White elephant

WEST HAM co-chairman David Gold has fired another broadside in the battle for the Olympic Stadium by describing its future as a decaying white elephant if current plans to convert it into an athletics arena go ahead, writes DAVE EVANS. Gold and co-owner

WEST HAM co-chairman David Gold has fired another broadside in the battle for the Olympic Stadium by describing its future as 'a decaying white elephant' if current plans to convert it into an athletics arena go ahead, writes DAVE EVANS.

Gold and co-owner David Sullivan made it plain from the moment they took over at Upton Park that moving to the �587million stadium in Stratford was one of their top priorities, but since then they have been met with a volley of criticism.

First, Ed Warner, the chairman of UK Athletics suggested that West Ham's presence could stop them from making a bid for the 2015 World Championships.

Then Olympics minister Tessa Jowell and bid winner Lord Coe reiterated that the stadium had to have an athletics legacy.


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Now former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has stepped into the debate.

"There's a legally-binding contract between the Mayor and the IOC Committee that the stadium will be an athletics venue," he said.

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"If we had said we were building a football stadium, we would not have won."

However, Gold is used to getting over such obstacles, as his and Sullivan's long and drawn out takeover of the Hammers proved, and he feels that opposition to the West Ham plan is waning.

"We believe there is a serious possibility to strike a deal," he said. "As a fan, I'd be saying I want to stay at Upton Park where all my family has been to support the club.

"But equally, I'm a realist and I want to challenge at the very top. To do that we need to bite the bullet, grasp the nettle and move into the Olympic Stadium.

"I am sensing an easing of the stance about it being a legacy for athletics."

Gold has received support from Andrew Boff, the Conservative group Olympic spokesman on the London Assembly.

"Let's be clear, there is not a cat-in-hell's chance of the Olympic Stadium becoming a viable athletics stadium. It isn't going to happen and there is no evidence to suggest that it will.

"However, we know that when a popular mainstream sport takes over a large venue that its long term and commercially viable future is assured - as happened to the Commonwealth Stadium when Manchester City Football Club took it over."

The City takeover at Eastlands is a slightly different story however. That stadium is no longer used for athletics, but it seems that the powers that be are determined to have some sort of track after the Olympics in Stratford.

Sullivan had suggested building a smaller athletics track elsewhere, and Gold repeated that possibility, but though that could merely be a negotiating position from the West Ham pair, it is one that is unlikely to curry favour.

"It is not beyond the wit of man to transform the stadium into a football friendly one," he said. "Or you could abandon the athletics idea altogether and build a smaller athletics-only arena with a sensible capacity elsewhere."

Perhaps the best idea would be for football and athletics to come together in harmony.

It happened at the Stade de France where the �364million stadium has a retractable stand to allow for a running track. The Paris stadium has held the World Cup Final in football and rugby union as well as the 2003 World Athletics Championships.

There is money in the post-Games conversion fund to modify the stadium to exactly that purpose and it may well be the ideal solution.

A compromise? When politicians get involved it becomes more unlikely, but with Gold and Sullivan around, you never know.

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