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Jan 21, 2011

War of words over Olympic Stadium bids

The battle for who will take over London's Olympic Stadium is hotting up with both sides firing broadsides at the other. The decision will be announced next Friday - January 28 - and both Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United have been stating their cases.

• Cottee: Hammers future looks bleak
• Harry hits out at Blues

Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp used his Sun column to criticise West Ham United's bid to take over the running of the Olympic Stadium, saying that playing with a running track around the pitch would "kill" the club's famous atmosphere, as enjoyed at Upton Park.

Redknapp's club would largely demolish the structure and start again to make it suitable for sporting events and concerts.

The decision will also have an impact on Championship club Crystal Palace. They plan to redevelop the National Sports Centre - which used to be the home of Palace and held the FA Cup final from 1895 to 1914.

But Tottenham's plans to knock down the Olympic stadium include a sweetener that they will upgrade the National Sports Centre - and that will in turn scupper Palace's hopes of moving from their dated Selhurst Park home. This tangle has led to a war of words in the London media.

"Try to mix football and athletics and you end up with a great big bowl of nothing," Redknapp, a former Hammers boss, said in his column in The Sun. "The windblown no man's land between a pitch and the stands can kill football.

"We keep hearing about the Olympic legacy and the need to have a world-class athletics stadium after the 2012 Games in London. But my big fear is that if West Ham move into a stadium in Stratford with a whacking great running track around the pitch, the only legacy for them will be a nightmare.

"And what if West Ham are relegated this season and then find themselves in a 60,000-capacity stadium in a Championship match? Can you imagine? Half the seats would be empty and it would become a desolate graveyard for a once-great club."

West Ham see the move to Stratford as the cure to their financial problems - the club is £80 million in debt at last count - and a Hammers insider told ESPNsoccernet: "If Spurs come into our borough and build a brand new 60,000 stadium just two miles from Upton Park then the reality is that it will kill West Ham United - the consequences would be catastrophic as we would lose all our corporate business."

Redknapp's comments about the running track have attracted considerable anger at Upton Park. "Two of the last three Champions League finals were played at grounds with running tracks," the source continued. "On the West Ham United plan the worst seat will be five metres nearer to pitch than the worst seat at Wembley."

Co-owner David Gold was similarly effusive in his defence of West Ham's bid. "It's a bid that is all about legacy; it's about the future, it's not just about money and football," Gold told Sky Sports News. This is about keeping promises.

"Having come to the stadium and having seen all of the documentation I am now convinced that this is very doable. If you go to Wembley and then come to the Olympic Stadium you will find that the sight lines are better than those at Wembley.

"You will be able to see every action clearly here at the Olympic Stadium. I promise you this is a red herring." With West Ham fighting for their Premier League future, Gold insisted relegation would not affect their attitude to the bid.

"This is not about next year and the year after, this is about the next 100 or 200 years," he said. "Clubs have their difficulties and go through ups and downs...and the model covers all possibilities."

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy penned an open letter to fans on the club's official website, trying his best to allay the fears of supporters, for whom plans to move to Stratford have hardly proved popular. He closed a lengthy explanation of the board's plans by saying, "I am ever conscious of the feelings of our fans - on all fronts. I have never made any secret of the fact that I am ambitious on behalf of this Club and our fans.

"You could say that the one choice we do have , is the choice between standing still or moving forward. I know what my choice is and, judging from the emails we receive at the Club, you join me in wanting to see our Club progress. A new stadium is critical to our continued success."

The final destination of the stadium is being viewed with some interest across the sporting world. The president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Lamine Diack, claimed on Thursday that the London bid team will have lied to win the event if they go back on the promise of keeping the Olympic venue as an athletics venue after 2012. And he also said that if the stadium is demolished "you can consider that you are dead, you are finished", referring to Britain's reputation for sport on the world stage.

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