Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
THURSDAY 1 MARCH 2001
60. For a stadium which is not going to host
any athletics events you are able to go into tremendous detail
in your brief to us about how you would still accommodate athletics.
Indeed, you say you remain confident that a stadium could provide
a superb venue for the 2005 World Championships. Have you had
any private indication whatsoever, from ministers perhaps, that,
let us say, after a General Election soon to be held you will
be returned and athletics will once again take its place at Wembley?
(Sir Rodney Walker) I think I am perhaps best suited
to deal with that question because, as you would expect, throughout
my deliberations in January I did keep both the Minister for Sport
and indeed, the Secretary of State closely up to date with what
was going on. The decision to rule out the World Athletics Championships
was mine and mine alone. As, indeed, I have to say it was my decision
to review whether or not Wembley could have been, even at this
late stage, considered for the World Athletics Championships in
2005. I have had discussions with the Wembley design team, that
is both the people inside Wembley National Stadium Limited and
Lord Foster and his team, about the ability to find a design solution
to enable athletics to be staged at the Wembley Stadium. I have
ruled out the World Athletics Championships as an option simply
because of uncertainty on time and I think that had to be the
right decision. Whilst I acknowledge Mr Wyatt's point that the
proposed dates for Wembley and Picketts Lock are basically the
same, I do not want to take the risk of Wembley not being ready.
The World Athletics Championships is too important to sport in
this country for us not to have a stadium available. In terms
of the future, I have spoken both to the Chairman and to the Chief
Executive of the British Olympic Association. We do not yet know
whether or not there will ever be an Olympic bid, although perhaps
it grows in possibility and my understanding at this stage is
that their preferred site would be East of London rather than
West of London. However, if we have a national stadium of true
world class then certainly I would want it to be available to
form part of any Olympic bid. Now that might mean that it would
be used for opening and closing ceremonies, it might mean that
it is used for football events, it might mean that it is used
for rugby events if rugby by that time is a sport that is part
of the Olympic Games. Whether or not it is ever capable of being
used for athletics is something that I would want to explore with
the benefit of time, but I would have to say to the Committee
that right now my priority is to finalise the funding package
for the stadium to enable us to build work and then with the luxury
of more time I would want to look with the architects as to whether
or not there is a design solution to enable us to incorporate
athletics at some future date.
61. Presumably when the three sports were originally
intended for Wembley you, as a member of the Wembley Board, and
as the Chairman of UK Sport, supported the concept of three sports
at Wembley. As you will be aware this Committee drew attention
in our last Report to what we described as the disjuncture in
UK Sport's evidence, that you had said to us in your submission
that UK Sport was neutral about athletics at Wembley but the Secretary
of State claimed that UK Sport was a supporter following the Ellerbe
Becket report of the removal of athletics from Wembley. Can you
explain that divergence?
(Sir Rodney Walker) Yes, I will certainly do my best.
The situation wasif we go all the way back to 1995it
was certainly the intention of the English Sports Council then
to have a national stadium that could accommodate athletics, football
and Rugby League. We must remember at that stage costs were anticipated
at or around £250 million. So the Lottery grant would have
represented broadly 50 per cent of the total costs of the project.
With the passage of time, with the fact of such things as the
capacity being increased from 80 to 90,000, the decisionwhich
I am happy to defendto incorporate vastly improved back
of house facilities in terms of catering and so on, then the costs
have risen. So the Lottery grant now forms but a small percentage
of the whole. Now there came a point when football's influence
on the project became dominant because, as I have said earlier
in evidence, without the income that football provides the stadium
cannot create a viable business case to go and borrow the funds
that it needs. During the middle of 1999, for reasons that are
not immediately clear to me, people began to question whether
or not athletics should be incorporated into the design of the
62. With respect, Sir Rodney, the British Olympic
Association and Kate Hoey basically?
(Sir Rodney Walker) I hear what you say. The decision
was taken to review the concept of a platform design and UK Sport
were asked, as someone not directly involved in the project, if
they would seek out a competent architect to give a view about
the proposed platform concept. I took no part in that selection
process and in the end, of course, it was DLA Ellerbe Becket who
were asked to prepare the report. That company is based in Wakefield,
my home town, and therefore I thought it prudent not to become
too directly involved in the work that they undertook. To the
best of my recollection, I was only involved in one meeting. I
have not reviewed my diary so I cannot be precise. I was only
involved in one meeting at the end of November or early December,
when I was asked about whether or not the inclusion of the platform
was desirable or not. I took the view that the Ellerbe Becket
report had raised sufficient doubt about the workability of the
platform concept. The Secretary of State had indicated to me that
he was keen to make an announcement before close of business at
the end of 1999 and in those circumstances I think his decision
was probably right in view of the amount of doubt that the Ellerbe
Becket report had raised.
63. I am sorry to interrupt you but the point
I am really trying to make is that the Secretary of State leaned
very heavily on the advice of UK Sport. Again and again both on
the Floor of the House and in this Committee he quoted UK Sport
as supporters of the Ellerbe Becket report. Do you not appreciate
the resentment felt in some circles that this Committee was publicly
told that UK Sport was neutral on this subject whereas in private
briefing the Secretary of State was told completely the opposite?
(Sir Rodney Walker) I am not sure that I understand
resentment. I could perhaps understand confusion.
64. Annoyance perhaps.
(Sir Rodney Walker) The simple fact is that UK Sport
itself relied entirely on the advice that came via the DLA Ellerbe
Becket report, so any views that we had had to be substantially
influenced by that report. I think it is worth reminding ourselves
the timescale on which decisions were made was very short indeed.
I think Mr Bates has made reference in his evidence to the fact
that the amount of time between the Ellerbe Becket report being
received and the announcement being made was short.
65. This Committee criticised that very strongly.
(Sir Rodney Walker) I repeat that the Ellerbe Becket
report, whether it was right or wrong, at the time that the Secretary
of State made his pronouncement had raised sufficient cause for
66. What is the current view of the Board of
WNSL about the repayment of the £20 million? Is there an
agreement that the £20 million should be repaid on the Board
and, if so, when is the first tranche going to be paid?
(Sir Rodney Walker) Again, as you would expect, this
has been discussed both at the WNSL Board and at the FA Board.
I think it is fair to say there is a view that there is no legal
requirement for us to repay the £20 million. I am of the
view, and I think this view is now supported by both Boards, the
WNSL Board and FA Board, that there is in place a moral commitment
given by football, at a time when I was not in charge, to repay
the £20 million, and under those circumstances that offer
will be honoured. I, of course, know that £20 million is
of crucial importance to the funding of the Picketts Lock project.
67. Just one last question. We have heard about
one article in the Telegraph this morning and there is
one alongside it about the refusal of the Mayor of London to put
the GLA in the position, as it were, of joint funding partner
with UK Athletics and there is a suggestion that you, in your
role as Chairman of UK Sport, might be that partner. That would
be ironic, would it not?
(Sir Rodney Walker) I am not sure that irony is the
word I would use.
68. Difficult anyway.
(Mr Stubbs) I think the fact that the City Council
in Manchester have stood behind the Commonwealth Games project
perhaps led people to believe that the new Mayor of London may
well stand behind the
69. And, indeed, Birmingham for 2003.
(Sir Rodney Walker) Yes. I am happy to sign the document
but UK Sport is simply not in a position to stand behind the world
athletics bid because we are not resourced to do so. What I have
told the Secretary of State, the Minister, David Moorcroft, Len
Hatton, the Chairman of the bid team, is that they will have all
the support from UK Sport that we can give to assist them in ensuring
that they have a stadium in London to hold the World Athletics
Championships in 2005 and, of course, that is what was said in
the bid document by both the Prime Minister and, indeed, the Secretary
70. It is all very incestuous, is it not? From
what Mr Faber has been saying there seems to be a kind of sporting
version of La Ronde in which the thing is passed from hand
to hand within a very small circle of people and sometimes ends
up with the people it started with.
(Sir Rodney Walker) I can understand, Chairman, why
you might think that. I am a servant of Government in the positions
that I hold and I can only do my best in the circumstances in
which I find myself.
71. Can I just clarify one point that Mr Stubbs
made in answer to almost the very first question from Mr Fearn.
Are you telling us that the FA for every game which they have
organised pay you? Is that right?
(Mr Stubbs) Let me just expand on the answer. When
the stadium was purchased and we used Lottery money to fund it,
it was necessary for Sport England to have some security, so there
was a staging agreement put in place which runs for 20 years.
That staging agreement compels the FA to pay certain monies to
us irrespective of whether they play the matches or not. In reality
the stadium does not make money out of matches, it makes money
from various commercial rights and some of those commercial rights,
in effect, were sold to the FA in exchange for cash. We continue
to receive that cash irrespective of whether they stage matches
or not. They are under a legal obligation to continue to pay that
money for the next 20 years if the stadium never opens.
72. So last night the FA paid Aston Villa for
that game and they were paying you as well?
(Mr Stubbs) No. There are two pots of money under
the FA staging agreement. There is our share of the percentage
of gate revenues, which in many respects is peanuts, we do not
make money out of bums on seats. The rest of it is from commercial
rights which they pay us for, and they used to pay Wembley plc,
which is totally independent of playing any number of matches.
They continue to pay that lump of money and they will continue
to do so, if they have to, for the next 20 years.
73. I assume Rugby League has not got the same
(Sir Rodney Walker) Rugby League is in the process
of finalising its agreement with Wembley National Stadium Limited.
We are undertaking to enter into an agreement to play at least
one Rugby League game at Wembley each year for the next 20 years
on a strictly commercial basis.
74. Is there not a conflict of interest between
you as the Chairman of Rugby League and your position as Chairman
of Wembley? Last year I attended a very successful Rugby League
Cup Final at Murrayfield, next year it goes to Cardiff, I think
it is going to Twickenham at some time. Certainly Murrayfield
was very successful but there is nothing to say that the other
games will not be as successful. Is there not a conflict between
you as the Chairman of Wembley Stadium tying Rugby League into
Wembley Stadium when there are other stadia where Rugby League
Finals could be played and probably just as successfully?
(Sir Rodney Walker) I am happy to deal with that question.
The process of entering into a state of agreement with the new
Wembley Stadium was handled initially by Maurice Lindsay, the
then Chief Executive of the Rugby League, and subsequently by
Neil Tunnicliffe, and I deliberately, because of the conflict
issue, kept myself out of those discussions. I am delighted that
you regarded the Cup Final at Murrayfield to be a success and,
indeed, I shared that view, it was a great success, and we would
hope to return there at some early date. We will be at Twickenham
on April 27 this year and the decision as to where the next Cup
Final will be has yet to be taken, but it is true to say that
Cardiff, along with Murrayfield, are presently being explored.
I think everyone within Rugby League is happy to support the view
that at least one major Rugby League game each year (and remember
I did not say the Challenge Cup) will be played at England's new
National Stadium, and I think everybody would want us to do that.
75. Do you not think we are obsessed in this
country by this building of stadia for all sorts of different
sports on the half hope that we might get some great event coming
here? Would you not agree with me that the real success for British
sport at the Olympics in Sydney did as much for sport in this
country as having those Olympics in this country would have done?
(Sir Rodney Walker) I am very happy to support the
view that the success that we had in Sydney during the Olympic
Games was a great boost for sport in this country and, indeed,
I am delighted that the Lottery-funded World Class Programme has
been acknowledged as being an important part of providing the
underpinning that our athletes needed to perform better on the
world stage. I think running in parallel with all of that there
is a need to have a national stadium in which sportsmen and women,
not only from the United Kingdom, but I am sure you would acknowledge
that everyone who plays particularly soccer around the world wants
to play at Wembley Stadium, and my earnest hope is that they will
want even more to play at the new Wembley Stadium.
76. Again, can I just ask you in your role as
Chairman of the UK Sports Council, which of course decides the
overall sporting policy in this country, is there not some conflict
there between that and your role as the Chairman of Wembley as
the national stadium where you will want presumably to direct
major sports you have mentioned, not just football but Rugby League,
and you said Rugby Union if it was part of the Olympics? Do you
not think that is again a conflict of interest?
(Sir Rodney Walker) It is a matter for others to judge
but it will not surprise you, I hope, to know that before I accepted
an invitation to become Chairman of Wembley National Stadium I
did seek the approval of both the Minister and Secretary of State
who were satisfied that I was of sufficient independent thought
to be able to do things without fear or favour.
Mr Maxton: The UK Sports Council is as
it says the "UK" Sports Council, it is not Sport England,
whereas the National Stadium is the national stadium for England.
Again there could be a conflict with the other nations of the
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Maxton,
and thank you Sir Rodney and Mr Stubbs. We shall be seeing you
again shortly, I believe.