The decision earlier this year by the Olympic Park Legacy Company to award the athletic stadium in Stratford, east London, to Premiership football club West Ham United for their use after the games, has predictably unleashed a huge legal can of worms.
For a start, there is the location issue. The stadium is just around a mile from League One club Leyton Orient‘s Brisbane Road ground. They are taking legal action claiming that they could go out of business within a few years.
West Ham’s other bidder for the stadium, fellow Premiership club Tottenham Hotspur, are also taking such action, mainly concerning a £40million loan taken out by Newham Council, a partner in West Ham’s bid.
The organisers may claim that the bidding process was robust and transparent. However, questions have seriously been raised over why they chose a relegation-threatened, debt-laden club, whose average gate have been around 25,000 a game, compared to Tottenham, which is better managed and has a larger support base, which has a huge waiting list for season tickets. Spurs are desperate to leave White Hart Lane because the now-abandoned plans to rebuild their current home contained demands imposed by council planners and local conservationists.
The whole process stinks. Why should a council which has some of the most deprived wards in the country decide to bail out what is essentially a business? The silence of both the Football Association and the Football League on the location issue has been deafening. The OPLC has probably been less than honest in their decision to award the stadium to West Ham. None of the parties in this sorry affair can come out with any credit at all. Whatever happened to a positive legacy of a modern, up-to-date athletics stadium that the whole of the UK, as well as London, can be proud of?
As a West Ham fan, I should be delighted in one day seeing the team at Stratford. But even this is maybe going too far for a club that could be relegated from the Premiership at the end this season. The only legacy from this in the medium term could be playing to a three-quarter empty stadium in the Football League, just to reduce the club’s debts.
It is such a pity that the Olympic legacy is being ruined by such petty legal disputes.