POSTED: March 15th 2010

JOHN GOODBODY: How London 2012 is coping with the old white elephant test

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LONDON, Mar 16: The use of Olympic facilities after the Games has worried the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in recent years, concerned that the world’s biggest sports event would receive unwelcome publicity if they became ’white elephants’, as they have sometimes done in the past.

One remembers  facilities in Athens, such as the rowing course, where inadequate thought was given to the legacy for future generations after 2004. And Athens is not alone among host cities in failing to plan for what will happen when the Games are over.

London has always emphasised the importance of legacy and almost all the facilities can be adapted to other uses, such as the Olympic Aquatic Centre, which will provide two 50 metre pools in a capital city where there are only two others, neither of which were built later than 1964. With the sport booming in Britain, the veldodrome should be packed with cyclists after 2012.

The major problem is the main stadium, built for 80,000 spectators for 2012, whose size will not be needed after 2012. London won several votes in 2005 among athletics enthusiasts in the IOC, by promising that a track would remain in the arena after the Games, with the stadium scaled down to a capacity of about 25,000. It is a commitment that should not be broken.

This size is ideal for the four athletics meetings a year that could be staged there. The question is what will happen for the remaining 360 days of the year. East London football clubs, mindful of how the City of Manchester Stadium was adapted for Manchester City after the 2002 Commonwealth Games, have looked eagerly at the venue as a future home.

Stadium capacity

In particular, West Ham, constrained by the capacity of 35,595 at Upton Park, would like the option of moving into the Olympic Stadium after 2012, with the venue capable of holding about 50,000 spectators.

However, there are two main problems. The first is that football fans, particularly English, do not like to be separated from the pitch by an athletics track. The other is that West Ham’s financial situation is such that the club is not in the position to put in much money to help in the reconfiguring of the stadium.

It is believed that the Olympic budget allows for about £38 million to be spent on reducing the size of the venue and architects are considering a plan that will allow retractable seating to be rolled over the track when football is taking place. However, such a drastic change to the stadium is going to cost more than £38 million.

The ideal would have been for the stadium to be built as the Stade de France in Paris has been done, with the retractable seating already part of the design.

Unfortunately, when the decision had to be made, West Ham were under a previous administration, which was unable to give any financial commitment. Given that there has been a change in the club’s board, this is just as well for the London Olympic organisers.
However, some lessons should be learned by future Olympic hosts, otherwise similar problems may occur in the years to come.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · Goodbody · IOC · London 2012

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