The decision that UK Athletics dreaded finally emerged into the light yesterday as the Government confirmed that the plan to build a stadium at Picketts Lock in North London in time to host the 2005 World Championships has been dropped because it is too costly.
Explaining the decision, which could affect Britain's chances of staging the Olympic Games, the Minister for Sport Richard Caborn said that an alternative venue – Sheffield - would be put to members of the International Association of Athletics Federation when they arrived in Britain today ahead of this weekend's World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol.
But the IAAF, which has always made it clear that the championships had been awarded to Britain on the basis of being held in the capital, made it plain last night that they will not shift their ground.
"We are not happy because we received over the past two years many assurances about the ability of London to have a venue in order to host the World Championships," said the IAAF spokesman, Giorgio Reineri. "I think that the IAAF Council will reconsider the bidding procedure when they meet on 26-27 November and the bidding will be re-opened."
Asked if Sheffield would receive preferential treatment from the Council when the Championships go back into the hat, Reineri responded: "I don't think so." It is clear that Britain is about to lose a championship third only in standing to the Olympics and the World Cup. And, with it, its reputation for hosting major sporting events.
The announcement, which came after a six-week review by the Government troubleshooter, Patrick Carter, had concluded that the project was beset by transport problems and construction costs that would rise to £120m, rather than the projected £87m, was criticised by the British Olympic Association.
The BOA's chief executive, Simon Clegg, said his organisation was "deeply disappointed" by the decision, which would almost certainly mean the loss of the 2005 World Championships. He said: "Coming so soon after the Wembley fiasco it further damages our international sporting reputation at a time when results at the 2000 Olympics suggested we could once again aspire to being a major sporting nation."
Work on a possible bid by London for the 2012 Olympics will continue. "What we have to be able to do is convince the International Olympic Committee that we can stage the Games," Clegg said. "Today's decision may well have an impact on that. It is not helpful."
For UK Athletics, and its long-suffering chief executive, Dave Moorcroft, the news came as a hammer blow. "We're trying to make the best of the situation and show that Sheffield is a viable alternative," he said. "But I think a hell of a lot of lessons will have to be learned and it doesn't reflect wonderfully well on British sport."
Caborn said he was "disappointed" by Clegg's comments, and denied that the decision would be regarded as another "cock-up" alongside the failure to determine Wembley's future.
"We made a judgement in the interests of sport," he said. "In the long run, I think sport will thank us. To spend £120m on building a stadium is over half the Lottery amount for sport in one year. That type of investment cannot be justified. It would affect sport both at élite level and at grass roots. And there is a feasible alternative to it."
He said £30m would be put into developing the Sheffield site, which hosted the 1991 World Student Games.
Caborn, who earlier this year said that the Government was "determined" that the 2005 Championships would be held in Britain, also denied that it had gone back on a promise first made in 1998 when Tony Blair promised that the 2003 World Championships would take place at Wembley. "We have lived up to the promise in our manifesto," he said. "We will produce a stadium of world-class quality for the IAAF in 2005."
The athletes' view was put by the veteran high jumper, Dalton Grant. "We need this stadium," he said. "If all the athletes have to go to 10 Downing Street to make the case, then that's what we'll do."
Why the Government pulled the plug on Picketts Lock
* Cost of building the stadium, and running costs for the championships, had been severely underestimated. The original total figure was £87m, but the Carter Report estimated it would cost £120m.
* Cost of improvements to local transport infrastructure. Could have reached £100m, and there was "a considerable risk" that improvements could not have been carried out in time because of the problems in the railway industry.
* No confidence that an acceptable location could be found to accommodate athletes. Picketts Lock project team had had to approach the University of Hertfordshire to ask to use their Hatfield campus, nearly 20 miles from the stadium site.
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