Olympic dilemma: What to do with 2012 stadium?

Critics howl of a betrayal of Olympic proportions. Politicians,

sports leaders and athletes vent their views daily in newspapers

and on radio, television and Twitter. Organizers duck to stay out

of the crossfire.

Even before the main stadium for the 2012 London Games has been

completed, it is provoking an increasingly fierce debate over what

should happen to the showpiece venue after the Olympic flame has

been extinguished and the five-ring festival has left town.

At stake is the fate of the $853 million, 80,000-seat Olympic

Stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the

track and field competition in 2012.

Stoking the most controversy is a proposal by the Tottenham

soccer team – one of two potential tenants – to tear down the

stadium after the games and rebuild another arena on the site

without a running track.

The issue cuts to the heart of Olympic organizers’ pledges to

leave a lasting legacy – and no white elephants – from Britain’s

biggest peacetime project.

”Our credibility is on the line,” said Craig Reedie, Britain’s

executive board member on the International Olympic Committee.

The towering stadium is nearing completion in the Olympic Park,

a 500-acre site carved out of a run-down industrial area in east

London and turned into the flagship complex for the games. The

arena is scheduled to be finished this summer.

When London was awarded the Olympics in Singapore in 2005, the

bid team – led by running great Sebastian Coe – promised the IOC

the stadium would leave a post-games future for his sport.

”The stadium will be a purpose-built home for athletics for

generations to come,” former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell told

the IOC at the time.

The pledge was considered a key element in London’s victory over

Paris, which had an existing main stadium with a track.

London’s original plans called for the stadium to be scaled down

after 2012 to a 25,000-seat venue that would be used mainly for

track and field.

Since then, however, soccer clubs came forward to bid for the

stadium. The future of the stadium and other venues was left in the

hands of a new body, the Olympic Park Legacy Company. The agency,

whose chief executive is former Philadelphia deputy mayor Andrew

Altman, narrowed the stadium search to two Premier League clubs –

West Ham and Tottenham.

The legacy company has a board meeting next Friday, when it

could announce its preferred bidder, which would then need

ratification by two government departments and the mayor’s office.

The legacy body said Thursday it hasn’t ruled out the possibility

of rejecting both football bids and reviving the original

25,000-seat athletics stadium option.

West Ham proposes converting the stadium into a 60,000-capacity

venue for soccer, track and field, concerts, and community use in

partnership with local Newham Council.

West Ham’s case hasn’t been helped by its results on the field

this year. The Hammers are last in the Premier League and facing

relegation from the top division next season, raising questions

about their prospects of filling a big stadium in the future.

Tottenham, bidding together with American sports and

entertainment giant AEG, would take down the stadium and put up a

60,000-seat arena, contending that a track is not compatible with

soccer and its $400 million plan makes more commercial sense. To

compensate for removing the track, the club has offered to rebuild

the crumbling facilities at the Crystal Palace complex in South

London.

Tottenham’s bid could be hindered by plans unveiled Thursday by

second-tier club Crystal Palace to move to the nearby Crystal

Palace center from its current home at Selhurst Park.

Tottenham also has the option of building a new stadium at its

traditional White Hart Lane home. Some Spurs fans have protested

against a move to the Olympic site 5 1/2 miles away.

The rhetoric has heated up in recent days as a decision

approaches. The debate has been mainly one-sided, with critics at

home and abroad lining up to attack the Tottenham plan.

Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of

Athletics Federations, said Britain’s sports reputation will be

ruined if it takes away the track.

”You can consider you are dead. You are finished,” Diack told

the BBC on Thursday. ”They will have made a big lie to us during

their presentation (in Singapore). A big lie. And after that it is

a betrayal.”

Track and field’s biggest star – Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt –

weighed in on Twitter.

”London needs to keep the track in the Olympic Stadium after

2012,” said the Olympic champion and world record-holder in the

100 and 200 meters. ”It would be good to run there after. Keep the

track.”

Reedie, the IOC member who was a key figure in London’s winning

bid and the former chairman of the British Olympic Association,

said ripping up the track would be ”regrettable in the

extreme.”

”The only correct long-term usage is to have a stadium which

can be used as the center of future bids for major sports events,

probably concentrating on what is the Olympic Games’ leading

sport,” Reedie told The Associated Press.

One of the few officials coming out publicly in favor of

Tottenham’s bid was Simon Clegg, who was chief executive of the BOA

at the time of London’s Olympic campaign and currently holds the

same position with Ipswich soccer club.

”I am very clear that it is not compatible to have football and

track and field athletics in the same stadium in this country,” he

said. ”Football fans in this country want to be as close to the

action as possible.

”It’s madness to suggest we should keep a track just on the

basis we may get an athletics world championships or European

championships say once every 15 to 20 years.”

While most soccer stadiums in England do not have running

tracks, there are examples in other European countries where the

two do mix. The Stade de France outside Paris has hosted the world

athletics championships as well as World Cup and Champions League

finals. In Italy, Roma and Lazio share the Olympic stadium used for

the 1960 Games.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said he won’t intervene, but made

his preference clear.

”As outsiders,” Rogge said, ”we would favor a solution where

there would be a track legacy – that goes without saying.”