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Virginia drops Commanders stadium bill

The State of Virginia has opted to shelve legislation designed to attract the Washington Commanders to a new stadium, in the midst of fresh negative headlines surrounding the NFL American football franchise.

The Commanders are already facing ongoing investigations by attorneys general and Congress levelled at both the team’s workplace culture and allegations of financial improprieties. This was added to on Wednesday following the backlash caused by assistant coach Jack Del Rio’s comments that the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol was merely “a dust-up”.

Del Rio made the statement when asked to comment on a tweet in which he wondered why there wasn’t as much focus on the “rioters and looters” in the summer of 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd as there was to the January 6 insurrection.

The defensive coordinator’s quotes drew an immediate reaction from Virginia lawmakers, with several stating they would pull their backing for the Commanders stadium legislation. Democratic Virginia Senate Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw, yesterday (Thursday) confirmed the General Assembly has dropped the legislation for this year, stating there were too many pending “issues” for it to move forward.

In February, Virginia pressed forward with efforts to attract the Commanders to a proposed stadium complex valued at around $3bn (£2.4bn/€2.82bn). The Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Democrat-controlled Senate passed two similar, but separate bills, that would lead to the formation of an organisation to oversee the financing and construction of a stadium in Northern Virginia that would be the centrepiece of a substantial retail and entertainment complex.

The Commanders last month reportedly paid more than $100m for a parcel of land in Virginia that could house a new stadium as part of a wide-ranging sports and entertainment district. The 200-acre plot of land is based in Woodbridge, Prince William County, with the site said to be the Commanders’ preferred option for a new stadium, although other possibilities remain open.

The stadium would anchor a large-scale development that would also include the team’s headquarters, an amphitheatre with capacity for 15,000 to 20,000 guests, and retail and office space. Renderings obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper included designs for a 60,000-seat domed stadium with a translucent roof.

Saslaw, who has backed the stadium project and sponsored one version of the proposed legislation, said it could be reintroduced next year. However, he admitted the ongoing noise surrounding the Commanders hasn’t helped matters.

He told the Associated Press news agency: “You’ve got the attorney general’s thing, you’ve got all the congressional stuff, other issues to be answered. We decided that it will just remain in conference.”

The Commanders currently play at FedExField (pictured) in Prince George’s County, Maryland, but the team’s training base and headquarters are in Ashburn, Virginia. The Commanders have a contract to play at FedExField until September 2027 and the team has been exploring options for a new home, with Virginia and the District of Columbia having been linked as potential locations.

The State of Maryland in April put forward a $400m funding package for a sports entertainment facility and wider infrastructure projects in the area surrounding FedExField, but said it will not commit public funds to a new stadium.

The District also appears to be a no-go after a majority of D.C. Council yesterday ruled out using the site of RFK Stadium, the Commanders’ former home, to house the franchise. Councilmember Charles Allen said the D.C. government “unequivocally” won’t support using the land for a new football stadium.

Responding to the latest developments, the Commanders said it backed Virginia’s decision to “more deeply examine this issue”, adding that the stadium project would be a “remarkable economic development opportunity”.

The Commanders said: “We look forward to continued engagement and open dialogue with stakeholders across the Commonwealth to share our vision and hear directly from communities on their economic development objectives and how we can be a trusted, reliable partner to realise those outcomes.”

Image: All-Pro Reels/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size