UK Athletics can end its spat with West Ham United over whether the Premier League club can stage the Anniversary Games at the London Stadium in July by gifting this year’s event to Tokyo free of charge instead, says the UKA’s former chair.
Ed Warner, who led UK Athletics from 2007 to 2017, said his “radical” proposal would not only save millions of pounds that could be diverted towards fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, but would also be seen as a “gift from London to sports fans around the world”.
The war of words between UKA and West Ham over what will happen to the London Stadium if the football season has resumed by July has become increasingly heated with West Ham rejecting calls from UKA’s chief executive, Joanna Coates, to waive tenancy rights so the stadium can be reconfigured to stage the Anniversary Games on 4-5 July.
While the contracts that UKA and West Ham hold with the London Legacy Development Corporation call for an element of “reasonableness”, West Ham made it clear this week that when the Premier League resumes the London Stadium will be configured for football “and not inappropriately set up for an athletics meeting or a concert”.
With no end to the impasse in sight, and UKA facing a crippling financial blow if its flagship event is not staged, Warner has urged both sides to think laterally and creatively and send a goodwill measure to the Olympic host city that has seen its Games postponed for 12 months.
“The ill-advised cost-saving exercise when the stadium was revamped after the London 2012 Games means that reconfiguring the seating takes around two weeks,” Warner said. “This is a hugely labour-intensive exercise reported to cost up to a staggering £8m a time, and social distancing guidelines militate against a nonessential project like the stadium seat move.
“Now, then, is the time for creativity. UKA, with the backing of the London mayor and DCMS [department for digital, culture, media and sport], should offer the hosting rights for this year’s Anniversary Games to Tokyo, free of charge. The Japanese capital would not be constrained by UKA’s London Stadium calendar but could work with World Athletics to find a window in late summer or early autumn to stage a joyous two-day celebration of world-class athletics once, hopefully, the global pandemic has abated.
“Tokyo should be encouraged to revert to the Anniversary Games’ original structure and add a third day of elite Para athletics, so creating the tastiest of appetisers for both next year’s Olympics and Paralympics.”
Warner, writing on the iSportConnect website, said he was convinced that the World Athletics president, Seb Coe, would recognise the value of the switch. He also believed the BBC, UKA’s broadcast partner, would be delighted with an event likely to pull in an audience of “maybe five or 10 times its usual two million viewers”, while Müller, the headline commercial partner, “would receive unimagined global exposure”.
“The Legacy Company would save the exorbitant costs of moving the London Stadium’s seats, more than enough to make a payment equal to the average profit UKA made from the event in recent years,” Warner said. “This would shore up the governing body’s fragile finances and remove the virus uncertainty hanging over it. The mayor’s remaining saving – perhaps as much as £5m – could be committed to a fighting fund for community sports clubs in Newham and the other London Olympic boroughs to help them weather the effects of the pandemic.
“West Ham, given a clear run at completing their season at home, should be encouraged to top up this fighting fund, or instead commit additional resources to the excellent community work already undertaken by the club’s charitable foundation.”
Warner said that such an event would also help Tokyo prepare for next summer’s Olympics. “A two- or three-day Diamond League event in its shiny new National Stadium would prove the hottest ticket anywhere in the world this year and a guaranteed money-spinner. Has there ever been a better test event for an Olympic venue?”