Why West Ham are winning race for Olympic Stadium
Although the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) insists no decision on the future of the Olympic Stadium will be taken until a board meeting on Friday, it is clear West Ham are now in pole position to occupy the venue once the 2012 Games in London are over.
A report analysing both the east London club's bid and that of north London Premier League rivals Tottenham was sent to members of the OLPC board on Wednesday morning.
By the evening, the report's recommendation had already found its way into the public arena, infuriating OPLC chairman Baroness Ford, who seems increasingly bemused with every twist and turn of this acrimonious process.
Just to recap, here are the five key criteria the OPLC is using to make its decision:
1. Achieve a long-term viable solution for the stadium that is deliverable and provides value for money;
2. To secure a partner with the capability to deliver and operate a legacy solution for a venue of the stadium's size and complexity;
3. To reopen the stadium as soon as possible after the Games;
4. To ensure that the stadium remains a distinctive physical symbol supporting the economic, physical and social regeneration of the area;
5. To allow flexible use of the stadium, accommodating a vibrant programme of events allowing year-round access for schools, the local community, wider public and elite sport.
West Ham plan to keep the running track if they win the Olympic Stadium. Photo - AP
My understanding is that OPLC chief executive Andrew Altman makes no clear recommendation in favour of West Ham's bid in the report but it is true that the club's £95m proposal is the only one to meet all five criteria.
Spurs, on the other hand, fail on two counts: timing; and the flexible and community use of the stadium.
Taking the last point first. The north Londoners plan to rip up the Olympic running track once the Games are over and convert the stadium to a football-only venue. They may be promising to fund other sporting projects elsewhere in the capital but West Ham and Newham Council's vision to use the stadium as a genuine multi-sport arena ticked the box.
On the issue of timing, Tottenham's plans to take down the Olympic Stadium and build a brand new ground with stands closer to the pitch will obviously take longer to fulfil. They originally promised to open the new ground by 2016-2017 but had said, in recent days, that they could complete the work faster. Still, that would have been at least a year after West Ham's redeveloped stadium would have been ready. With the OPLC worried about getting a return from the venue as soon as possible, that gave the Hammers the edge.
Spurs may have more money and a more secure future in the Premier League but the fact their project would cost three times as much as West Ham's may have counted against them, too.
So what happens now?
Treasury officials are understood to be taking one last look at the numbers on Thursday to make sure they all stack up. The 14 members of the OPLC board will then meet on Friday morning. I am told there will be a "lengthy and robust" debate and that Spurs could still emerge as winners. That is extremely unlikely to happen.
The Olympic Stadium could host concerts in addition to sporting events. Photo - PA
Whatever is decided, London Mayor Boris Johnson, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Communities Minister Eric Pickles will then be given the opportunity to give their opinions. They have the power to interpret the criteria more widely than the OPLC. For example, if Johnson felt that West Ham offered the best choice for the Olympic Park but Tottenham's proposal for the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace and the club's present White Hart Lane site was the better option for London, then he could reverse the decision.
Similarly, the government can take into account the wider impact on the country. It, too, will be conscious of the political dimension to this issue, given the promises made to the International Olympic Committee to retain an athletics track after the Games are over.
Do not forget, we have a Conservative London mayor and ministers in the coalition government making this decision. They would not want to do anything which damages London 2012 chairman - and former Tory MP - Lord Coe. That is why West Ham look set to be offered the chance to close a deal with the OPLC before April.
Tottenham will no doubt threaten a judicial review but their best hope may be for the OPLC's talks with the Hammers to collapse, allowing them the chance to get back in the game in the spring.