Ongoing controversy surrounding the conversion of the London Stadium from an athletics venue to a football ground is reportedlyproviding inspiration for Qatari World Cup planners on how ‘not to plan’ for the future, and best address legacy needs once the 2022 tournament is over.
London’s 80,000 capacity Olympic Stadium was initially set to be reduced in size to become a dedicated track-and-field facility after the 2012 Olympics, but later, more grandiose plans that gathered support following the appointment of Boris Johnson as London mayor, saw the stadium converted into a multi-purpose venue, now primarily used as the home football ground of London club West Ham United.
Lessons to be learnt
The change of plan sent costs for the stadium’s construction sky-rocketing up to $864m from an initial $345m estimate, a lot of which has been paid for by the British taxpayer and not by West Ham who currently pay a mere $3.08 million annually to use the stadium.
The debacle has caused widespread anger amongst both politicians and members of the public, and there are still reported costs to be paid. These include a reported $10 million for retractable seats which were initially scheduled to cost $370,000.
The failure to install such seats means that West Ham fans attending matches at the stadium are separated from the action by the eight-lanes of an athletics track, serving both to reduce the visual spectacle, and crowd atmosphere within the stadium, which is quickly developing a reputation as a White Elephant of, well, Olympian proportions.
The Qatari masterplan
The Qatar masterplan, like the original plan for London’s Olympic Stadium, consists of reducing the size of eight specially constructed stadiums by dismantling excess seating. This excess seating is then set to be “donated” to stadiums around the world, with the reduced-sized stadiums in Qatar serving domestic sporting needs.
In order to best address post-World Cup legacy needs. Qatari planning also includes the construction of a new waterfront district around a 40,000 seat venue in Ras Abu Aboud.
According to a senior staff member at Populous, the company behind the stadium’s design, the venue is set to be a “game changer”:
“We are creating a whole new neighbourhood in a fantastic waterfront location overlooking West Bay and, at the same time, an incredible world-class stadium for 40,000 fans.”
Initial plans presented by Qatar included the intention to air-condition stadiums, however due primarily to worries over costs this idea seems to have been dropped, with the tournament set to take place in the winter rather than its traditional summer slot.
The cost of legacy construction
Interestingly, while seemingly unconvinced by London’s legacy efforts with regards to the Olympic Stadium, Qatar – who notably bought London’s Olympic Village in a deal that purportedly cost the British taxpayer $338 million – have entrusted some of the stadium construction for the 2022 World Cup to the same company that created the Olympic Stadium: Populous.
Populous, perhaps understandably, has stood by the conversion of London’s Olympic Stadium, describing it as “a design solution (that) embraces the opportunity to create a fantastic legacy for a building designed for a particular purpose, at a very special time.”
The fact that the conversion took costs over $493 million over budget is unlikely to have been viewed with overt concern by the construction company either.
But it is perhaps food for thought for Qatar which is said to have allocated a budget of $6.58 billion for the delivery of sports infrastructures related to the World Cup.