West Ham’s Olympic Stadium tenancy is a depressing thought
Football is feeling the full force of the Olympic hangover. The early stages of England’s World Cup campaign have an air of irrelevance and West Ham’s attempt to acquire squatter’s rights at the Olympic Stadium is increasingly hard to stomach.
We are supposed to swallow the latest line that West Ham are being generous by offering to pay nearly £10m a year to rent what is, because of the extravaganza it has staged over the past seven weeks, one of the most iconic venues in world sport.
West Ham’s apologists insisted over the weekend that the club could have submitted a much lower bid, safe in the knowledge that no other potential tenant could offer the prospect of suitable crowds in what will become a 60,000-capacity venue. There’s a bleak logic to that argument now that Tottenham’s grotesque plan to build on the stadium’s footprint has been dismissed.
Yet it misses a fundamental point. Football, a sport in the process of wasting its wealth, will be a parasitic presence at Stratford. It will cost at least £95m of public money to reconstitute the stadium as a football-friendly site. Or, to put it another way, a decade’s worth of West Ham’s peppercorn rent.
That cannot be right. The stadium has a chequered history, blighted by muddle-headed thinking, ruinously expensive legal battles and allegations of dirty tricks. But it is a national asset that should not be squandered.
The arrogance of West Ham’s board is summed up by Karren Brady, their vice chairwoman. She used her newspaper column to observe, archly, that Coventry’s plight owes much to a catastrophic renting agreement at the Ricoh Arena. The League One club gets no share of matchday revenues.
She will doubtlessly drive a harder bargain, despite a groundswell of opinion that athletics should be allowed to exercise its moral right, to make the most of the prospect of hosting the 2017 World Championships.
Leyton Orient, a club with a greater sense of community, are unlikely to succeed in their bid to share. Should they be rejected, their chairman, Barry Hearn, will have the support of many neutrals in resuming legal action against the Football League and Premier League over West Ham’s relocation. He has the right to fight for the little man.
A stadium that swallowed £468m of your tax money is associated with legendary performances by the likes of Usain Bolt, Jonnie Peacock, Mo Farah and David Weir. It will soon be the workplace for the likes of George McCartney.
Don’t know about you, but I find that uniquely depressing.
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