Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Robert Datnow


  In response to the Committee's invitation for written evidence, I make this submission in my personal capacity as a professional athlete, a solicitor and as a London resident. I have appeared before this committee to give oral evidence on Staging International Sporting Events (2000-01) and have submitted written evidence to the Committee's previous inquiries into Staging International Sporting Events and Wembley National Stadium in my former capacity as in-house lawyer to the British Olympic Association (1999-2001). In my time at the BOA I attended meetings of the Picketts Lock Forum. I also assisted the BOA's work assessing the feasibility of a London Olympic bid.

A.   Available options for a UK World Athletics Championships in 2005

  1.  Originally, the UK's bid to host the World Athletics Championships 2005 proposed Wembley Stadium as the main stadium location and was accepted in this form by the IAAF. When athletics was removed from Wembley in December 1999, the bid committee, with the Government's support reverted to the IAAF in early 2000 confirming that London still wished to host, proposing to leave the precise stadium location within London to be decided upon by April 2000. By April 2000, Picketts Lock was proposed.

  2.  It was on this basis that the IAAF confirmed its award of the World Athletics Championships 2005 to London. The Championships were awarded to the city and not to the stadium. The function of naming the stadium location and providing assurances about its construction was to satisfy the IAAF to enable it to confirm its award. It is my understanding that provided the UK is able to offer a suitable venue in London, which satisfies the IAAF's requirements, the terms of the award will continue to be met. History supports this view. Wembley was proposed then withdrawn and London remained. Picketts Lock was proposed and has now been withdrawn. Presumably London should still remain.

  3.  If this is correct key stakeholders must now examine available options in London and present those to the IAAF without delay. In addition, my understanding is that the IAAF is under no obligation presently to consider any proposal from any city other than London.

  4.  Of course there are other available options in London which have as yet not been fully explored.

    (a)  In February 2000, in the search for a venue in London with the potential to host the World Athletics Championships which would not rule out Olympic potential, Sport England produced a list of nine possible stadium locations. By March 2000, the key stakeholders decided on three preferred sites and the possible adaptation of two existing stadia as reserve options. The Stakeholders chose Picketts Lock by the end of March 2000.

    It took the Government the following 18 months to reach a decision that Picketts Lock was not viable. It stands to reason that the remaining sites (considered as preferred or reserve options in March 2000) are unlikely to have been subjected to the same scrutiny as Picketts Lock over the same period. It is therefore logical that it would be premature to discount those venues without further close examination on the issues which proved fatal for Picketts Lock.

    (b)  Escalating and excessive costs of the stadium development and proposed transport improvements were decisive factors in ruling out Picketts Lock. Presumably key stakeholders examined all the available alternatives to Governmental and public subsidy. If not, those should now be considered. Options include project-financing, venture capital, issuing debt and/or equity, debentures, pre-sale of other event rights and leasing rights (as a development financing) and other public/private arrangements.

    Equally, although costs may have mounted, it remains to be seen whether the cost/benefit analysis of Picketts Lock (or other London venues) would have left the venture as a whole in profit. Staging major international sporting events is costly. If cost alone was the issue, the country would be unlikely ever to bid. However, there are of course many major compensating benefits to hosting. When the costs of staging are set-off against the revenue produced from the sale of broadcasting and sponsorship rights, ticket sales and other games related revenues and other economic benefits to tourism, the sports sector and the business community in general the benefits might well exceed the costs.

  5.  The IAAF has every right not to consider Sheffield as an alternative venue. London was awarded the Championships on the basis of its formal bid. If the IAAF were seriously to consider Sheffield, they would be required to re-open the entire 2005 bidding process to compare the merits of Sheffield with any other bidding cities. There would of course be no guarantee that Sheffield would win and Britain could lose the Championships altogether. If stakeholders search for and find an alternative venue in London, they do not run this risk to the same degree.

  The public too has every right not to consider Sheffield as an alternative venue. After long and detailed consultation and consideration of the relevant issues on cost, value for money, transport, urban re-generation, the environment, the provision of a legacy stadium, existing ancillary facilities and the need for London to have an international standard track and field venue, Sport England agreed to spending public funding on Picketts Lock and the Government agreed to underwrite certain commitments. If public and/or exchequer money is to be spent on staging in Sheffield, the public has a right to be certain that Sheffield has been subjected to at least the equivalent consultation, value for money and long-term strategic considerations and has passed those tests in all areas.

B.   Implications of the Government's decisions for future UK bids

  6.  The Government's decision to withdraw its support for plans to build a stadium at Picketts Lock is extremely unhelpful. It risks jeopardising (a) Britain's prospects of hosting the World Athletics Championships 2005; (b) Britain's prospects of attracting the event in the future; (c) London and the country's chances of attracting other major international sporting events; (d) Britain's track athletes' chances of gaining the home competitive advantage on an international stage; (e) the creation of an essential London training and competition venue of international standard; and (f) delaying the success of ongoing work on the feasibility of hosting a London Olympic Games.

  7.  A failure for Britain to host the World Athletics Championships will also increase the focus on the Commonwealth Games, Manchester 2002. Those Games could now set the standard by which Britain's ability to host major international sporting events is judged.

  8.  The sense of disappointment and loss of expectation amongst Britain's track and field community is immense.

  9.  Other implications might well include:

    (a)  Britain being viewed by the international sporting community as being unable and/or unwilling to build new international sporting facilities in the capital;

    (b)  the IAAF perhaps understandably feeling derided and International Sports Federations becoming uneasy about awarding major events to Britain, thus refusing to do so in the future;

    (c)  the British Government creating the impression that whilst they are content to bid, they are not committed to hosting major international sporting events in London;

    (d)  setting a precedent for the Government to encourage bids, to spend large (but appropriate) amounts of public money on feasibility studies, to build up the expectations of the public and international sporting community only then unilaterally to decide to abandon major sporting events;

    (e)  forming the conclusion that the British Government has no clear (or at least no fixed or logical) medium or long-term strategy for hosting international sporting events in the UK;

    (f)  the loss to Britain's business and economy, not least to the tourist industry;

    (g)  delaying still further the development of a London branch of the UK Sports Institute; and

    (h)  raising further questions again about the suitability or otherwise of Wembley to host track and field athletics.

C.   Lessons arising from the Picketts Lock proposals and the UK's bid for the 2005 championships

  10.  The principal lesson arising from the proposal and subsequent withdrawal of Picketts Lock must surely be that the necessary feasibility work (on cost, transport, planning etc) must take place before any bid is lodged. The potentially substantial negative impact of the Government's eleventh hour withdrawal could have been avoided, had the relevant information on lack of viability been available prior to bidding or proposing the stadium. With the benefit of hindsight, one of the major shortcomings of the Picketts Lock project was to have proposed the venue to the IAAF before establishing whether the project was viable.

  11.  The essential work required prior to bidding to host major international sporting events in future ought logically to include:

    (a)  establishing the feasibility of hosting on all main issues (cost, transport, planning, funding, time-scales, environment, legacy, viability of any new facilities, compliance with a UK strategy for hosting international sporting events etc);

    (b)  working with the International Federation within their framework and to meet their requirements;

    (c)  securing the use of any existing appropriate venue(s) as required;

    (d)  ensuring and maintaining the support of all key stakeholders; and

    (e)  procuring adequate funding (or sufficient funding guarantees) from the public and/or private sector.

  12.  The British Olympic Association's initiative in examining the feasibility of hosting a London Olympic Games, their measured step-by-step approach to securing Governmental, GLA and other key stakeholder support prior to bidding, (and prior even to announcing an intention to bid) should be considered as a template in preparing to bid to host any future international sporting event in the UK.

  13.  The lessons from the Picketts Lock and Wembley sagas are plain—what is required is broad early consultation and support from all relevant stakeholders, adequate preparation prior to bidding and the need for a co-ordinated UK-wide strategy on facilities provision and hosting international sporting events.

  14.  The two sagas continue and the lessons continue to be taught. However, what remains to be seen is whether anyone is listening and learning.

18 October 2001

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