MARTIN SAMUEL: Birmingham is now the PERFECT home for UK Athletics… the city is full of civic pride and ready to play its part – the London Stadium has lost its romance since the 2012 Olympics and we don’t need it anymore
- The 2022 Commonwealth Games showed Birmingham is ready for the Olympics
- The city is perfect as the home of UK Athletics – instead of the London Stadium
- Birmingham has shown itself to be full of pride and longing to be recognised
- The London Stadium is a giant, costly white elephant – we don’t need it anymore
The final note of the 2022 Commonwealth Games had barely been swallowed by the night air when the first big idea was launched in its wake.
Birmingham 2036. An Olympic Games for the Second City. That’s where euphoria gets you. Pipe dreams, castles in the sky. This country last hosted in 2012 — so it would be a short gap of 24 years. That’s not how the modern Olympics works.
Australia will wait 32 years between Sydney 2000 and Brisbane 2032. France’s 2024 edition will nod to the centenary of the last summer Games in Paris. Tokyo 2020 was 56 years on from 1964. The wait for Athens was 108 years. The exception is the 12 years that passed between Los Angeles 1984 and Atlanta 1996 — but Atlanta is widely regarded as the worst Olympics of the post-war era. So lesson learned.
Birmingham has shown itself to be the perfect home for UK Athletics and an Olympic host
Meaning, despite being fabulous hosts at comparatively short notice, it will be hard for Birmingham to get Britain’s second Olympic Games in quick succession. Yet it could, and should, still benefit from the events of the last weeks. Birmingham is the perfect home for UK Athletics. The heart of the country should be the heart of the sport, just as Manchester and its velodrome became the centre of British Cycling following the Commonwealth Games there in 2002.
Birmingham deserves it. What has become apparent this summer is this is a city full of civic pride, with a longing to be recognised, to be included, to welcome visitors and play its part. Athletics can be that part.
Birmingham has a tradition of fine athletes through Birchfield Harriers — Denise Lewis, Kelly Sotherton, Ian Stewart, Peter Radford, Katharine Merry — plus the Alexander Stadium, which has hosted Diamond League events, the British Grand Prix and the Amateur Athletics Championships.
The city deserves an Olympics after proving its civic pride and longing to be recognised
Birmingham has a track record of fine athletes and they staged a successful Commonwealth Games. Pictured: Laura Kenny after winning gold in the 10km scratch race
And, now, the Commonwealth Games. After the success of this summer, a further refurbishment will mean the capacity of the stadium can switch between 18,000 and 40,000, according to demand. It is perfect for athletics. Compact when it needs to be, with the potential for expansion. It could not be more different from athletics’ current home. A giant, unwieldy and costly white elephant in — where else? — London.
The unloved London Stadium will host its first Diamond League meeting since 2019 in July next year. And that should be its farewell, too. We have sufficient distance from London 2012 for this not to be seen as a legacy betrayal.
We know about the drugs cheats. We know much of what we saw, particularly at the track, was false. The romance has gone. We also know it costs £4-6million to convert the venue for athletics’ use. So, in effect, athletics has no home. It rents a room in a football stadium for a few weeks in the summer. And the country picks up the tab.
How much better would it be to let the main tenants, West Ham, pay the bills to have it their way, and allow athletics to decamp to a city where it felt wanted?
The London Stadium has lost its romance since the 2012 Games – West Ham should pay the bills to have it their way and allow athletes to decamp to a city where the sport feels wanted
West Ham’s family fun day attracted a bigger crowd than the last major athletics meeting at the London Stadium.
Why must everything be in the capital anyway? It wasn’t so long ago that British athletics was associated, strongly, with Gateshead. The stadium there has seen five world records fall and has hosted many international meetings. It seems ludicrous that athletics has abandoned its legacy outside London for the occasional jamboree in an echoing, half-empty bowl.
The people of Birmingham should be given the opportunity to change that. They have helped deliver a friendly, successful Commonwealth Games in trying circumstances. They could provide the spark athletics needs. And you never know, down the line, that sort of transformation might deliver an Olympics.