Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 86)



80.  Presumably, at the end of the 39 months anyway there then has to be several months, as other people learnt from the Dome, of getting the ticketing working and getting everything working before you actually have a fully operational building.

  (Mr Sheard) There is the very cautious approach and there is the gung-ho approach, and we have had clients who have tried both. Cardiff, that we designed, was a very cautious approach and was a very phased hand-over; Stadium Australia we opened with a crowd of about 80,000 and it worked brilliantly on the first night. So you can take your pick, really, but most sensible operators would tell you the cautious approach is probably better when you are dealing with large numbers of people.

81.  Going back to the decision about public transport, it seems to me that for a national stadium the problem is that everybody has to go into London before they go back out to Wembley, whereas there are other cities where you do not have to do that at all.

  (Mr Sheard) That is true, and the fact that you go into London is one of the strong points. That is what going to a major sporting event is all about; you do not just go to the event and then go home again, you go and enjoy the day. Sydney during the Olympics was just an amazing place to be, quite apart from ever going to see any athletics whatsoever. It is part of the process, and it is becoming more of part of the process, otherwise, as you were pointing out before, you may as well just sit at home and watch it on digital television. It is that experience that is important.

82.  You have obviously had experience of many different countries. I guess that one of the feelings of the public at the moment about this whole process has been that Britain seems to be terrible at mounting major events—whether sporting or any other kind of event. We are very good at doing funerals, but we have already got the buildings built several centuries ago. There does seem to be a problem. Is that a problem that relates to political will, or is it a problem that relates to political processes, or is it an individual personal failure?

  (Mr Sheard) I think it stems as much from not having an absolute end-date that everybody is focussed on. When you win an Olympics and you have to build a stadium you have a date that you have got to get it built by, and there is nothing quite like having an outside influence to focus everybody. When you have no end-date that has to be achieved then it is very easy to kind of find a million reasons why alternatives can be looked at and things can be procrastinated. Generally, what we have found (and I do not think Britain is different to any other country in the world, to be honest—probably, it is considerably better than the vast majority) is that if you have an end-date you have a clear focus and you have support. As we were saying before, people get behind it, and make it happen. If you do not have that focus it just kind of wanders on, and sometimes it just falls over altogether.

83.  I am sorry, Chairman, to pursue this, but if you had one thing that you would like to change about the British process of making these kinds of decisions, what would that be?

  (Mr Sheard) I think that in this particular case, in the case of Wembley, the process, the communication between private enterprise and Government was not good enough right from the beginning. I do not think anybody did anything particularly wrong. I do not think that if you had your time over again we would have designed anything differently, I just think that perhaps there was not the communication there.

Mr Flook

84.  If it cannot be built in time, and you have effectively said it cannot, why do we need to go to the huge expense of building an athletics deck within the national stadium when we will not be in line to get any major athletics events for, say, ten years after the stadium might be built?

  (Mr Sheard) If you did not have an athletics event to put in there you would not build the deck. The point is that the design as it was originally conceived has not changed from two years ago when it was first launched. It could take an athletics deck then, it can still take an athletics deck now, and if it ever does get built it can always take an athletics deck in the future. You would not build the deck unless you actually had an event.

85.  So what events could there be for us to go for?

  (Mr Sheard) You can go for an Olympics, depending on whether you are talking about your lifetime or my lifetime, but if you are talking about the lifetime of the stadium you could go for more Commonwealth Games, more World Championships, Goodwill Games. There could be no end to them.

86.  Is there the need for an 80,000 seat athletics stadium with television becoming more prevalent?

  (Mr Sheard) It is interesting because there is often a reaction to that. Television is improving the experience at home and, in fact, digital television is improving athletics specifically. Athletics has a problem because most other sports have a ball and there is one point of focus and there is a narrative to the event, there is a build-up of excitement and a climax. The problem with athletics is there is a whole series of little climaxes which makes it very difficult to follow. Digital television can offer some service there because it can focus. At home you can make a choice of what event you want to watch and what angle you want to watch it from. I think athletics will benefit from digital television. I think that generally it will be found, quite to the contrary of people who claim that improved coverage on television and improved watching on television kills the sport live, to be the exact opposite. The more people get exposed to it, the more they get interested in it and the more they go to it live. I think digital television in the long run—and I am talking long run—will prove to be a great asset. I can imagine over the distant future that all of those athletics events will get a larger crowd. The Olympics is just growing and growing.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen. It is worth reminding ourselves that when the British Empire Exhibition was planned for Wembley there were voices in criticism saying that Wembley was too far out. Thank you very much, you have been most helpful.

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