Threat over new stadium shakes athletics

Alan Hubbard reports that 2005 championships are in serious danger
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The Independent Online

British athletics will become a sport with nowhere left to run if a forthcoming £1.3m feasibility study on the proposed new 50,000-seater stadium at Picketts Lock in North London reveals it to be unsuitable as the venue for the 2005 World Championships.

British athletics will become a sport with nowhere left to run if a forthcoming £1.3m feasibility study on the proposed new 50,000-seater stadium at Picketts Lock in North London reveals it to be unsuitable as the venue for the 2005 World Championships.

Serious doubts about whether the site is viable, both financially and environmentally, have arisen, and with the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, insisting in Parliament on Friday that there is now absolutely no prospect of athletics being incorporated into the rebuilt Wembley, there are concerns that the championships may not now take place in London.

I understand that senior figures in the International Amateur Athletics Federation, who awarded the event to London earlier this year, are astonished that the feasibility study is taking place only after they had accepted the London bid.

Last week Des Wilson, the senior vice-chairman of Sport England, who are financing the feasibility study, admitted that if this showed the Picketts Lock plan was not workable, as many now fear, it was doubtful whether the championships would go ahead in the capital. And yesterday the Shadow Sports Minister, John Greenway, told the Independent on Sunday: "The soundings I am getting about Picketts Lock are not good.

"If they don't deliver on Picketts Lock there will be no world championships in London because there is nowhere else to go. And London can forget about hosting any major international championships of any sort for a very long time. By foolishly ruling out Wembley, where we could have had a proper national stadium with retractable seats over an athletics track, like the Stade de France, Chris Smith has gambled everything on Picketts Lock. Yet here we are, eight months after the announcement was made, and nothing has happened. The only foundations that have been laid are for a serious international embarrassment. If this occurs this side of a general election, Smith should resign."

Another complication which suggests that Picketts Lock is now looking more like Dead Lock is that Sport England have postponed a decision on Wembley's demand that a legal clause forcing them to provide the arena free of charge in the now highly unlikely event of an Olympics ever being staged in London is removed before £20m of Lottery money is refunded.

Wembley National Stadium Ltd also want to be rid of any obligation to stage athletics at any time in the future, which would rule out the installation of a temporary track if UK Athletics have to go cap in hand to them should the world championships not take place at Picketts Lock.

The whole history of the Wembley fiasco, since it was first proposed as an all-purpose national stadium five years ago, has been one of making concessions to football at the expense of the Olympics and athletics, which have brought greater glory to Britain over the past 30 years.

At a heated press conference last week Sport England officials defended the decision to exclude athletics from Wembley, and their recent track record suggests another easy victory for Ken Bates' Soccer SuperDome.

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