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UK Athletics ‘in talks’ to exit London Stadium

UK Athletics (UKA) is in talks with London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) over a settlement deal to end its long-term agreement to stage events at London Stadium, according to The Telegraph, potentially freeing up West Ham United to convert the venue into a football-specific facility.

The UK newspaper said preliminary discussions have taken place between UKA and LLDC, owner and operator of London Stadium, over UKA ending its 50-year agreement to stage events such as the Anniversary Games, which is part of the Diamond League series of athletics meets, at the venue developed as the centrepiece of London’s 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

A settlement payment of between £10m (€11.7m/$12.3m) and £15m is said to have been proposed for UKA to end its agreement and take its events to other stadia, such as Alexander Stadium, which has undergone an extensive redevelopment for Birmingham’s staging of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

UKA declined to comment on its talks with the LLDC, with a spokesperson adding: “UKA has an agreement to hold events at the stadium annually. There is no event this year because of the Commonwealth Games and rescheduling of the World Championships.

“As with any partner, we regularly discuss future events but there is no change to the current contract.”

Premier League club West Ham last month confirmed that the capacity of London Stadium will increase to 62,500 seats for the 2022-23 season, subject to an amended general safety certificate being issued by Newham Council.

West Ham was granted planning permission to increase match-day capacity at London Stadium back in October. The current capacity is 60,000 and the increase to 62,500 would take West Ham beyond Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium (60,260) and just behind Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (62,850).

London Stadium’s full capacity is close to 67,000 but West Ham is unable to open every seat on match days due to safety restrictions. A reconfiguration of the lower tier stands behind the goals was completed in August 2020.

The Bobby Moore and Sir Trevor Brooking stands were brought closer to the pitch and squared-off in line with a more traditional football stadium configuration, with some seats moved as much as four metres forward.

The Telegraph notes that UKA exiting London Stadium would allow its running track to be torn up and would avoid the £3m cost of converting the venue from a football stadium to an athletics facility each time an event is held.

It could even lead to the sale of the stadium to West Ham. A clause in the club’s £2.5m per year deal to be London Stadium’s anchor tenant is reportedly due to expire next year, requiring West Ham to then pay a windfall tax of up to 30% on any profits.

COVID-19 has meant that no athletics has been held at London Stadium since the 2019 Anniversary Games. UKA and the LLDC were last year embroiled in a dispute over the staging of the 2021 Anniversary Games. The event was eventually relocated to Gateshead, with the LLDC paying UKA £1.8m in compensation after deeming that it could not justify the cost of converting London Stadium into athletics mode.

Image: andrewrendell/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size