art stadium now being built in Manchester's Eastlands district but decided it was unworkable. "They looked at it early on and decided it wasn't a runner," said Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council. "It was agreed that the best solution for a stadium that is to revert between football and athletics is a moveable lower tier, with retractable seating." The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, laid the foundation stone for the £90m City of Manchester Stadium last week which will be handed over to Manchester City FC after the Games. However, as we reveal elsewhere, with athletics looking a non-starter at Wembley, Manchester are prepared to step in with an offer to stage the 2005 World Championships and become the new national stadium the sport is now likely to need. This is on the agenda for yet another Wembley crisis meeting, called by Sport England at breakfast-time tomorrow. Alan Pascoe, head of Fast Track, the commercial arm of UK Athletics, welcomed the Manchester interest. "Outside of the Wembley debate it is heartening news," he said.

Get set for Hackney Marshes

Less heartening, though, is the plight of the British Olympic Association, who prompted the Wembley re-think but now seem to have been left high and dry, with Wembley destined to become the football-only stadium which Ken Bates always desired. Bates even told a parliamentary select committee earlier this year that Manchester should be the home of athletics, not Wembley because a running track would detract from the atmosphere at football matches, though we didn't hear him complaining about any such lack of atmosphere in Rome's track-ringed Olympic Stadium where Chelsea held Lazio last week. The BOA are left seeking a new greenfield site, perhaps on Hackney Marshes ,if they are to proceed with a London Olympic bid in the new millenium. The BOA's Simon Clegg says: "Once again British sport seems to have shot itself in the foot. When are we going to get our act together?" A London conference last week asked why Britain has so few post holders in international sport. We need look no further than Wembley for the answer.

Jolly Rogge to fly Olympic flag?

As the venerable denizens of the International Olympic Committee go about putting their house in order with uncharacteristic reforming zeal in Lausanne, there are indications that the 79-year-old president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is ready to step down before his time is up in 2001. The likelihood is that, sick of the controversies that have ruined his hopes of being awarded a Nobel Prize, he will take early retirement after next year's Sydney Olympics. The debate over whether or not he might have his collar felt by the FBI when he flies to Washington this week to give evidence at the Salt Lake City bribes-for-votes hearing on Capitol Hill, has not enhanced his desire to linger. Privately, Samaranch has always seen Sebastian Coe as his eventual successor and is disappointed that British sports politics have conspired against him becoming an IOC representative. But Coe's time could yet come now that members have to put themselves up for re-election. Meantime, who takes over? Jean Claude Killy, another legendary Olympian and Samaranch favourite son, apparently doesn't want the job and Canada's Dick Pound, who most certainly does, has alienated too many members with his investigations into the bribery allegations. So step forward Jacques Rogge, a 54-year-old Belgian surgeon who speaks six languages and is said to be "clean as a whistle". A jovial cove, Rogge takes a hard line on drugs and would be a popular choice to modernise a movement that plans to splash out £1.25m for an American public-relations company to brush up their image. They may find their ills can be cured better by having a real doctor in the house rather than a spin doctor.

Coach who missed the bus

No doubt Sir Alex Ferguson will turn up to receive his anticipated trophy as coach of the year at tonight's BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. Pity, though, he couldn't make it on Thursday in London to collect a similar accolade when he was among those inducted into the National Coaching Foundation's Hall of Fame. Trevor Brooking accepted it on his behalf from the Princess Royal. Apparently Sir Alex couldn't get there in time from Manchester. A fast car and even faster driver might have done the trick. Alas, there are a diminishing number to choose from at Old Trafford these days.

Backing the wrong panto horse

Jonjo O'Neill is appearing in pantomime at Sadler's Wells this Christmas as Dick Whittington. Oh, no he isn't! Oh, yes he is! Well, actually, it's not the Jonjo O'Neill but a 21-year-old Irish actor of the same name. It couldn't have caused a bigger flutter at the box office had they hired Ken Livingstone to play the Lord Mayor of London.

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