UK Athletics is planning legal action after being barred from staging the Anniversary Games at the London Stadium in July – with the chief executive, Joanna Coates, warning the decision risks affecting athletes’ preparations for the Tokyo Olympics and trashing the London 2012 legacy.
Around 25,000 spectators were expected to watch Britain’s star names in action at the Diamond League event on 13 July, 10 days before the Tokyo Olympics. But this week the London Legacy Development Corporation told UKA that the £3m cost of converting the football stadium to an athletics stadium and back was too expensive, and that the event would have to be staged in Gateshead or Manchester.
Coates believes she has a watertight legal case, however, given there is a 50-year contract for UKA to use the venue each July. “We’re just not going to walk away from this,” she said. “It’s outrageous the way they’ve treated us. Hosting a major event each year in London was a major legacy of the 2012 Olympics, so to seek to trash it is just unbelievable.
“This is the Diamond League, this is our most prestigious event. So to be told this news in April, when the event is on in July, is just not acceptable. It is devastating for us and for our athletes, many of whom will be just days away from going to compete on the biggest stage of their lives. We believe the LLDC are categorically in breach of their contracts, and we are going to fight this all the way.”
What also pains Coates is that UK Athletics was planning to stage a large community event alongside the Diamond League, including opening the stadium to the public, as part of plans to entice more people to enjoy the sport. Additional events were due to be put on before the official Diamond League meeting so that most British athletes could compete before flying to Tokyo.
“We have to give those athletes the best possible opportunity to perform, because the public will not want to see us fail in Tokyo,” she said. “And then there is the fact that this has been the worst commercial year that sport has ever had, and this was meant to be the first time we were going to have fans back in a stadium. I’m so angry that they’ve done this to us.”
While recognising that finances are tight everywhere, Coates pointed out that UKA saved LLDC £3m last year by not staging the Anniversary Games during a pandemic. She added that another £3m would probably be saved next year, with the event unlikely to be staged because the world championships, Commonwealth Games and European championships are all scheduled for 2022.
Coates believes it is vital for the sport’s future that a major athletics event remains in London. “I urge politicians to recognise the long-term benefit of athletics at that stadium,” she said. “All this is really shortsighted.”
The LLDC, which was taken over by the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, in 2017, said it had made the decision because the Anniversary Games was the only event lined up to take place at the venue in the period between West Ham’s Premier League seasons.
A spokesperson for the LLDC said: “Like many venues, the Covid pandemic means London Stadium will not host the usual summer events in 2021. For the stadium, and ultimately the taxpayer, to face costs of around £3m to prepare for just one evening of athletics rather than the full summer calendar, where the cost would be spread between several events, seems disproportionate in these extraordinary times.”