Coe’s Olympic legacy promises left in ruins at Crystal Palace

In all the furore surrounding corruption at FIFA, the world governing body of football, one name that has barely been mentioned is Sebastian Coe.

Lord Olympics: Despite widespread local opposition, Coe's CSM company is proposing the demolition of Crystal Palace stadium

Lord Olympics: Despite widespread local opposition, Coe’s CSM company is proposing the demolition of Crystal Palace stadium

Lord Coe spent almost two years as the chairman of FIFA’s ethics committee. He was appointed to that role by none other than Sepp Blatter in 2006.

During Coe’s time as FIFA’s “ethics czar” (that’s what they called him), the committee made no report of any corruption, nor any recommendations as to how to avoid corrupt practices. Coe stood down to move on to other “projects” and “challenges”, his reputation untouched and unsullied by any corruption at FIFA.

Now, of course, despite twice winning Olympic gold at 1,500 metres and later becoming a Conservative MP and then a peer, Coe is best known as the man who “won the Olympics” for London in 2012. As the chairman of the bid team, Coe promised a sporting legacy for future generations of Londoners.

So it may strike some as odd that a company of which Coe is the executive chairman, CSM Strategic, has delivered a final consultation report to the Mayor of London which recommends the demolition of several heavily used sports facilities within the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace. To others, Coe’s somewhat contradictory involvement in all this (however fleeting) may be no surprise at all.

Inside Croydon was the first to report Coe’s involvement in the City Hall consultation last year. The CSM report had its publication delayed until after the General Election, ostensibly so that the consultants could do some of the research work that they ought to have done in advance of the consultation, such as actually measuring how many people use the NSC’s ageing and badly disinvested facilities. The delay also helped the recommendations becoming an election issue.

CSM’s consultation was put out to the public last autumn offering four options, all of which proposed the demolition of the athletics stadium, and the closure of the indoor training area and destruction of the 25-metre family pool.

Until the opening of London's Olympic Stadium, no other venue in Britain has ever managed to attract the crowds as Crystal Palace regularly did

Until the opening of London’s Olympic Stadium, no other venue in Britain has ever managed to attract the crowds as Crystal Palace regularly did

The consultation also proposed the building on the site – within the Grade II-Listed Crystal Palace Park – of a Free School, even though this was much-criticised by the local authority, Bromley Council.

Well, CSM’s final report has now been released by the Greater London Authority, and guess what?

Coe’s company is recommending the bulldozing of the very athletics stadium where their own executive chairman once broke a world record, as well as the demolition of the indoor training area, the destruction of the 25-metre swimming pool, and it suggests that a Free School could be built right in the middle of a public park.

It’s a good job Coe’s company consulted the local authority, residents and sports centre users about what they thought before delivering their foregone conclusion, wasn’t it?

The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership (CPSP), a body made up of various NSC user groups, park users and other local residents, claims that the GLA will use the report to justify having the sports centre “razed to the ground”, in moves which they say “could decimate athletics in south London”.

More than 2,500 submitted responses to the consultation, and CPSP handed over a petition with 4,000 signatures which opposed the plans.

The report now published shows that 71 per cent of respondents opposed the proposals, ranging from the potential loss of diving facilities due to the introduction of a moveable floor, the loss of the indoor athletics hall, weightlifting facilities and the 25-metre swimming pool.

CPSP has conducted its own audit of the use of the sports facilities, and estimates that annual usage of the indoor and outdoor tracks at 22,000 separate visits. The CSM report, however, claims “usage is limited”.

John Regis at Crystal Palace in happier times: demolition would be a hammer blow to his sport

There should be no doubt that Lord Coe has had some personal involvement in the NSC project. In December, speaking on LBC, his party political colleague, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said, “We will be talking to Seb Coe and to others about the athletics facilities generally and how we should take it forward. There are no final decisions taken at this stage.”

Later this summer, Coe is standing for election as the President of the IAAF, the world governing body for track and field – effectively, a post which is global athletics’ equivalent of football’s Sepp Blatter. It is one of the most important jobs in world sport.

So Coe’s colleagues tried hard to distance him from the CSM consultation and any link with the demolition of a stadium known around the world. Those efforts will prove futile if, as feared, the Mayor of London sends in the bulldozers in the next few weeks.

Any loss of the indoor track will be devastating for up-and-coming sprinters, long- and high-jumpers, shot putters and pole vaulters, according to John Regis, the south Londoner who holds the British record for 200 metres and who, as a teenager, spent many hard hours training through the winter months in the indoor facilities at Crystal Palace.

“This will be a hammer blow to athletics,” Regis said. “The indoor track is a vital facility in one of the highest areas of track and field participation in the country, developing thousands of young aspiring and elite athletes all year round.”

CPSP claims that City Hall is looking at making a key decision towards the demolition as early as July. Greenwich Leisure has a contract to manage the facilities until March 2016, and there is widespread suspicion that the GLA wants to avoid renewing that contract for facilities on which there has been no proper maintenance investment for at least a decade.

Estimates put the cost of work required to bring the sports facilities up to decent standard at around £100 million, money which Boris clearly does not want to spend, especially after his “wizard scheme” (aka vanity project) to get a Chinese businessman to build a replica Crystal Palace at the top of the hill turned to dust. Significantly, details of the GLA’s own assessments of use of the NSC and the GLA’s costings have not been disclosed, which makes it very difficult for user groups to argue against funding not being made available.

If the GLA goes ahead with its plans to bulldoze the stadium and close the indoor training area (the main pool and sports hall is untouched under the proposals, since they are within a listed building), south London will lose a significant sporting facility which has produced dozens of Olympic gold medal-winners, world champions and record-breakers, but just as importantly, has been used daily by local clubs and schools, and where hundreds of thousands of children have tried sport for the first time.

Although it would no longer be the home of British athletics, as it had been for almost half a century, after 2012 the Palace was planned to be a major training hub for the South of the Thames area. It was all supposed to be part of London’s Olympic legacy, as had been promised by none other than Lord Coe.

Read the published report here: CSM Strategic final report

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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