Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by UK Athletics


  This evidence has been compiled following the publication of the Carter Report and the decision by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport to withdraw the Government's support for the Lee Valley National Athletics Centre at Picketts Lock, and thereafter to inform the IAAF that London would not be capable of staging the 2005 IAAF World Championships in Athletics.


  The development in the mid-Nineties of the concept of an English National Stadium for three sports (football, athletics and ruby league) was based on a desire to attract "world" events to the UK once again. In the case of athletics, there was a desire to bring the World Championships to the UK—an aspiration shared by UK Sport (who included it in their Major Events Strategy), Sport England (who offered £15 million staging funding) and Government (who led the bid to the IAAF).

  The desire to stage major events was partly based on the principle that a legacy should be left from the considerable investment made. It was the absence of a legacy for athletics in the original Wembley proposal for the World Championships in Athletics that prompted the then Secretary of State, Chris Smith, to withdraw athletics from Wembley and support the concept of a National Athletics Centre. This concept combined a venue for the World Championships with a significant legacy for the sport.

  Following the decision to cancel the Picketts Lock project, UK Athletics is left without a venue for the World Championships and without a legacy for the sport.


  In the extensive coverage about the cancellation of the Picketts Lock project, a number of misconceptions were repeated in the media coverage. Some of these arose from, what we consider to be, inaccuracies in Patrick Carter's report (it is understood that these will be addressed in the evidence of Lee Valley Regional Park Authority) and others arose from the characterisation of the project as a simple stadium development rather than a national centre for the sport. We would therefore wish to correct these misconceptions about the development.

  The total project costs have been reported to have risen from £60 million to anything up to a quarter of a billion pounds—this issue will no doubt be addressed in detail in the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority's evidence. However, it should be noted that in early 2000 when the concept of a National Athletics Centre was first discussed, and before a site had been found, the ball-park figures cited were £92 million to £122 million—there has never been a belief that it could be delivered for £60 million. The all-party group, including DCMS, Sport England, UK Sport, British Olympic Association and London 2005, proceeded with the site selection and bid to the IAAF in this knowledge.

  The Lee Valley National Athletics Centre (LVNAC) would not have been a "white elephant" nor would have "lain empty apart from two days a year". A wide-ranging event profile was agreed in principle for the Centre that would have seen the main stadium in use almost every weekend throughout the athletics season (May to September). These events would have ranged from capacity Grand Prix and International events, to school and disability events with large numbers of competitors using both tracks and the throwing field.

  Equally importantly, the Centre integrated the High Performance Centre for London. This would have provided a year-round training base with extensive indoor and outdoor facilities for London-based elite athletes (approximately 40 per cent of the Olympic and World Championship teams) and their successors. Furthermore, the facilities would have been used by the club and school sector throughout the region—a wide-ranging programme for this had been developed resulting in the offer of an £8 million Capital Modernisation Fund grant.

  In recognition of the year-round benefits to the sport at all levels, a substantial package of revenue support had been put in place from a range of partners: Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, London Marathon Charitable Trust, London Borough of Enfield and UK Athletics. It was always acknowledged that the LVNAC, like so may sports facilities, would run at a deficit, but the willingness of all partners to address the deficit with revenue contributions would have been a huge investment in athletics in London and the South East.

  The final misconception we would wish to correct is that Middlesex University were not able to provide an athletes' village for the World Championships in 2005. Although the original proposal of a complete village on one site at Tottenham Hale had been revised, the University confirmed that the required number of beds could be provided at a combination of their accommodation sites—this would have given a "local" option. Furthermore, we had an offer from University of Hertfordshire to provide a complete campus village at Hatfield—under 30 minutes drive from Lee Valley. This had many attractions, particularly from an athlete's amenity perspective, and was favoured by the London 2005 team. However, UK Athletics acknowledges that there were capital and infrastructure issues that remained unresolved and that those uncertainties contributed to the Secretary of State's decision.


  UK Athletics co-operated in Patrick Carter's review on the World Championships and Picketts Lock through attendance at meetings with the Carter Team and the supply of further information as required.

  However, we were not supplied with a copy of the report until 4 October—the day that we were informed that Picketts Lock was to be cancelled. Prior to this, no discussions were held between DCMS, Sport England and UK Athletics to clarify issues raised by the report, challenge its findings or address the concerns raised. We were disappointed that such a fundamental decision for our future was made without these discussions taking place.

  Similarly, given that the report was steering Government to approach IAAF with a new venue, we were disappointed not to be involved in discussions with DCMS and Sport England over our opinion on World Championships alternatives to Picketts Lock. Although our preference for Picketts Lock would always have been stressed, we could have brought our perspective to the discussions.

  We had informed Patrick Carter and the DCMS that the IAAF would be unlikely to accept another venue in the UK—indeed the IAAF had made this position clear publicly since early August. We were surprised therefore to learn that Sheffield was to be promoted as an alternative—irrespective of its merits as a venue, this was never likely to be a successful approach.


  Technically, London remains the venue for the 2005 World Championships until the next meeting of the IAAF Council—on 26 November. However, at that meeting, the Council were expecting to receive detailed plans, a timetable, cost plans, a financial package, planning permission and a signatory for the Event Organisation Agreement for a London World Championships.

  In the current circumstances, it seems improbable that these assurances will be offered and thus London will formally lose its status as the host city for 2005. Bids are then likely to be reopened for a decision at the Spring 2002 Council Meeting and it is believed that a number of other major cities will bid.


  The main factor that acts against Sheffield in bidding for the World Championships is that it would follow the lengthy, and ultimately unsuccessful, London bid. IAAF have said publicly that they feel let down by the UK and that they will not trust promises from the UK in the future. Following these statements, for IAAF to accept a Sheffield or any other non-London bid would appear highly unlikely.

  Furthermore, the legacy that would be left from staging the World Championships at Sheffield would not necessarily represent good value for money given the investment required. Don Valley already offers a large capacity stadium for athletics, but in the late 1990s rarely drew a significant crowd—to extend it further would not provide improved spectator opportunities—indeed it may just provide a bigger bank of empty seats, reducing its attractiveness to television, event holders and sponsors.

  On the positive side, a Sheffield World Championships would provide a huge boost to athletics in a region that hasn't fulfilled its potential in the sport in recent years and would complement the High Performance Centre being developed at the site. It would also build on the event staging experience from the World Student Games and other major events in the city, to provide a well-managed event. Furthermore, Sheffield have expressed a strong desire to again host one of UKA's annual televised meetings.

  Any decision to proceed with a Sheffield bid would need to consider these, and other, factors. Crucially it would need to be taken jointly by UK Athletics, Government, Sport England, UK Sport and Sheffield City Council and we would urge that this decision is made as soon as possible.


  The media have been understandably desperate to apportion blame for the cancellation of the project. However, whichever organisation or individual is deemed responsible, the clear conclusion must be drawn that it reflects badly on British sport as a whole (including UK Athletics).

  Every organisation involved has vigorously defended its position throughout and will feel that it was always "doing the right thing". The result has been that despite all stating support for the outcome, none of them was able to deliver it. Consequently the credibility of British Sport has taken another enormous battering both nationally and internationally.

  Fundamental agreement between the myriad British sporting agencies must be reached as to whether major events are actually wanted in the UK or whether the emphasis should be placed on wider sports development initiatives. Australia has shown that the two are not mutually exclusive, but too often policy makers in the UK have suggested that they are. Unfortunately these policy shifts happen so frequently that the build-up to an event of the size of the World Championships will pass through a number of policy eras, leaving it in perpetual uncertainty. A debate on these fundamental priorities led by Government and involving all the sporting agencies is urgently required.

  We would agree with the repeated suggestion of the CMS Select Committee for a Minister of Events. The issues at Picketts Lock (transport, funding, leadership) were not insoluble. The project required hands-on leadership and Sport England, in its role as a funding agency, could not offer this. As a consequence local agencies and a sports governing body were expected to deliver a national project—only for the obvious conclusion to be drawn: that despite many successes they lacked the clout to deliver on all the required fronts.

  British sport desperately needs modernising if major events are to return to the UK. The multi-agency approach is fundamentally flawed for an event of the scale of the World Championships in Athletics—should similar scale events be pursued in future, a streamlining of decision-making and funding regimes is essential.


  UK Athletics have always pursued the staging of the World Championships in the UK on the basis that a successful event would leave a major legacy for the sport. In our opinion, Picketts Lock would have achieved both for the sport.

  However, the disappointment of the cancellation of the project need not mean the cancellation of the legacy and we are comforted by assurances from Government and Sport England on this issue. We are working closely with both DCMS and Sport England to define a substantial capital and revenue legacy investment package for the development of all levels of athletics in this country, and we look forward to a joint announcement on this in early December.

15 October 2001

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