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IAAF OK with stadium guarantees for 2017 worlds

Senior Vice-President of the IAAF Bob Hersh talks to the media, following a two day visit to the London 2012 Olympic stadium to evaluate the capital's bid for the 2017 World Athletics Championships, during the IAAF Evaluation Commission press conference in London, Tuesday Oct. 4, 2011. Senior Vice-President of the IAAF Bob Hersh talks to the media, following a two day visit to the London 2012 Olympic stadium to evaluate the capital's bid for the 2017 World Athletics Championships, during the IAAF Evaluation Commission press conference in London, Tuesday Oct. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/ John Stillwell-pa)
By Stephen Wilson
AP Sports Writer / October 4, 2011

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LONDON—Doubts about the future of London's Olympic Stadium were removed after the government made guarantees that the running track will remain after the 2012 Games.

International Association of Athletics Federations vice president Bob Hersh said Tuesday the resolution of the stadium issue eliminates any obstacle to London's bid for the 2017 world championships.

London is competing with Doha, Qatar, for track and field's showpiece event.

Hersh and other IAAF officials met with government ministers and city officials to discuss plans for the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which has been at the center of legal wrangling over whether the track will remain when a soccer club moves in after the games.

"We needed that guarantee," Hersh said after a two-day visit to London. "Without it, there remained an element of doubt which was a distraction. ... Now we've gotten appropriate guarantees from the government that there will be a track and now it's just a non-issue as it should be."

American Hersh heads the IAAF evaluation commission that is touring London and Doha this week. The panel will be in Qatar on Wednesday and Thursday.

The 27-member IAAF Council will select the host city in Monaco on Nov. 11.

London's bid had been clouded by lingering uncertainty over the stadium. Tottenham has mounted a legal challenge against the decision to award the stadium to rival London club West Ham, which promised to keep the track. Tottenham wanted to rebuild the stadium without a track.

Government ministers say that, even if Tottenham wins its case, the club will be required to keep the track. Baroness Margaret Ford, who chairs the Olympic Park Legacy Company, said the stadium's 125-year lease includes a clause stipulating that the track must remain.

Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said it would "clearly be a good thing" if Tottenham drops its case.

"Legal action is now completely pointless," he said.

London would hold the championships in late July or early August.

Doha bids to stage the event in September to avoid the searing summer temperatures in the Gulf state. The city is also bidding for the 2020 Olympics, proposing to hold the games in September or October.

Hersh said the dates, air conditioning in the stadium and scheduling of the marathon would be items for discussion when the IAAF panel visits Doha.

"These are legitimate factors," he said. "We'll have to sort that out."

London bid chairman Ed Warner seemed to take a direct shot at Doha's weather, saying, "We're not going to have to air condition the whole of London to ensure that athletes have the perfect experience to compete in."

"Doha is up against an offer of a championships at a perfect time of the year, not in the soccer season, in August when athletes are used to peaking traditionally," said Warner, who also chairs U.K. Athletics.

Doha hosted the 2010 world indoor championships, which Hersh said was a "positive" for the 2017 bid because of the successful organization.

London was awarded the 2005 worlds but was forced to renounce the event when plans to build a new stadium in the Pickett's Lock area were scrapped, an issue that could still weigh on the minds of some IAAF voters.

"This is a completely different situation," Robertson said. "We didn't have a stadium then. Look where we are now."

The London bid team also sought to dispel suggestions that Britain was fighting against a global trend of sports bodies taking their major events to new regions, such as the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 and Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar four years later.

"There's always a balance," said Sebastian Coe, the former running great who is president of the 2017 bid and also heads London's Olympic organizing body. "You always need to recognize there are market places that are the bread basket for your sport."

Robertson noted that, along with the Olympics, Britain will host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and cricket World Cup in 2019.

"They have confidence in our ability to deliver," he said. "International federations want to come here."