Chairman of UK Athletics, Ed Warner, has conceded that it will be practically impossible to fill the Olympic Stadium post 2012 for athletics events.
UK Athletics main event is the two-day London Diamond League Grand Prix, currently held in Crystal Palace, but this draws a capacity crowd of just 17,000, under a third of the 60,000 capacity promised by West Ham’s bid which is still pending approval.
Some of the lesser meetings are likely to struggle even more to attract spectators, with the likes of the UK Championships being the next in line in terms of prestigious events, bringing a capacity crowd of around 8,000 to Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium.
The success of West Ham’s bid to the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) to occupy the stadium involved a crucial commitment to 20 days of “top-class athletics” per year. Warner however, has stated: “‘Top-class’ is not a technical term in athletics as ‘first-class’ is in cricket. By ‘top-class’ we mean the two days of the Diamond League, down to championships for each major age group. Some will attract a significant paying public, others a smaller paying public. We will also be able to bid for major European and world championships.”
In defence of why having a 60,000-seat venue still makes sense for events watched by crowds in the hundreds, Warner said: “We have never argued that athletics makes the stadium commercially viable. But we want our athletes to aspire to run on the track in a facility of such quality, and the warm-up track underneath is also important. West Ham made the call that they can make the stadium work financially, and we were able to piggy-back on that.”
Additionally he attempted to allay fears that West Ham may be forced to pull the athletics track promise which was so integral to their bid, adding: “We have a commitment to an IAAF category one facility, to be maintained in the stadium, for the duration of the lease.”