Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  300. Is the danger not the other way round: that an obsession with getting the Olympic Games to this country endangers our whole sporting policy in terms of participation, getting success and all the rest of it, because that becomes all that anybody seems to be interested in?
  (Mr Clegg) I can assure you there is no obsession within the British Olympic Association. We are working professionally to develop this plan so that the other two key partners can decide whether they want to come into partnership or not. Our focus and passion is very much about elite level sport and arguably one of the most difficult aspects in the bidding process we were able to achieve in Sydney which is once again to put Britain up towards the top of the medal table, because we will be taken that much more seriously if we are seen to be a serious sporting nation.

  301. Can I ask you lastly whether or not the time may have come, with modern transportation and modern media technology, when the concept of not just one city bidding but even one country bidding for the Olympics is wrong, and maybe we now could be in a situation where Europe could bid for the Olympics and various events could then be given out over the different countries?
  (Mr Clegg) Obviously if you sat in Lausanne with the International Olympic Committee you would not take that view when there are cities around the world desperately vying to stage this event. If you look at the United States' contest for 2012, they originally had ten bidding cities that wanted the US nomination. The United States Olympic Committee is very fortunate because they can take $100,000 non-refundable deposit on each of the bids to go through that process. I wish we were in a similar position! Obviously I would not concur with that view; we would like the opportunity of being able to stage that event in this country to give Londoners the legacy that will come out of it and the people of this country the opportunity to experience that first hand.

  302. But London does not really need the Olympics.
  (Mr Clegg) I have to say that is not the Mayor's view.

  Chairman: That is a terribly chauvinistic attack on London so I will now call on a London MP, Mr Keen.

Mr Keen

  303. The British Olympic Association's preparations in the Brisbane area for the Sydney Olympics obviously paid off really well so I think you deserve the best congratulations we can give you. It was a great result; you said it is the athletes that count rather than the administrators, but it has been proved in the past that athletes cannot compete without the facilities, the money and the organisation behind them, so congratulations.
  (Mr Clegg) Thank you.

  304. Sorry to come back to the main stadium but it is not too difficult, is it, to provide stadia for the smaller events: it is the one national stadium that really brings the difficulty. Is it not true that only professional football can sustain a stadium the size required for the Olympics?
  (Mr Clegg) Certainly in this country I accept that that is probably the case.

  305. We have been debating recently whether, in fact, Wembley is suitable for athletics. We know that it can house athletics with a platform at a one-off cost. If it is not possible for any sport other than football to sustain a stadium the size required for the Olympics, does that not really bring it back to Wembley as the only possibility? No football club would agree to build a stadium with an athletics track around it, or a stadium big enough to put a platform in other than the national stadium that at some point is going to be completed at Wembley. Does it not bring it back to Wembley as the definite and only prospect?
  (Mr Clegg) I think common practice around the world demonstrates that it is quite feasible for track and field athletics to live comfortably alongside football. There are a number of creative ways that you can crack that particular nut, not least of which is downsizing after a major event and finding a long term anchor tenant maybe in the form of a football club looking for a larger facility that they have at the moment. I would not accept, therefore, that Wembley is the only option for a main stadium in the context of a future London Olympic bid.

  306. For it to be London it either has to be Arsenal or Spurs or Chelsea—one of the top London professional clubs. Is there any possibility of any of them agreeing to have a stadium with a permanent athletics track around it and, therefore, lack of atmosphere?
  (Mr Clegg) You talk about a permanent athletics track: one could consider what is happening up in Manchester at the moment where there is an athletics track being constructed in the new stadium there for the 2002 Commonwealth Games that subsequently will come out and be further sunk down to increase capacity on a permanent basis for Manchester City's new home. There are a number of ways you can be creative about this but all of this presupposes that it will be a west London or east London bid. That decision simply has not been taken yet, nor has a decision been taken as to whether we will bid or not. There are a number of fundamental issues that still have to be addressed, and they will be addressed by the key stakeholders and not by the British Olympic Association alone.

  307. But it is the national stadium that is key to a bid, wherever the bid is going to be. It has to be?
  (Mr Clegg) The national stadium or a main stadium?

  308. A main stadium and that is the key to it—it has to be sustainable afterwards. I know you just explained how it can be altered afterwards but the amount of money to build it in the first place and then to alter it does not compare with whatever a platform would cost in the Wembley national stadium, does it? The cost would be as high as building Wembley, is that not true, in any case, so all we are doing is duplicating the very high cost that Wembley is going to bring anyway? Is it not true also, and you have stated already this morning, that we really need to be able to prove we can do it by having those plans laid very quickly. It has taken a long time to get Wembley ready so how long is it going to take to get plans for a football club or whatever to take that out as well? Would it not be more practical to push ahead with Wembley than start looking elsewhere?
  (Mr Clegg) I would be delighted if we could go back and revisit history and make sure that track and field athletics was an integral part of the national stadium right from the initial design stages. We are now presented with a situation where the option at Wembley is a platform which we deemed previously to be unacceptable because of the inadequate sight lines particularly in the reconfigured lower tier of seating. That is certainly still our view and I think that is an issue that will have to be looked at by the three key stakeholders. Quite frankly, if the stakeholders determine that we need to go to the east of London, then I think that completely rules out Wembley because all sporting facilities should be within thirty minutes' commuting distance of the Olympic village.

Mr Faber

  309. Mr Clegg, you talked about your key stakeholders and the relationship you want to build with them over the coming years. You must be pretty disappointed that apparently one of them has leaked your report?
  (Mr Clegg) As I said at the beginning, there is some accuracy in what has appeared in the media. Some of it is inaccurate and some of it is totally inaccurate and I do not want to speculate on where that might have come from. There is a lot more confidential information contained in the report which fortunately is not yet in the public domain.

  310. I understand your reluctance entirely and it is a magnificent report but, from our point of view, we were presented with a copy of it virtually in a Securicor van and told it must not go anywhere and then two days before this Select Committee we see it plastered all over the newspapers. I would agree with you having gone through it, and these are reputable journalists who have written these articles, that a lot of what they have written is so inaccurate and wrong compared to what is in the report that they have been very selectively briefed. They have had what I assume is a verbal briefing from someone and, whilst I admire your reluctance to comment, the fact is that someone out there is trying to talk up an east London bid when, in fact, quite a lot of the venues that are written up in the newspapers are not accurate venues, according to your report, for an east London bid and the reports in the newspapers completely ignore a lot of the conclusions that you have drawn in your report, so they have not seen the whole report but have been briefed selectively. That must disappoint you enormously; it undermines your position.
  (Mr Clegg) Obviously I am disappointed. Each of the copies of the report has an individual security coding on it so, if that information is out there, then we have an opportunity of finding out what the source was. I am not going to fuel the speculation any longer; we are very serious about the method that we have gone about producing this piece of work and we are very serious in terms of the way in which we wish to take this forward.

  311. As I said, it is no criticism of you at all: it is a fantastic and very extensive piece of work. I managed to identify one page which possibly a journalist could have seen and could have drawn the conclusions they had. Otherwise, as I say, I think it was verbal. When we had David Moorcroft in front of us the other day, he acknowledged that the Mayor is not in a position to sign off as a joint stakeholder for the 2005 World Athletics Championships, and he has gone on record as saying that he would not be prepared to commit that sort of funding on behalf of the GLA. What makes you think it would be any different for an Olympic Games?
  (Mr Clegg) First of all, I believe he is in a position to sign off on it constitutionally, legally and structurally but I understand he has decided not to do so. Certainly the reaction we had from the Mayor last week was exceptionally encouraging and he clearly understands the implications for this city, if we were to bid, and he shared with us the long-term vision and strategic planning that would be necessary if we were to achieve the Games at some stage in the future, and I was very encouraged by our meeting with him.

  312. In the bid for the 2008 Games, I think Paris has already been acknowledged as having 53 per cent of the sports facilities needed already in place. What would you say was the equivalent in London at the moment?
  (Mr Clegg) Again, you cannot really answer, until you decide whether you are going to go west London or east London, what facilities out there at the moment can be used that are sports specific or can be converted, and what facilities have to be constructed. At this moment, it is difficult to quantify that.

  313. Picking up on what the Chairman asked you about Picketts Lock, as you have acknowledged this morning you were very largely—indeed possibly wholly—responsible for the decision to remove athletics from Wembley, or certainly very influential in the Secretary of State's decision. How close an eye have you kept on this, and what level of involvement have you had in the subsequent decision to build Picketts Lock, the design, the planning and how the stadium is going to look? What level of interest have you sought and achieved?
  (Mr Clegg) You say that we were influential in the decision-making concerning Wembley but, as I said to you last time we came before this Committee, we are not technical experts and we encouraged the Government to take independent technical advice which was commissioned through UK Sport and a report was produced by a company called Ellerbe Becket, and I am sure it is that report that was more influential for the Secretary of State than our own position. In terms of Picketts Lock, we were included in all of the discussions up until such time that it was made clear to us that, if we insisted on the Olympic dimension being factored into Picketts Lock, it would push back the planning to such an extent that the facility simply would not be ready for 2005. We must not forget we have secured the 2005 World Athletics Championships and it is very important for British sport that we deliver it and deliver it well.

  314. David Moorcroft when we pushed him about a possible stadium use for Picketts Lock talked about having the equestrian events there but, according to the leaked suggestions in the newspapers, we are looking at indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball. Now, as I understand it, Picketts Lock is not being built with a roof on it?
  (Mr Clegg) There is nothing fixed in terms of venue selection for an east London bid, as I have said previously, but you are quite correct—my understanding is that Picketts Lock is not currently being built with a roof on it. When you are looking for major facilities in the east end of London if you were going to go east and if you were going to run a bid, then you would have to consider those existing facilities that could be possibly converted on a temporary basis that would then bring them into play for an Olympic Games, and nothing should be ruled out and nothing should be ruled in. We will need to be creative and if there are existing facilities there then it would be better as long as it is practical to convert them—albeit on a temporary basis—so that they could be used rather than build new facilities.

  315. Obviously one of your concerns about the document being made public is to do with property prices and the general view of how local people view something being built on their doorstep. Since the articles have appeared in the newspaper this week, have you had any representations or reaction from landowners in any of the areas concerned?
  (Mr Clegg) I personally have not. I was abroad from Friday until late Monday evening so my first day back in the office was yesterday so I have not had any, and my colleagues have not either.

  316. But you have in the past held discussions with landowners, and the report does reflect that.
  (Mr Clegg) One of the challenges is that the Government does not own huge stocks of London land. As every day and month goes past, those privately owned stocks of land are whittled away for other uses and that will be a challenge and is one of the areas of discussion with the Mayor of London.

  317. Can you anticipate a main Olympic stadium being built without a successful bid already in the bag?
  (Mr Clegg) In the context of what is going on in London at the moment, it is unlikely that we will build speculatively another stadium unless there was a major football club that was considering a re-development of its own and was prepared to factor in retractable seating or something like that. On that basis there may possibly be a small amount of money available to assist with that and I think that would send out a very positive message. Outside that, however, I think it is most unlikely.

Ms Ward

  318. Mr Clegg, you mentioned a little earlier in reply to a question from a colleague the sight lines which you did not believe were very good on the proposal for the tracks at Wembley Stadium. Are you assuming, therefore, that sight lines at Picketts Lock, if it is ever built, would be significantly better and worth the investment?
  (Mr Clegg) This is now not an issue for the British Olympic Association because, as I have said, Picketts Lock would not act as a track and field facility in the context of an Olympic bid but I have every confidence that David Moorcroft and United Kingdom Athletics are ensuring that the sight lines for their stadium, particularly in the context of a world athletics championship, will be up to the required standard.

  319. Are you convinced that sight lines in any other stadium will be sufficient for Olympic events, better than what was being proposed for Wembley Stadium?
  (Mr Clegg) Are you talking about the main stadium?

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