Lord Coe Believes 2012 Stadium will Fill Seats and Not End up as a ‘White Elephant’

October 20, 2011

Lord Sebastian Coe is disputing the claims that the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 games will struggle to fill the stadium as doubts emerge over the sport’s ability to attract big crowds and the stadium ending up becoming a ‘white elephant.’

The stadium is expected to be converted from an 80,000-seater during the Games to a 60,000 capacity after the Olympics but critics have said athletics is not a strong enough sport to fill it.

Olympic organising committee chief Coe told the London Assembly the sceptics were wrong.

“There is no lack of demand for top class track and field in this country,” he said.

Crystal Palace often holds the biggest athletics events in Britain. The capacity there is about 16,000 but Coe said organisers could probably sell five times that number of tickets.

He added that between 50,000 and 70,000 fans typically attended international athletics events in European cities like Paris and Brussels.

“If we have a larger venue we would fill that venue, there is no question about that,” said Coe.

“Let’s not run away with the idea that track and field is a sport that is not supported—it is a very popular sport.”

Maintaining a track would not only fulfil a pledge made during London’s successful bid to host the Games, it should also strengthen the city’s attempt to stage the 2017 world athletics championships.

It has however restricted the search for a ‘legacy tenant’ and raised fears the stadium could lie empty for much of the time hence the notion of a’ white elephant.’ Running costs are estimated to be about five million pounds ($7.8 million) a year.

Last week a deal to allow second-tier soccer club West Ham United to move in to the venue collapsed over a legal wrangle with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur and third-tier team Leyton Orient.

“I think it was the right decision to cut through the potential for ongoing legal challenge and, worse than that, ongoing legal challenge that was taxpayer-fuelled,” Coe said.

He added that athletics would be at the heart of the stadium’s legacy but it would not be “uniquely track and field”.

“I do think it is very important we maintain that commitment to an Olympic legacy and to a mix of tenancies in there,” he said.

West Ham could still end up renting the facility under a new plan to keep the stadium in public ownership.