Hollow victories

While the battle for an Olympic legacy was a fierce one, there don’t seem to have been any real winners. Ian King explains

The decision to grant the post-2012 use of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford to West Ham United gave us, presumably unintentionally, the opportunity to pause for a moment and consider the priorities of English sport at the start of the new century. Over the last few weeks of the bidding process, we saw an unseemly attempt at a land grab between two large sporting institutions, both of whom seemed to cherish one thing above all else, a site in east London with outstanding transport links that was available on the cheap. Money, as ever, trumped all other concerns.

The Olympic legacy, a central reason for the games being awarded to London in the first place, was put firmly on the back burner and the future of the football club nearest to Stratford, Leyton Orient, feels a little less certain today after the parachuting in of one of the game’s behemoths, but too few people seemed to care very much about that. In thrall to the twin false gods of Mammon and the Premier League, the timbre of the debate on the subject had a thoroughly modern feel to it, yet both the Spurs and West Ham bids had the feel of being thoroughly imperfect for completely different reasons.

As the battle for the stadium intensified and became increasingly bitter, one aspect of the debate not picked up on by the media was the lack of consultation of supporters – it often felt as if this new ground was something that neither West Ham or Spurs fans wanted. As Spurs crashed out of the FA Cup at Fulham at the end of January, a familiar song was picked up by the ESPN microphones. To the tune of Tom Hark, the amended words of “Say no to Stratford, north London is ours” were clearly audible. This wasn’t a motley crew of keyboard warriors, either. This was the hardcore of the Spurs away support – those that are able to get a ticket for an away match in the FA Cup.

At West Ham, meanwhile, the delight of Karren Brady, David Gold and David Sullivan was predictable enough, but the reaction of the club’s supporters seemed scarcely more positive than at Tottenham. There are those that don’t wish to leave the Boleyn Ground and feel that the club could, had it wished to, have developed their current home. Others, meanwhile, feel that a 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium will be too big for West Ham or have concerns over the effect that a running track may have on their matchday experience. The idea of watching Championship football from behind a running track may be a long way from being what many West Ham fans would want from moving to a new stadium.

West Ham’s attempts to boost their attendance may also prove to be a significant problem for the smallest players in this story. Leyton Orient are geographically the closest club to the Olympic Stadium and that their views have been so comprehensively ignored is a symptom of a flawed process. It seems impossible to believe that the sudden appearance of a Premier League football club at a site a mile from their ground will not negatively impact upon them. And it is to the shame of the Premier League that they have overlooked their own existing rules, stating that clubs wishing to move stadiums do not “adversely affect [other] clubs (or Football League clubs) having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location”. This should preclude West Ham moving into the direct territory of another club. Leyton Orient, it seems, weren’t fashionable enough for anybody in control of these matters to care very much about.

So, in the unique way that only people that manage these matters seem able to muster, the 2012 Olympic Games have been soured for many already. Perhaps the legacy of London 2012 being a big football club stomping into another, smaller club’s immediate vicinity, possibly forcing them to move out of London altogether (or being shunted into a rebuilt Olympic hockey ground by Barry Hearn) is a completely appropriate as a reflection of what passes for the values of modern sport. As a commenter on the Guardian’s Sport Blog noted when the announcement was made: “Surely it isn’t part of the Olympic dream to service the business strategies of opportunistic capitalists?” He had a point.

From WSC 290 April 2011