Questions mount as West Ham set for stadium green light

A DECISION may not be confirmed until this morning, but the widely anticipated move to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham over Tottenham has already prompted serious questions to be raised about the bidding process.

The Hammers have been unanimously declared the winners of a lengthy and increasingly bitter battle with Spurs even though the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) is only due to vote on the matter over breakfast today.

Apparent leaks suggest key OPLC executives view West Ham’s bid as the only one that matches all five of its selection criteria, and the 14-man board is expected to fall into line and recommend it.

Barring an almost inconceivable sea change in opinion, it means the east London club will inherit the £537m venue after next summer’s Games and begin work on a £95m conversion that, crucially, will retain a running track. Tottenham, who joined forces with entertainment giant AEG to bid for the stadium, refrained from comment other than to express surprise at the apparent foregone conclusion.

“Whilst we are concerned to read that there appears to have been a leak of information from the OPLC about what their recommendation and decision may be, we regard it as premature to make any comment at this stage,” the club said in a statement.

Spurs played down suggestions that chairman Daniel Levy (right) is already primed to seek a judicial review of the OPLC’s verdict, although it is understood that they remain open-minded about legal action.

Sources close to the club, however, expressed surprise at suggestions their proposals had failed to meet two of the five criteria, given that objections of such a serious nature might be expected to have been flagged up earlier.

Tottenham, who spent big on a communications strategy, first declared interest in October, were shortlisted in November and in recent weeks have held weekly meetings with the OPLC. Club insiders feel that there has been ample time to raise any fundamental flaws.

But the club’s plan to knock down and then rebuild the stadium without a track and house athletics elsewhere drew vociferous opposition from the world of track and field, and proved unpopular with the public in a recent poll.

COMMENT
IF, as expected, West Ham are handed the keys to the Olympic Stadium it will be seen as a triumph of idealism over pragmatism, of fulfilling legacy promises over cold, hard financials.

It appears to be the popular choice, with high-profile politicians and key figures from the athletics world backing the Hammers over their pledge to retain the running track.

It may be that their bid and not Tottenham’s meets the five criteria set out by the Olympic Park Legacy Company – the OPLC itself, which has been privy to the minutiae of both bids, is best placed to judge that.

But perhaps a bigger question is: were the criteria themselves the right ones? Is it viable for top level football to share with athletics? And Twenty20 cricket too?

It would be nice to think so, not least for the community benefits West Ham promise, but successful precedents are hard to find, and only time will tell.