SEBASTIAN Coe has defended Sheffield Council’s decision to close down Don Valley Stadium.
The Sheffield-born Olympian, who is chairman of the British Olympic Association, has revealed he can understand the decision to close Don Valley - but insists the case should not be viewed as a blow to the idea of building a positive London 2012 legacy.
Sheffield councillors confirmed earlier this month that the 25,000-capacity athletics venue, where Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis trains, is to be demolished to save money.
Jess has spoken of her disappointment at the plan, while her coach Toni Minichiello said he feels ‘gutted and pretty angry’ by the move, claiming it will prove a major setback for athletics in and around Sheffield.
Commenting on the proposed closure for the first time, Coe said he could sympathise with Sheffield City Council’s view of Don Valley Stadium as a drain on resources after it spent £700,000 subsidising it last year.
He said the proposal for redevelopment work at the smaller Woodbourn Road Stadium nearby was ‘thoughtful’, and that if Sheffield still retains a ‘proper’ track and field training facility it could represent an important step in the right direction in terms of legacy after last summer’s London Games.
Speaking in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, Coe said: “If you have a stadium in Sheffield, where there is clearly not a commitment locally to be a home for international track and field, and it is a 25,000-seater facility, I can understand why a local authority has to look at that and make some decisions.
“If the refurbishment of Woodbourn Road, which I’m told is an integral part of the development, takes place, then that is a purpose-built track and field facility - and you have to assume that is going to be the proposal. But I’m not sitting there making those judgements.
“There is a legacy there, and it is actually quite a strong one, but this is for a local authority to decide.
“You can’t always look at decisions that are made at a local level and suddenly say this is a sign that legacy isn’t working. That is a very simplistic way of looking at it.
“Sheffield needs a track and field facility - I don’t think anyone is seriously questioning that.
“I understand the clubs are being involved and consulted, and that the universities are looking at it (Woodbourn Road) also as a track and field facility.
“People will make all sorts of judgements - I have seen the proposal and it is actually quite a thoughtful one, and it is not quite the way it is being portrayed, as the loss of a track and field facility.”
“I haven’t spoken to Jess about it.
“If Sheffield clearly is not committing to international track and field, then I can understand why a 25,000-seater arena, which cost £700,000 a year to maintain, is a drain on local resources.
“As long as there is a proper, world-class track and field training facility available to the athletes in Sheffield, and that acts as a regional hub in South Yorkshire... That is what is needed.”