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West Ham join Olympic Stadium mystery

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Mihir Bose | 20:10 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008


West Ham are to hold talks with government officials in October to discuss a possible move to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford after the 2012 Games.

The idea has been revived following much debate as to the stadium's post-Olympic use, with a debate sparked following Boris Johnson's election as Mayor of London and his decision to have an in-depth look at the Olympic project and in particular its legacy uses.

Insiders say the West Ham talks are at a very preliminary stage and do not mean the club would move there and that they are part of a wider consultation.


However the fact is West Ham's plans to move to the Parcel Force site - land which had been earmarked for a new stadium - have run into difficulties, with the development complicated.

This, combined with the worries created by the credit crunch, and fears of how the post Olympic use of the facilities would be funded, has reopened the whole issue of a football club moving to the site.

That the option of a Premier League use for the stadium has remerged at all shows how the whole question of Olympic legacy has changed in the last few months.

Previously the idea of a Premier League club using the site had seemed dead and buried.

Several London clubs had been canvassed, with West Ham and Tottenham, both of whom are looking for new homes, the front-runners.

The use by a Premier League side was much favoured in the government, in particular by the then sports minister Richard Caborn.

It was widely recognised only a Premier League club would provide the revenue necessary to fund the stadium after 2012.

But for various reasons the plans did not fly. Tottenham were not keen to go to a stadium which has an athletics track and although the West Ham option was much canvassed by Sir Robin Wales, the Newham mayor and devoted West Ham fan, and the club's owners were receptive, it got nowhere.

The result was that it was decided to build an 80,000 stadium, which would be scaled back to 25,000 after the Games.

This would provide an athletics stadium for London as promised when the capital bid for the Games. The problem since then has been to find viable tenants, although many have been canvassed, including Leyton Orient and rugby club Saracens.

With work on the stadium having already started there is need for a quick resolution.
One possibility being discussed is that after the Games the stadium would be scaled back not to 25,000 but 50,000, which would make it attractive for a Premier League club.

As for the running track there could be retractable seating like the Stade de France in Paris.

However all this would cost money, possibly £200m, and a Premier League club would have to find it and in the current economic climate that will not be easy.

A club like West Ham would undoubtedly like a type of deal similar to the one Manchester City obtained when they got the City of Manchester Stadium built for the Commonwealth Games for a rent on very favourable terms.

How easy the government would find it do such a deal and still fulfil its promise to have an athletics stadium for London are the legacy questions at the forefront of the current debate.


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