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Sheffield athletics stadium branded 'embarrassing' after disappointment for young competitors

A young long-jumper captured mid-flight during a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium last year
A young long-jumper captured mid-flight during a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium last year
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An 'embarrassing' slip-up has sparked debate over the standard of Sheffield's flagship outdoor athletics arena.

Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium, as it is now known, on Woodbourn Road, in Attercliffe, underwent a £325,000 revamp and was taken over by the university in 2013 as a replacement for Don Valley Stadium which was demolished that year.

A young hurdler in action during a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium in 2015

A young hurdler in action during a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium in 2015

The venue is today home to Hallamshire Harriers and the City of Sheffield & Dearne athletics clubs, as well as being used by hundreds of university students and young people from across the city.

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But events at a junior league meeting on Sunday, when steeplechase races had to be cancelled at the last minute because equipment to move barriers into place was unavailable, have prompted awkward questions over the quality of facilities there.

Rob Creasey, former head coach at Don Valley Stadium, which he campaigned vociferously to save, said the 'shambles' exposed wider concerns about the arena which he claimed did not live up to what had been promised five years ago.

A wobbly stopping board on the shot circle, overgrown anchor points on the throwing cage, and flooded toilets in the women's changing rooms were among other faults he highlighted.

Will Beaton runs past the empty steeplechase pool during a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium on Sunday, May 27 (pic: Rob Creasey)

Will Beaton runs past the empty steeplechase pool during a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium on Sunday, May 27 (pic: Rob Creasey)

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"The shambles I witnessed was hugely disappointing for young athletes, some of whom had travelled a long way to be told they couldn't compete, and it was embarrassing for the city," he said.

"Don Valley Stadium was a world class venue and a huge asset to the city. What we have in its place today, despite all the promises five years ago about what it would become, is a facility that's not fit for purpose."

Sheffield Hallam University described Sunday's events as 'unfortunate' but said the steeple chase races had not been booked in by organisers with staff at the facility, meaning the course could not be set up.

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A spokesman for the university added: "We are always saddened to receive negative feedback about our facilities. Since taking over the stadium, we have made several improvements including resurfacing the entrance to the track; the installation of safety barriers around the infield; and the purchase of new equipment.

Action from a 3000m race during a meeting last year at the Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium

Action from a 3000m race during a meeting last year at the Sheffield Hallam University City Athletics Stadium

"We are also in the process of further improvement works, which will be led by an Athletics Steering Group, including partnership working with England Athletics, Hallamshire Harriers and other local athletes."

Richard Caborn, the former sports minister who now leads the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park project, claimed the university had done a 'fantastic job' at the site.

"There's been a massive improvement and, as far as I'm aware, everyone's extremely pleased with what we have now, but we're determined to improve it further with the university," he said.

"What we have now is a dedicated track and field area for the clubs to use at any time, unlike at Don Valley Stadium where the athletics facilities would be unavailable when other events were taking place."

The site is jointly run by the university, which is responsible for maintaining the track and field, and five-a-side football operator Powerleague, which manages facilities including the changing rooms.

Toni Minichiello, who coached Olympic champion Dame Jessica-Ennis Hill at Don Valley Stadium, said this shared ownership posed a challenge when it came to investment.

He claimed the track itself would never make money and it was unreasonable to expect the cash-strapped council to bail it out, but he suggested there was potential for a local business to sponsor the athletics facilities or for a new money-making attraction to be built at the site to fund their upkeep.

Mr Minichiello agreed with Mr Creasey that the Woodbourn Road stadium was not up to the standard envisaged five years ago but insisted it was far from embarrassing.

"I think it's a great facility and if we can be a bit sharper and smarter there's a fantastic opportunity there to increase sports participation and health across the city," he said.

"Maybe Rob's comments will be the catalyst that's needed for people to sit down and consider what can be done."