Ten months to go, back to the drawing board
When I first heard last night there was a chance the Olympic Stadium deal with West Ham could be terminated, I couldn't quite believe what I was being told.
Ten months before the Games and eight months after the decision to choose West Ham and Newham ahead of Tottenham, were ministers, the Mayor of London and Olympic organisers really preparing to go back to the drawing board?
The Olympic Park Legacy Company has maintained throughout this tortuous saga that the original process was not flawed and, despite concerns over the financing and Tottenham's opposition, West Ham's proposal offered the best legacy for the centrepiece of the Olympic Park.
So it is extraordinary that the OPLC board met yesterday and voted to simply rip up the agreement and retain the stadium in public ownership.
West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan and vice chairman Karren Brady pose outside the Olympic Stadium. Photo: PA
As I revealed this morning, the OPLC will now bear the costs of converting the stadium from its 80,000-seat capacity during the Games, to a 60,000-seat venue, capable of hosting major athletics events and Premier League football.
They will then tender for an anchor tenant, or tenants, interested in renting the stadium.
Largely it is a slimmed down version of the West Ham/Newham plan, but removing the financial risk to the bidders and crucially the need for a £40 million loan from Newham Council which Spurs and Leyton Orient say is effectively state aid.
It is that loan which has proved the undoing of the process - especially when the European Commission received an anonymous complaint last week, opening up a whole new front in the legal dispute.
Following that, I am told, lawyers for the OPLC, London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson advised that it could be months and months before the case was resolved threatening a delay to the reopening of the stadium after the Games, earmarked for 2014.
Robertson says they had to take decisive action to bring an end to the legal paralysis and to remove the uncertainty created by Tottenham's legal challenge.
And ultimately the most likely outcome remains that West Ham will still move in after the Games.
Despite that, the move raises a number of significant questions.
The most important is where will the money come from to convert the stadium? And if it is West Ham which ends up as the anchor tenant, will they be able to come up with enough money to help cover the annual running costs which are estimated to be over £5 million? Will this end up being a drain on taxpayers who are already committed to footing the majority of the £9.3 billion bill for the Games?
Thirty-six million pounds is already sitting in the ODA budget for converting the £516 million stadium, and I am told there is another £15 million available in the OPLC budget if needed.
Sources say the rest of the money will come from concerts and other sporting events but this doesn't sound very well developed at this stage.
Many people, particularly those who feared that the ambition of creating an athletics legacy would ultimately be undermined by sharing with a big football club, were happy with the outcome this morning. With London bidding for the 2017 World Athletics Championships, the Government, the Mayor and the athletics community are desperate for clarity on the track issue ahead of next month's IAAF vote.
But with the OPLC now reopening the process who's to say Tottenham or Leyton Orient or other parties won't come forward with a better offer than West Ham and Newham? Will the OPLC be duty bound to accept the highest offer - leaving West Ham and all those grand community legacy visions high and dry?
Or have ministers and the mayor now finally done away with the whole pretence of trying to acommodate two incompatible sports and accepted that for London to keep its Olympic promise the public are going to have to just foot the bill. And if West Ham or any other football club don't fancy playing there, well tough.
If that is the case then many will applaud the boldness of the move.
But equal numbers will ask why this wasn't done in the first place. And the pressure will now grow on the OPLC and its senior leaders to explain how the process was allowed to become such a terrible mess.
London won the 2012 Games by promising to deliver the first proper thought-out legacy from the Olympics:
* Legacy through the regeneration of a desperately deprived part of east London.
* Legacy from the venues which wouldn't be allowed to gather dust as costly white elephants.
* And legacy from the sporting culture and health of the nation which, we were told, would be transformed by the inspiring experience of hosting the 30th Olympiad.
The first is beyond doubt. But the other two are today looking very shaky indeed.