Coe rival Ovett backs calls to keep Crystal Palace on track

Steve Ovett, the Olympic gold medal-winner and half of one of the biggest rivalries ever seen in international sport, has entered the debate over the future of the Crystal Palace athletics stadium, backing local campaigners, and the athletes and coaches who use the venue by calling for “sympathetic understanding” of any redevelopment scheme.

Track rivals: Steve Ovett (left) and Sebastian Coe when they bestrode the tracks of the world, trading world records

Track rivals: Steve Ovett (left) and Sebastian Coe in 1980, when they bestrode the tracks of the world, trading world records

The middle distance rivalry of Sebastian Coe and Ovett captivated the world of sport  for more than a decade, as the two Britons traded world records and, most notably at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, split the 800 and 1,500 metres gold medals between themselves.

Coe went on to a career as a Tory MP and then chaired London’s 2012 Olympic bid and organising committee. Since then, he has moved into business, and according to reports is paid around £2 million a year by the Chime public relations group to head-up their sports marketing arm, CSM.

Ovett enjoyed many of his finest sporting moments on the Crystal Palace track, where as a teenager in the early 1970s he regularly trained, and later became a firm favourite with his record-breaking efforts, his final-lap sprint finish and wave to the crowd down the home straight.

Ovett backed a previous campaign to save the Palace, and he still thinks that there is a need for training facilities at the site, as he benefited from during his own career.

Now living in Australia, Ovett told Inside Croydon, “Crystal Palace was a great sporting venue in its day but neglect has been its ultimate downfall.

“There has been a need to redevelop the whole site for many years, and this may include commercial involvement similar to Westfield and others at the Olympic venue, but this should not overshadow the importance that Crystal Palace has as sporting venue for the youth of London in that area,” Ovett said.

Steve Ovett and Seb Coe as they are today

Best of friends: Steve Ovett and Seb Coe as they are today

“I would hope that whatever develops, that there is sympathetic understanding of the sporting history of Crystal Palace. I would not like the idea of young athletes walking through a supermarket to get to the track or swimming pool.

“I’m sure that Seb has the good of the sport first and foremost in his mind and the legacy of London 2012 to consider.”

The Mayor of London’s £10 million plans for the redevelopment of the 1960s-built sports complex have emerged in parallel with another scheme elsewhere in the public park. This other scheme, from the ZhongRong Group of China, involves building a £500 million replica glass palace at the top of Sydenham Hill, where Paxton’s original Crystal Palace stood following the Great Exhibition of 1851, until it was destroyed by fire in 1936.

Some have suggested that having a tired and down-at-heel sports stadium spoiling the view from what might end up being a 6-star hotel could be a deal-breaker for Boris and the Tory party donors among the ZhongRong Group’s sponsors.

Coe and his company have been stung by the fierce criticisms from the #SavethePalace campaigners since the proposals were unveiled for consultation last week. Coe has been accused of “world-class hypocrisy” for his part in a scheme which provides none of the sporting legacy which he had promised when chairing the London Olympics organising committee.

The timing of this backlash against Lord Coe is unfortunate for him, since next year he will be running for the presidency of the IAAF, the world governing body for athletics, which is likely to bring with it an invitation to become a member of the world’s most exclusive sporting club, the International Olympic Committee.

How Crystal Palace Park could look according to a map provided by the CSM-run consultation. Notice the absence of a track. Or indoor training area...

How Crystal Palace Park could look according to a map provided by the CSM-run consultation. Notice the absence of a track. Or indoor training area…

Of the four options offered by the consultation, only two suggest retaining the track. None of the options offer any replacement for the current indoor training area, which most people who understand the sport agree is vital if the Palace is to have any future as a talent development centre, as was proposed for the post-2012 legacy.

There is a consensus that the glory days – and nights – of the old stadium as a venue for international meetings are long gone, and that the spectator stands are probably beyond repair. All the consultation options look to demolish them both, including the 1977-built Jubilee Stand which also houses a sports physiotherapy practice which is among the biggest employers in Crystal Palace.

Figures close to Coe have been briefing in the last couple of days that CSM Strategic’s role in the process is the only way in which a track can be retained, and denying any link between Coe, his company or the Chime group with the Chinese plans at the top of the hill.

A statement issued on behalf of the Mayor’s office tonight said, “CSM Strategic were appointed by the Greater London Authority to manage the public consultation process for Crystal Palace but have been working with the GLA to ensure a number of options to retain the athletic track are on the table, and they are keen to ensure the widest and fullest consultation on the possible future of Crystal Palace is undertaken.”


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