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A Legacy in Danger

In light of the recent decision to lease the Olympic stadium to West Ham, Beth Jakubowski assesses how London's Olympic legacy is now in danger of being overshadowed

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Image: Department for Culture, Media and Sport via flickr Creative Commons
Image: Department for Culture, Media and Sport via flickr Creative Commons

The decision was made this week to give West Ham the Olympic stadium in a bid to ensure that London's stadium does not become the 'white elephant' of previous Olympics. While this is most certainly the right idea, handing the stadium to West Ham is not going to protect the legacy that Lord Coe envisioned when he declared to the world we would 'inspire a generation'.

The decision, of course, is all about money. There are already grumblings about the public sector footing the bill for the majority of the stadium's restructuring to make it a suitable for a football club. While the cost to the public sector is undoubtedly a problem, my reservations are also based on the desire to see London 2012 endure in the nation's memory.

It can be passed off as patriotic nonsense; many will consider keeping the stadium as a sanctuary for the British Olympic legacy as an unsound decision financially. But one of the major concerns is that the stadium will no longer be the 'Olympic stadium' but 'West Ham's stadium'. That would be disregarding every lesson we learned from London's fortnight of triumph.

Protecting the legacy does not necessarily mean that athletics should be the priority, in saying this hosting a Diamond League event there during the summer is an excellent idea and ensures that there is still a focus on nurturing young British talent. Additionally, holding fixtures for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the stadium is a very good idea. That way the stadium is kept for national sport rather than Premier League football.

Perhaps my reservations are somewhat based on the fact that football has hardly covered Britain in glory in the same way as the Olympics did. I am not talking about trophies or medals or material success, I am talking about the passion displayed by athletes, the dedication and desire to compete for their country. Ex-Sports Minister Richard Caborn called handing West Ham the stadium the 'biggest mistake of the games'. I tend to agree with this statement, we are leaving our legacy in the hands of a mid-table Premier League football club who are reducing the size of the venue from 80,000 to 60,000. I still have my doubts whether they will even be able to fill a stadium that large.

Image: PowderPhotography via flickr Creative Commons
Image: PowderPhotography via flickr Creative Commons

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has been incredibly hesitant in making the deal with West Ham, having stalled many times due to fears over the reconstruction among other things. The pressing issue for the LLDC was the public cost, but it seems they failed even to reduce the impact on the taxpayers as all but £15 million will be provided by the public sector.

This significant expense will be soured further if West Ham fails to fill the stadium week in week out seeing as it is twice the size of Upton Park. The issues that are bound to plague the club are in danger of scuppering the golden memories of London 2012 as attention turns to whether or not fans will take to the new stadium. Attention will also turn to whether they can financially hold their own during the 99 year lease.

It is admirable that the LLDC wish to ensure the stadium is used every week, but perhaps they have been too hasty in making a decision. There have been very few other options explored, it seems the only one that has been even considered is giving it to a football club. I have no immediate solution to the Olympic stadium conundrum. At this point I would prefer the stadium to be a venue for concerts rather than home to a Premier League club. At least that way it would still be our Olympic stadium and it would still be the place where dreams were made in the summer of 2012.

Perhaps my disillusionment with football has led to my concerns, but perhaps it is also because last summer I was lucky to have the opportunity to sit in the Olympic stadium and watch Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah win gold for Great Britain. Having been there and experienced in sheer awe the magnificence of the Olympic stadium, I cannot bear to think of it being draped in claret and blue rather than union jack. If you were lucky enough to have been there too, or even to have been anywhere in the Olympic park, perhaps you will share my reservations.

The crux of the matter is that this stadium was built for Great Britain. As British citizens we are footing the bill for the reconstruction. The only problem is that with West Ham as the primary tennants, the stadium we paid for and the stadium we are still paying for, no longer belongs to us. It all feels like a very bitter way to end our Olympic legacy. Somehow it feels like the only people who benefit from this deal are West Ham fans.

It seems like the generation who were supposed to be inspired by London 2012 will not get to reap the benefits of the Olympic stadium. That perhaps, is my greatest reservation of all.

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