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London Stadium at centre of Anniversary Games dispute

UK Athletics (UKA) and the Diamond League have hit back at London Legacy Development Corporation’s (LLDC) announcement that it will seek to find a new home for this summer’s Anniversary Games, stating that London Stadium must respect the terms of the hosting contract.

This year’s edition of the Anniversary Games, which is part of the Diamond League series of athletics meets, is scheduled to take place on July 13. However, LLDC, owner and operator of London Stadium, has argued the cost of transforming the venue from football to athletics mode, and back again, cannot be justified for just one event.

Ordinarily, the summer series of events in the close season for Premier League football club West Ham United would include a number of concerts. However, COVID-19 has eliminated music events for the summer of 2021 leaving the £3m (€3.48m/$4.18m) adaptation cost solely for the Anniversary Games.

LLDC would normally be counting on the revenue generated by concerts to offset this cost, while it is also expecting to take a hit through the midweek calendar slot for this year’s Anniversary Games and the expected 20,000 crowd for the event.

A spokesperson for the LLDC told the Evening Standard newspaper: “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.

“We have reached out to UKA to discuss alternative options for this summer’s event, including an offer to cover the costs of moving the event to another venue. We believe this is a sensible way forward for all concerned under the circumstances.

“It will mean the event can still be held without disrupting Team GB’s Olympic preparations and delivers best value to the taxpayer. We would want UKA to see this is the best way forward in light of the circumstances caused by the pandemic.”

Gateshead and Manchester are believed to be the only other viable options for the Anniversary Games. On Friday, the Diamond League announced that its season opener would now be staged in the UK, with Gateshead stepping in to replace Rabat as the first host city on this year’s circuit.

The season launch on May 23 was initially scheduled to be the Meeting International Mohammed VI in the Moroccan capital, an event which has now been cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. The 2021 campaign will instead begin at the Gateshead International Stadium, which will host a Diamond League meeting for the first time since the series’ inaugural year in 2010.

Both UKA and the Diamond League have said they expect LLDC to ensure London Stadium remains the host for the Anniversary Games. A UKA spokesperson told the Daily Mail: “This would be an unacceptable breach of a longstanding agreement that forms an important part of the 2012 Olympic legacy plans.

“We expect the contract to be honoured and the event to take place at the Olympic Stadium as do the athletes, broadcasters, sponsors, and most importantly the fans. This is not only a key part of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes’ preparation for Tokyo but an opportunity for fans and young athletes from the local community to return to one of the most iconic athletic venues in world sport. 

“It would be a travesty for the sport after such a long wait for world class athletics to return to the Olympic Stadium if our athletes and fans are denied a crucial send-off to Tokyo.”

A spokesperson for the Diamond League told the insidethegames website: “There is a contract in place between the stadium and UKA and we’re not expecting it to go elsewhere. We are planning for a Wanda Diamond League meeting to take place in the London Stadium on July 13.”