West Ham lead race to occupy Olympic stadium
West Ham FC step up their campaign as fierce contest for site enters endgame
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 14 August 2012
Even as the last firework died in the sky and thousands filed from the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of yesterday, a different sporting spectacle involving every bit of the tactical cunning and impassioned belief deployed in the arena over the past fortnight was sparking back into life.
Although it lacks the size and majesty of Beijing's Bird's Nest, the atmosphere day after day in the 80,000-capacity stadium on the Olympic Park has been one of the triumphs of London 2012.
Those bidding to take over the occupancy of the Stratford arena in 2014 clearly saw something they liked too.
Premier League football club West Ham yesterday stepped up its PR campaign to shore up its position as favourite to become the stadium's main tenant when the team's manager said the facility risked going to "rack and ruin" without a top-flight footballing occupant.
Sam Allardyce, who guided the club back to the Premiership last season and in so doing improved West Ham's chances of securing the £503m facility, said: "You only have to look around the world at some of the Olympic stadiums that have been built. They're white elephants now. There are weeds growing there. Look at the Bird's Nest in Beijing. Look at Athens. The Olympic Park is a fantastic place, but it can't be left to rack and ruin. If a club with the history and fanbase and potential of West Ham don't go there, the concern would be that the park is left empty the vast majority of the time."
The comments are the latest salvo in the battle between four final bidders to take over the stadium once the two events of London 2012 – the Olympics and the Paralympics – are finished.
The flip-flopping saga of just what to do with the stadium has been one of the less auspicious aspects of securing the Olympic legacy. When London won its bid for the Olympics in 2005, plans were announced to reduce the arena to 25,000 seats to provide a permanent home for British athletics.
While the athletics track will remain in place, the existing structure will now also stay put, leaving a 60,000-seat stadium with room for executive boxes and potential for retractable seating to cover the running surface.
Along with West Ham, the other hopefuls are Football League side Leyton Orient, a Burnley-based higher education business called the University College of Football Business, and an unusual plan to stage a Formula One race in the park.
It is a contest which has already proven intensely competitive, if not downright dirty. A previous attempt to award the stadium to West Ham last year was derailed when Premiership rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Orient took legal action over the decision and there was an anonymous complaint to the European Union.
In January, Scotland Yard arrested a private investigator, who had been retained by Tottenham, on suspicion of fraud after he allegedly obtained the telephone records of West Ham's vice-chairman, Karren Brady.
Howard Hill, 57, from Cheshire, and his former employer, accountancy firm PKF, were hired by Tottenham to carry out inquiries linked to the bidding process. Mr Hill, who remains on police bail, has since resigned from PKF.
Tottenham have strongly denied ever receiving a copy of Ms Brady's records or instructing PKF to engage in unlawful activity. Both PKF and Mr Hill have denied using "any unlawful activity" to obtain phone records.
The legal entanglement prompted a decision to take the stadium into public ownership with the London Legacy Development Corporation and lease it back to a new tenant, forcing the latest bidding round which is due to be decided in October.
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