Former UK Athletics boss Ed Warner believes a plan to turn Alexander Stadium into the sport’s national venue after the 2022 Commonwealth Games could leave behind a £72million “white elephant”.
Birmingham City Council revealed its vision for the Perry Barr venue on Friday and will now start a three-week public consultation, with a plan to submit a planning application later this summer.
If approved, Alexander Stadium’s west stand will be demolished and replaced with a stand which will include improved community facilities.
>How the new Alexander Stadium would look from the outside, according to Birmingham City Council plans (Handout pic)
The stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the athletics competition at Birmingham 2022 and the new stand and temporary seating around the bends will take the capacity from 12,700 to around 40,000.
After the Games, the council intends to remove the ‘overlay’ seating and operate the stadium as an 18,000-seat venue.
Council leader Ian Ward said he believed it would be a “catalyst for the wider redevelopment of Perry Barr” and a “platform for changing perceptions of Birmingham nationally and internationally”.
He also said this was a “fantastic opportunity to create what will come a national stadium for athletics”.
However, Warner, who ran UK Athletics for a decade until 2017, said: “My concern is that an expanded Alexander Stadium could become a white elephant.
“UK Athletics makes a tidy sum every year from its Diamond League meeting in London but all its other meetings only just about cover their costs.
“They have worked very hard over the years to make money from events at Alexander Stadium but have never cracked it and now you are talking about a stadium that is 50 per cent bigger. Where are the incremental fans going to come from to get close to filling it?
“Moving the main annual athletics event from London to Birmingham would be extremely unattractive for UKA, both financially and in terms of the sport’s profile.
“You then have the issue of the IAAF, which is currently restructuring its Diamond League calendar.
“Birmingham will almost certainly lose its existing Diamond League meeting and that means it will have to poach London’s if it wants to remain part of the global circuit.
National governing body UK Athletics is based at the stadium, which is also home to local club Birchfield Harriers and stages several national and international events.
The most important of these is the Birmingham Grand Prix, an event which is currently part of world athletics’ Diamond League series.
That is unlikely to be the case for long, though, as the International Association of Athletics’ Federations is cutting the number of Diamond League events.
>Birmingham council leader Ian Ward says developing the Alexander Stadium can spark redevelopment in Perry Barr (Aaron Chown/PA)
With the stadium already needing a subsidy from the council to cover its costs, Ward admitted a larger, more expensive venue only makes financial sense if it can attract UKA’s most lucrative event, the two-day meeting currently staged at the London Stadium as part of the 2012 Olympics’ legacy.
UKA signed a 50-year agreement, which it can extend to 99, with the Stratford venue’s owners E20 Stadium LLP in 2013 to stage athletics events at the Olympic showpiece in a month-long window when main tenant West Ham are on holiday.
But with E20 losing millions of pounds every year because of the costs associated with changing the stadium from football to athletics mode every summer, Ward clearly believes there is an opening for Birmingham.
“Yes, I would hope that we would get those events,” he said.
>The London Stadium can host athletics events (Yui Mok/PA)
However, a UKA spokesperson told Press Association Sport it had “no plans to take athletics events out of London and any suggestion otherwise is incorrect”, adding that Alexander Stadium remains part of its plans for hosting athletics events but only “sitting alongside events continuing to be held at the London Stadium” for the duration of the contract.
This stance was backed by a spokesperson from E20’s parent organisation, the London Legacy Development Corporation, who said: “As UK Athletics has made clear, they have no plans to move athletics events out of the London Stadium.”
This would appear to put a serious hole in the sustainability plan for an enlarged Alexander Stadium, even if it was able to attract another sports team to be based there as an anchor tenant or stage concerts.
Birmingham City Council remains determined to press on, though, and hopes to start construction on a project which includes fitting a new nine-lane track and six-lane warm-up track next spring.