England's hopes of hosting the 2018 football World Cup, said to be the dream of putative premier Gordon Brown, may rest on the future of the stadium in east London which will be built for the Olympic Games six years earlier. Not because it could become a venue for any of the matches - but because it must never be one.
Of all the issues raised by Jack Lemley, the American drafted in to oversee the Games building projects, who quit two weeks ago and now says he was driven out by political wrangling, that of the proposed 80,000-seater Games focal point is the most alarming.
Lemley, who was appointed by Tony Blair as chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), hit out at plans to convert the venue into a football stadium. He says this would not be possible without the loss of the promised legacy to athletics.
He believes this would lead to a major split among those involved in planning Britain's biggest sports event. The football agenda stems from the apparent determination of the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, to entice a London Premiership club, most likely nearby West Ham, to take over as an anchor tenant. But this would mean athletics being ditched, infuriating both the IOC and IAAF, who in turn could put pressure on Fifa over the destination of the 2018 World Cup. They could point out that it would not be the first time the British Government had reneged on a sporting commitment.
IOC sources have already expressed concern over the stadium's future, and their influence on and with Fifa is considerable, as evidenced by the IOC president Jacques Rogge's personal nomination of Lord Coe to head the football body's new ethics committee. Caborn's stance seems destined to bring him into conflict with both Coe and Mayor Ken Livingstone, as well as surely his own boss, Tessa Jowell, who is a member of the Olympic Board who have unilaterally rejected the idea of offering the stadium to a Premiership club on a football-only basis.
Coe insists: "We are committed to a facility that leaves track and field as a primary legacy. That was our firm undertaking to the IOC in the bid document. My attitude to football is that it has not in the past been our problem that clubs have not been prepared to play in the confines of a running track, though as a fan I understand the sentiments of wanting to play in a bespoke stadium.
"We will continue to discuss the after-use of the stadium with any number of organisations. It could be a non-League club, or even a rugby club, but the fact of it being an athletics legacy is not negotiable." Suggestions that Coe's attitude is conditioned by any designs he may or may not have on the future presidency of the IAAF or IOC can be discounted. That is not his style.
While it is right that the Government should be worried about escalating costs, losing him as Olympic leader over this issue would be far too high a price to pay.Reuse content