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SBD Global/March 4, 2013/Facilities

Stadium Where British Olympian Jessica Ennis Trained To Be Demolished

Jessica Ennis won a Gold Medal in the heptathlon at the London Games.
Councillors in Sheffield, England have "dealt a blow to Britain’s Olympic legacy" by voting to demolish Don Valley Stadium, the home track of London 2012 heptathlon Gold Medalist Jessica Ennis, according to Simon Hart of the London TELEGRAPH. The proposed demolition of the stadium is part of a £50M ($75M) "cost-cutting package." The 25,000-seat stadium, which was built to host the World Student Games in '91 at a cost of £29M and is the second largest athletics venue in Britain after the Olympic Stadium, "will close in September and is set to be bulldozed to make way for medical research facilities." Sheffield’s Labour-run City Council said that "it had no choice but to axe the loss-making stadium due to spending cuts imposed on it by the Coalition Government." The venue costs £700,000 ($1.1M) a year to run and the council said it was also facing a £1.6M ($2.4M) repair bill (TELEGRAPH, 3/2). The LONDON TIMES reported the £700,000 government spent subsidizing the facility in the financial year '12-13 is "unsustainable as the stadium is running at a loss." Ennis had said to lose the stadium would be "such a shame for future athletes coming through." Ennis' talent was "spotted at the venue when she went to a summer holiday athletics club at the age of 10." The council said that it "subsidises every visit" to Don Valley Stadium by more than £5 ($7.50). It has "proposed the reopening of the track at the smaller Woodbourn Road Stadium nearby" (LONDON TIMES, 3/2).

DEVASTATING EFFECT: Former Labour Sports Minister Richard Caborn, who was part of the team that secured the London Games, said that he "understood why the decision had to be made," but warned that local government cuts "would have a devastating effect on community sport." As well as the athletics clubs based there, the Sheffield Eagles rugby league club -- who play half of their home matches at Don Valley -- "will also have to make alternative arrangements." Caborn said, "Community sport is probably facing one of the bleakest periods it has had for some time. Local authorities are facing a reduction of 50% in non-discretionary spending and account for between 80% and 90% of spending on all community sports facilities. The year-on-year impact is going to be devastating" (GUARDIAN, 3/1). In London, Vikki Orvice reported Ennis and coach Toni Minichiello, who have opposed plans to demolish the venue from the start, are now "talking to council chiefs in a bid to ensure replacement facilities are put in place and are up to scratch to maintain the sporting legacy" after the London Games. Critics fear the council "will go back on their word" to bring a athletics stadium less than a mile away, which needs over £100,000 ($150,000) spending on it, up to scratch "in a bid to save more cash." It was only shut 18 months ago "to save money and there are also concerns about who would manage any new site" (THE SUN, 3/1).

UNDER PRESSURE: In London, Jamie Doward reported the British government was "under pressure" Friday night to "step in and help save" Don Valley Stadium. City of Sheffield Athletics Club Chair Mike Corden "expressed fury at the decision" to close a stadium that he described as "the best in the country." Corden: "The writing was on the wall when they didn't instantly rename it after Jess following the Olympics." Corden said the country should be able to find £700,000 a year to pay for an athletics facility that would cost £100M ($150M) to build now, and called on PM Sebastian Coe to intervene. Corden said, "Someone should be on the phone to Seb Coe. Last year Boris Johnson, Coe, David Cameron and Tessa Jowell were all preening themselves: let them all come and look at what has been left here. Is this the legacy that Coe wanted?" Coe has "yet to issue a response," but has urged people to "fight for the stadium if they want it to remain open" (GUARDIAN, 3/2).

QUESTIONS REMAIN: In London, Toni Minichiello wrote, "Why am I so angry about the demolition of Don Valley stadium in Sheffield? It's not solely frustration on behalf of the 1,600 young people who regularly run there. The anger is about a series of systemic errors in government policy that are affecting a whole generation of kids who want to be involved in sport. It's about neglecting basic joined-up thinking on health, education and sport. It is about failing to learn lessons from past mistakes, lessons we've had years to get right." Minichiello continued, "We had years to plan the Olympic legacy, and we still have not got it right. Why were there waiting lists for kids to get involved with athletics after London 2012? Why was there no investment in coaching and officials? Why did Belgrave Harriers -- the Manchester United of athletics -- have to withdraw from the British League? Why has Michael Gove twice had to delay announcements on sport in primary schools? Why have school sports partnerships been cut?" He concluded, "All of these errors could have been foreseen. That is the point of legacy -- investment and planning" (GUARDIAN, 3/2).
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