So much talk about the 2012 London Olympics has been about a sporting “legacy”, it seems that the nation’s sporting politicians, in Westminster and at Canary Wharf, have turned a blind eye to sporting history.
Thus, the sole remaining working venue from the last time the Olympics were staged in London, the Herne Hill Velodrome, is under threat of closure 62 years on from the sepia-tinted exploits of Reg Harris at those “Austerity Games” just after World War 2.
There will be precious few Olympic events in 2012 staged in south London at all: Greenwich Park will have the horsey stuff, plus elements of the modern pentathlon, and Wimbledon’s got the tennis, naturally. But there’s no chance that the marathons might meander down this way, nor anything else.
Had Henry Moore once lived there or Thomas Hardy written a poem under the shade of a nearby tree, the arts lobby would make sure that there was a blue plaque put up and have the place given Grade II Listing to ensure it was properly maintained. That does not happen with heritage sports venues, though.
So even worthwhile training facilities south of the Thames are to be allowed to crumble away.
It was much different at the 1948 London Olympics, when Herne Hill Velodrome staged some of the Games highlights just a short 68 bus ride up the road from Croydon.
Britain only got its first indoor velodrome in 2000, but rather than maintain the Herne Hill stadium as a regional development facility – Bradley Wiggins trained at Herne Hill as a kid, going on to win three Olympic gold medals – the 120-year-old heritage venue has been allowed over decades to deteriorate to the point where it can no longer stage its tradition Good Friday meeting.
“Cycling is one of the most popular sports in the country. If we pull together, we can save this amazing place for future generations,” says campaign leader Hillary Peachey.
Richard Williams, in yesterday’s Guardian, picked up on the old track’s plight.
“Last week it was announced that the event, which dates back to 1903, will be held from next year at Manchester’s velodrome, the home of British Cycling’s all‑conquering track team. Three consecutive years of bad weather, culminating in the total loss of the 2010 meeting, proved too much for the organiser.
“His patience had already been worn away by the reluctance of the Dulwich Estate, the owner of the freehold, to grant a lease long enough to make it worthwhile to undertake the necessary refurbishment of the grandstand, which is closed for safety reasons, and the 450‑metre track itself.
“But it was here that Reg Harris won the silver medal in the 1,000m sprint at the 1948 Games… It is also the place where the young Bradley Wiggins, destined to become a triple Olympic champion, cut his teeth as a competitor, and among the 500 local children who still use the track on Saturday mornings, under the supervision of the Vélo Club de Londres, are the Harrises and Wigginses of the future.
“Few of them mind that it no longer meets the Olympic specification, which calls for a high-banked 250m indoor track… this is the kind of place that can still inspire the next generation of champions.”
Although £9 billion is being spent on hosting the Olympics, it seems that outside the Olympic Park itself London’s existing sporting facilities, especially south of the Thames, are being left to rot.
As reported before, Crystal Palace national sports centre’s stadium faces an uncertain future after 2011. Streatham’s Silver Blades ice rink and its pool have closed, with Tesco no closer to delivering on their promise to replace the amenities in return for developing the site.
And we hear that at Tooting Bec track, a regular venue for Croydon Harriers in league and open meetings, local Wandsworth Council is squeezing out the local running clubs. And if running clubs don’t get to use a running track, who does?