Gift to Croydon Arena uncages range of questions over track

Cage fighter: Croydon Harrier Lawrence Okoye in action at last year’s Commonwealth Games. The same Birmingham throws cage is being installed at Croydon Arena

In the very week when the future of the Commonwealth Games was thrown into doubt by the abrupt withdrawal of Victoria as 2026 hosts, so a piece of Games legacy is being installed in Croydon.

The athletics throws cage from where Croydon Harrier Lawrence Okoye launched his discus to claim Commonwealth silver at the 2022 Birmingham Games is being officially installed at Croydon Arena at a ceremony tonight attended by various dignitaries, as well as a couple of star athletes – former Commonwealth champion Lorna Boothe and Inside Croydon podcast star Donna Fraser.

Mike Fleet has coached generations of Croydon Harriers, after having raced 880 yards at what was then the British Empire and Commonwealth Games when they were staged in Perth, Australia, in 1962.

Fleet will be at the formal unveiling tonight. “We are very grateful to England Athletics for choosing Croydon Harriers as the recipient of this legacy cage,” said the veteran club coach.

“It will be instrumental in helping the next generation of throwers in the borough and allow us to host high-calibre competitions in the future.”

Yet at present, Croydon Arena is unable to stage competitve track meetings of any calibre.

Silver lining: Okoye with veteran Croydon Harriers coach Mike Fleet at Birmingham 2022

Since the covid pandemic in 2020, Croydon Arena, once the venue for Surrey County athletics championships and southern area track and field events, has been unable to stage any meets because of the sorry state of its track.

And neither the venue’s operators, Greenwich Leisure, nor its owners, cash-strapped Croydon Council, have announced any spending plans for the long-overdue maintenance work required.

Perhaps the Tory civic mayor, Tony Pearson, attending tonight’s unveiling as a guest, might be able to provide some indication of when the council might fulfil its responsibilities and provide the money for long overdue repairs?

There are other factors to consider, too. We’re about a fortnight from the start of the football season, and Croydon Arena is the home of the borough’s oldest non-league club, Croydon FC. The state of the infield’s pitch has never been great, and it is unlikely to be improved by a 16lb hammer being lobbed from the new throws cage out towards the penalty area at the opposite end of the arena…

Maybe the throws cage is not such a thoughtful legacy after all? Could it be that someone working in Fisher’s Folly hasn’t quite thought this through?

Inside Croydon put some of these points to Croydon Harriers, but they chose not to respond.

England Athletics CEO Chris Jones, one of the blazers expected at tonight’s official event, describes the cage installation as an “important facility project”, and that it will be “hugely motivational, and inspirational, for throwers to be able to hone their skills using this facility, knowing that they will be following in the footsteps of Lawrence Okoye”.

Jones said that England Athletics will “… continue to work with and through the GLL, Croydon Council and Sport England to ensure that our sport can continue to flourish to benefit athletes of different ages, abilities, and backgrounds moving forward”.

Maybe the bid-writers at the council can do some work and get England Athletics or Sport England to dip into their coffers for the estimated £50,000 to £100,000 required to bring the track back into competitive use?

Additional reporting: Louisa Gautrey

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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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