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Feb 16, 2011

Orient challenge Olympic Stadium ruling

Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn has revealed that the club are taking legal advice on whether to challenge last Friday's decision to award West Ham preferred bidder status for the Olympic Stadium.

• Hammers beat Spurs in Olympic race
• Blog: Huzzah for West Ham
• Brewin: The battle for Stratford
• Keegan: The right decision

The Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) confirmed that West Ham's proposal to occupy the stadium, and retain a running track, was deemed to best satisfy the criteria for providing an athletics legacy and that the board had voted unanimously for the club's bid.

However, Hearn is concerned that the arrival of West Ham in Orient's catchment area could threaten the League One club's existence, and he has already written to Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson asking them to look again at the decision.

Hearn is in talks with his legal team about a judicial review, which could significantly delay the process of confirming West Ham's tenancy, and has outlined his concerns to Cameron and Johnson as well as Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, and Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics.

"It's a question of due process and whether the Olympic Park Legacy Committee, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and even the Prime Minister have given consideration to Leyton Orient in these discussions.

"The government has a responsibility to take into account all the effects of any ruling they take. We are awaiting what I assume is a rubber-stamp decision from Boris Johnson and the DCMS to award West Ham the stadium.

"But I find it incredible they would even consider making the decision before undergoing due process in regard to the effect on the incumbent football club.''

Hearn's major concern is with the suggestions from West Ham that they would offer free and heavily discounted tickets upon their arrival in the new ground. Their current average attendance is just over 30,000, with the Olympic Stadium likely to hold around double that after re-development.

Hearn fears the incentives on offer to locals to fill the ground could force his club, based within a mile of the Olympic site, to the wall.

"The comments last week about the number of complimentary tickets available and family tickets for the price of a single ticket have grave implications for our club,'' Hearn said. "Leyton Orient has been in existence for 130 years and by any stretch of the imagination we are the incumbent club.

"To have a giant like West Ham on our doorstep offering discounted and free tickets would seriously bring into question the survival of Leyton Orient. We have asked our lawyers about the benefits or otherwise of a full judicial review where we will be challenging the right of the government to make that decision.

"I have written to David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Hugh Robertson and Jeremy Hunt asking them not to rubber-stamp West Ham's move at this stage and at least give us the respect, the decency and the right to put our case forward about the continuation of our football club.''

Orient were themselves touted as potential tenants shortly after the 2012 Olympics were awarded to London, but Hearn rejected the opportunity to move into what was then proposed as a downsized 25,000 capacity stadium, citing the need to keep the running track as a key factor in his opposition.

The League One club have consistently opposed the prospect of a Premier League club setting up home near to their Brisbane Road ground, which has seen an average attendance of under 4,000 this season.

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