Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 76)



Mr Faber

  60. For a stadium which is not going to host any athletics events you are able to go into tremendous detail in your brief to us about how you would still accommodate athletics. Indeed, you say you remain confident that a stadium could provide a superb venue for the 2005 World Championships. Have you had any private indication whatsoever, from ministers perhaps, that, let us say, after a General Election soon to be held you will be returned and athletics will once again take its place at Wembley?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I think I am perhaps best suited to deal with that question because, as you would expect, throughout my deliberations in January I did keep both the Minister for Sport and indeed, the Secretary of State closely up to date with what was going on. The decision to rule out the World Athletics Championships was mine and mine alone. As, indeed, I have to say it was my decision to review whether or not Wembley could have been, even at this late stage, considered for the World Athletics Championships in 2005. I have had discussions with the Wembley design team, that is both the people inside Wembley National Stadium Limited and Lord Foster and his team, about the ability to find a design solution to enable athletics to be staged at the Wembley Stadium. I have ruled out the World Athletics Championships as an option simply because of uncertainty on time and I think that had to be the right decision. Whilst I acknowledge Mr Wyatt's point that the proposed dates for Wembley and Picketts Lock are basically the same, I do not want to take the risk of Wembley not being ready. The World Athletics Championships is too important to sport in this country for us not to have a stadium available. In terms of the future, I have spoken both to the Chairman and to the Chief Executive of the British Olympic Association. We do not yet know whether or not there will ever be an Olympic bid, although perhaps it grows in possibility and my understanding at this stage is that their preferred site would be East of London rather than West of London. However, if we have a national stadium of true world class then certainly I would want it to be available to form part of any Olympic bid. Now that might mean that it would be used for opening and closing ceremonies, it might mean that it is used for football events, it might mean that it is used for rugby events if rugby by that time is a sport that is part of the Olympic Games. Whether or not it is ever capable of being used for athletics is something that I would want to explore with the benefit of time, but I would have to say to the Committee that right now my priority is to finalise the funding package for the stadium to enable us to build work and then with the luxury of more time I would want to look with the architects as to whether or not there is a design solution to enable us to incorporate athletics at some future date.

  61. Presumably when the three sports were originally intended for Wembley you, as a member of the Wembley Board, and as the Chairman of UK Sport, supported the concept of three sports at Wembley. As you will be aware this Committee drew attention in our last Report to what we described as the disjuncture in UK Sport's evidence, that you had said to us in your submission that UK Sport was neutral about athletics at Wembley but the Secretary of State claimed that UK Sport was a supporter following the Ellerbe Becket report of the removal of athletics from Wembley. Can you explain that divergence?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) Yes, I will certainly do my best. The situation was—if we go all the way back to 1995—it was certainly the intention of the English Sports Council then to have a national stadium that could accommodate athletics, football and Rugby League. We must remember at that stage costs were anticipated at or around £250 million. So the Lottery grant would have represented broadly 50 per cent of the total costs of the project. With the passage of time, with the fact of such things as the capacity being increased from 80 to 90,000, the decision—which I am happy to defend—to incorporate vastly improved back of house facilities in terms of catering and so on, then the costs have risen. So the Lottery grant now forms but a small percentage of the whole. Now there came a point when football's influence on the project became dominant because, as I have said earlier in evidence, without the income that football provides the stadium cannot create a viable business case to go and borrow the funds that it needs. During the middle of 1999, for reasons that are not immediately clear to me, people began to question whether or not athletics should be incorporated into the design of the new stadium.

  62. With respect, Sir Rodney, the British Olympic Association and Kate Hoey basically?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I hear what you say. The decision was taken to review the concept of a platform design and UK Sport were asked, as someone not directly involved in the project, if they would seek out a competent architect to give a view about the proposed platform concept. I took no part in that selection process and in the end, of course, it was DLA Ellerbe Becket who were asked to prepare the report. That company is based in Wakefield, my home town, and therefore I thought it prudent not to become too directly involved in the work that they undertook. To the best of my recollection, I was only involved in one meeting. I have not reviewed my diary so I cannot be precise. I was only involved in one meeting at the end of November or early December, when I was asked about whether or not the inclusion of the platform was desirable or not. I took the view that the Ellerbe Becket report had raised sufficient doubt about the workability of the platform concept. The Secretary of State had indicated to me that he was keen to make an announcement before close of business at the end of 1999 and in those circumstances I think his decision was probably right in view of the amount of doubt that the Ellerbe Becket report had raised.

  63. I am sorry to interrupt you but the point I am really trying to make is that the Secretary of State leaned very heavily on the advice of UK Sport. Again and again both on the Floor of the House and in this Committee he quoted UK Sport as supporters of the Ellerbe Becket report. Do you not appreciate the resentment felt in some circles that this Committee was publicly told that UK Sport was neutral on this subject whereas in private briefing the Secretary of State was told completely the opposite?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I am not sure that I understand resentment. I could perhaps understand confusion.

  64. Annoyance perhaps.
  (Sir Rodney Walker) The simple fact is that UK Sport itself relied entirely on the advice that came via the DLA Ellerbe Becket report, so any views that we had had to be substantially influenced by that report. I think it is worth reminding ourselves the timescale on which decisions were made was very short indeed. I think Mr Bates has made reference in his evidence to the fact that the amount of time between the Ellerbe Becket report being received and the announcement being made was short.

  65. This Committee criticised that very strongly.
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I repeat that the Ellerbe Becket report, whether it was right or wrong, at the time that the Secretary of State made his pronouncement had raised sufficient cause for concern.

  66. What is the current view of the Board of WNSL about the repayment of the £20 million? Is there an agreement that the £20 million should be repaid on the Board and, if so, when is the first tranche going to be paid?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) Again, as you would expect, this has been discussed both at the WNSL Board and at the FA Board. I think it is fair to say there is a view that there is no legal requirement for us to repay the £20 million. I am of the view, and I think this view is now supported by both Boards, the WNSL Board and FA Board, that there is in place a moral commitment given by football, at a time when I was not in charge, to repay the £20 million, and under those circumstances that offer will be honoured. I, of course, know that £20 million is of crucial importance to the funding of the Picketts Lock project.

  67. Just one last question. We have heard about one article in the Telegraph this morning and there is one alongside it about the refusal of the Mayor of London to put the GLA in the position, as it were, of joint funding partner with UK Athletics and there is a suggestion that you, in your role as Chairman of UK Sport, might be that partner. That would be ironic, would it not?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I am not sure that irony is the word I would use.

  68. Difficult anyway.
  (Mr Stubbs) I think the fact that the City Council in Manchester have stood behind the Commonwealth Games project perhaps led people to believe that the new Mayor of London may well stand behind the—

  69. And, indeed, Birmingham for 2003.
  (Sir Rodney Walker) Yes. I am happy to sign the document but UK Sport is simply not in a position to stand behind the world athletics bid because we are not resourced to do so. What I have told the Secretary of State, the Minister, David Moorcroft, Len Hatton, the Chairman of the bid team, is that they will have all the support from UK Sport that we can give to assist them in ensuring that they have a stadium in London to hold the World Athletics Championships in 2005 and, of course, that is what was said in the bid document by both the Prime Minister and, indeed, the Secretary of State.


  70. It is all very incestuous, is it not? From what Mr Faber has been saying there seems to be a kind of sporting version of La Ronde in which the thing is passed from hand to hand within a very small circle of people and sometimes ends up with the people it started with.
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I can understand, Chairman, why you might think that. I am a servant of Government in the positions that I hold and I can only do my best in the circumstances in which I find myself.

Mr Maxton

  71. Can I just clarify one point that Mr Stubbs made in answer to almost the very first question from Mr Fearn. Are you telling us that the FA for every game which they have organised pay you? Is that right?
  (Mr Stubbs) Let me just expand on the answer. When the stadium was purchased and we used Lottery money to fund it, it was necessary for Sport England to have some security, so there was a staging agreement put in place which runs for 20 years. That staging agreement compels the FA to pay certain monies to us irrespective of whether they play the matches or not. In reality the stadium does not make money out of matches, it makes money from various commercial rights and some of those commercial rights, in effect, were sold to the FA in exchange for cash. We continue to receive that cash irrespective of whether they stage matches or not. They are under a legal obligation to continue to pay that money for the next 20 years if the stadium never opens.

  72. So last night the FA paid Aston Villa for that game and they were paying you as well?
  (Mr Stubbs) No. There are two pots of money under the FA staging agreement. There is our share of the percentage of gate revenues, which in many respects is peanuts, we do not make money out of bums on seats. The rest of it is from commercial rights which they pay us for, and they used to pay Wembley plc, which is totally independent of playing any number of matches. They continue to pay that lump of money and they will continue to do so, if they have to, for the next 20 years.

  73. I assume Rugby League has not got the same arrangement?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) Rugby League is in the process of finalising its agreement with Wembley National Stadium Limited. We are undertaking to enter into an agreement to play at least one Rugby League game at Wembley each year for the next 20 years on a strictly commercial basis.

  74. Is there not a conflict of interest between you as the Chairman of Rugby League and your position as Chairman of Wembley? Last year I attended a very successful Rugby League Cup Final at Murrayfield, next year it goes to Cardiff, I think it is going to Twickenham at some time. Certainly Murrayfield was very successful but there is nothing to say that the other games will not be as successful. Is there not a conflict between you as the Chairman of Wembley Stadium tying Rugby League into Wembley Stadium when there are other stadia where Rugby League Finals could be played and probably just as successfully?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I am happy to deal with that question. The process of entering into a state of agreement with the new Wembley Stadium was handled initially by Maurice Lindsay, the then Chief Executive of the Rugby League, and subsequently by Neil Tunnicliffe, and I deliberately, because of the conflict issue, kept myself out of those discussions. I am delighted that you regarded the Cup Final at Murrayfield to be a success and, indeed, I shared that view, it was a great success, and we would hope to return there at some early date. We will be at Twickenham on April 27 this year and the decision as to where the next Cup Final will be has yet to be taken, but it is true to say that Cardiff, along with Murrayfield, are presently being explored. I think everyone within Rugby League is happy to support the view that at least one major Rugby League game each year (and remember I did not say the Challenge Cup) will be played at England's new National Stadium, and I think everybody would want us to do that.

  75. Do you not think we are obsessed in this country by this building of stadia for all sorts of different sports on the half hope that we might get some great event coming here? Would you not agree with me that the real success for British sport at the Olympics in Sydney did as much for sport in this country as having those Olympics in this country would have done?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I am very happy to support the view that the success that we had in Sydney during the Olympic Games was a great boost for sport in this country and, indeed, I am delighted that the Lottery-funded World Class Programme has been acknowledged as being an important part of providing the underpinning that our athletes needed to perform better on the world stage. I think running in parallel with all of that there is a need to have a national stadium in which sportsmen and women, not only from the United Kingdom, but I am sure you would acknowledge that everyone who plays particularly soccer around the world wants to play at Wembley Stadium, and my earnest hope is that they will want even more to play at the new Wembley Stadium.

  76. Again, can I just ask you in your role as Chairman of the UK Sports Council, which of course decides the overall sporting policy in this country, is there not some conflict there between that and your role as the Chairman of Wembley as the national stadium where you will want presumably to direct major sports you have mentioned, not just football but Rugby League, and you said Rugby Union if it was part of the Olympics? Do you not think that is again a conflict of interest?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) It is a matter for others to judge but it will not surprise you, I hope, to know that before I accepted an invitation to become Chairman of Wembley National Stadium I did seek the approval of both the Minister and Secretary of State who were satisfied that I was of sufficient independent thought to be able to do things without fear or favour.

  Mr Maxton: The UK Sports Council is as it says the "UK" Sports Council, it is not Sport England, whereas the National Stadium is the national stadium for England. Again there could be a conflict with the other nations of the United Kingdom.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Maxton, and thank you Sir Rodney and Mr Stubbs. We shall be seeing you again shortly, I believe.

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