Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 127 - 139)



  Chairman: Sir Rodney, I would like to welcome yourself and your Chief Executive here this morning. I understand you have gone to some considerable trouble to be here today, and I would like to thank you for taking the trouble.

Alan Keen

  127. You reviewed the Wembley situation in January. Do you regret withdrawing athletics from it? Rod Sheard told us last week, when he came here to answer questions, that it would have been in time then to hold the Athletics Championships had the planning and building started some time soon after January. We have lost that chance now, have we not?

  (Sir Rodney Walker) I think we need to start back in December 1999, when the then-Secretary of State announced that athletics had been withdrawn from Wembley National Stadium. From that moment Wembley National Stadium Limited and the Football Association, having committed the now famous £20 million repayment, have proceeded on the basis of a stadium for football and rugby league only. It is fair to say that on 1 February of this year, having done my review of the Wembley project, I did in fact go to the Secretary of State and ask whether or not they would like me to explore the possibility of reintroducing athletics into Wembley. As I was advised that a decision had been made that athletics would not form part of Wembley Stadium, and that there was a commitment to an athletics stadium in London for the World Athletics Championships, from that moment it has not formed any part of my serious deliberations. Despite the fact that towards the end of April/beginning of May a new design was put to me by the architects for the Wembley project that did offer some possibility of a new athletics deck solution at a much lower cost than the original proposals.

  128. Did you go back to the Secretary of State at that point when you saw the new designs?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I do not believe I went back a second time.

  129. You just mentioned the £20 million—with your Wembley hat on, when is it going to be repaid?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) The commitment is clearly there; of that there is no doubt. I think the view of the Football Association and Wembley National Stadium Limited, and perhaps even Sport England, is that it will be swept up in the report presently being prepared by Patrick Carter.


  130. When you say "the commitment is clearly there" perhaps you could clarify the situation. Mr Smith was never able to clarify it. We were never able to establish whether an actual piece of paper had been signed, who had signed it, when it was signed and over what timescale it was agreed that the £20 million should be repaid; nor, Sir Rodney, was it ever clarified by the previous Secretary of State why it was £20 million rather than £25 million, £15 million or whatever.
  (Sir Rodney Walker) As I think you know, Chairman, these discussions took place between representatives of the Football Association directly with the Secretary of State, and certainly preceded my present involvement with Wembley National Stadium. I was, however, part of the Board of WNSL, and I was aware that the undertaking existed. I am not sure that it was ever formally confirmed in writing. Certainly from the beginning that I became chairman of the company, because athletics had been removed from the stadium's intended usage, the FA and WNSL have always maintained and recognised the fact that that £20 million would have to be repaid; and that is the situation I feel pertains today.

  131. That is very good of them to acknowledge that, but I regard it as bizarre—indeed far more than bizarre—that £20 million of public money is somehow floating around, due to be repaid by the FA to the Government, and yet nobody has ever signed a piece of paper about it. This sounds to me a very strange way of dealing with public money. Could I put another question to you with regard to this: in view of the fact that the £120 million Lottery money was paid on the basis that Wembley would be a stadium which was primarily a football stadium but also included an athletics facility and that was not going to be the case, what possible right did Wembley have to keep the £100 million? Could I put another question to you. You may not have had the opportunities (I understand you have been overseas) to have heard that in fact £106 million of that £120 million Lottery money was spent on purchasing the site. If you take £106 million from £120 million that leaves £14 million, and yet we have still got the £20 million. Please be clear, Sir Rodney, I am not ascribing any responsibility to you on this, but since you are an extremely well informed observer, I think we would all benefit from your views.
  (Sir Rodney Walker) Why the figure of £20 million was ever arrived at I, frankly, cannot assist you with, because I am led to believe that the initial sum talked about was higher than £20 million, but in the end a deal was struck at this sum of £20 million. It is fair to say that £106 million of the £120 million was spent in acquiring the footprint of the existing Wembley Stadium, and the rest has gone on design costs and generally getting us to where we are today. Plus an awful lot of other money has been invested and spent by the Football Association. Whether or not the sum of £20 million is the right figure for the removal of athletics, it is for wiser people than me to perform a judgment of that. My only interest is still trying to find a solution to what is becoming a long, protracted problem.

  132. You have got a good, healthy, non-metropolitan accent—do you really believe that it is essential that the national stadium should be in London?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) It is something I have always been very clear about. Together with Derek Casey the then Chief Executive of Sport England, when we began this process back in 1995 and we went through an exhaustive and thorough exercise in reviewing all the opportunities, narrowing the five short-listed bids down to the decision to look for a solution in London, and having explored some thirty sites inside the M25, and reaching the decision that Wembley was the right place, I thought then, and I still believe, that the right place for a national stadium is in the capital city. As I think we know from the IAAF, and have indication from the IOC, that events of that magnitude are only likely to be attracted to the UK if they are based in a capital city.

Derek Wyatt

  133. Did at any time UK Sport discuss Sheffield as the alternative to London in the last three months?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) UK Sport has not been invited or taken part in any meeting regarding the World Athletics Championships.

  134. Is that because you are irrelevant to the sporting decision-making process, given that you are only the Chairman?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) Perhaps the Chief Executive would like to comment. We have felt that as our Royal Charter gave us the responsibility on behalf of Government to be involved in major events, indeed as we are funded by way of the Lottery to assist in the bidding of and staging of major events, I think it is fair to say that since we were given that responsibility in 1999 we have successfully assisted in the staging of over 35 European and world events here in the UK. I think it is fair to say we were a bit surprised not to have been invited to take part in any meeting.
  (Mr Callicott) The only thing I would add to that is, since the Carter Review was first established I have not had the opportunity of talking with or being contacted by Carter regarding the whole question of the World 2005 Athletics. I do not know the gentleman and would not know what questions he might have posed.

  135. Forgive me, I do not understand what point there is then of creating you in1999?
  (Mr Callicott) In reading the evidence that was given last week, I think I would share your surprise that, having been given the task of being set up as a major events organiser, and I understand the Government has reconfirmed that position, we believe that through our major events steering group we have the best expertise available to undertake reviews of the appropriateness of bids for world events; and we were involved in the original assessment of whether the World 2005 Athletics bid would be worthwhile. Since that time we have had an involvement, but when it came to review of the 2005 WCA by Mr Carter we were not even contacted.

  136. I think Adrian Metcalfe chairs your major review—did he write to the Secretary of State? What did you do as a body to complain about your position?
  (Mr Callicott) You are quite right, Adrian Metcalfe is the chairman of our Major Events Steering Group and certainly he wrote to the Secretary of State when he became aware of rumours that were circulating that might suggest that a decision was being recommended that 2005 should not proceed on the basis of Picketts Lock. At that point, although we had not been contacted by the writer of the report, we wanted to put in writing that our position was we were very concerned.

  137. Sir Rodney, I have asked you this before but it is worth continuing the debate: do you think really that Sport England is the issue here; and if Sport England was broken up into the RDAs, and that the map for England was based on regions and you had the power in the UK to give us the vision for the future of sport, do you think that would be better?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) You ask me to answer, if I may say so, an unfair question. It is for the Minister to decide; and, I have to say, some of the indication coming from the Minister is that that may be part of his intention. I have to say that Sport England, in my judgment, has carried out a very proper role, particularly in relation to Picketts Lock. I think it was their increasing concern about the justification of the athletics stadium on the value for money exercise that led to they themselves producing a report which, in turn, led to the more recent events. I think most of us who have been largely observers of these matters over the last year or two have had a concern that on a value for money basis it was always going to be difficult to justify a separate stand-alone athletics stadium, because the associated infrastructure costs were always there. They cannot have come as any surprise to anyone, because even in the time that I accompanied the Secretary of State, Len Hatton and David Moorcroft to Paris to secure the rights, we knew then that there would be parallel investment required in overcoming some of the difficulties in getting access to the site. We have always known that the question of accommodation was one that needed to be addressed. There were no surprises in the circumstances surrounding the statement. I suppose the only surprise might be, if there was never a commitment to spend that amount of money, it is a shame it has taken so long to come to the decision.

Rosemary McKenna

  138. I start with a comment that the Scottish national stadium is not in the capital city—it is in Glasgow, not Edinburgh; and it does not seem to prevent it from being very successful. Given your experience and the length of time you have been looking at this issue, do you really believe it is possible to make the Wembley site into a multi-purpose stadium that would bring together all the competing interests of football and athletics?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) I am faced with a genuine dichotomy. It has been put to me recently in correspondence that there is a conflict between my role as Chairman of Wembley National Stadium Limited and my role as Chairman of UK Sport. The reason I went to Government on 1 February to see if they would be interested in me exploring the possibility of reintroducing athletics was, I suppose, not because football wanted me to do it (because they clearly did not want me to do it) but I needed to know whether it was an option that government still wanted me to look at. As I have already reported, we know what the response was. I feel that, at the present time, there is so much confusion around the options for Wembley. As you probably know, what has now been exhaustively explored is a scaled down Wembley project. The scheme I inherited included offices, a hotel, large spaces for visitor attractions and so on. That has been substantially revised. It is the viability of the revised scheme that has now been fully explored. The decision of the Wembley National Stadium Board I think, quite rightly, has been to focus on that option and explore it to the point of establishing whether that option, or an option in Birmingham, or perhaps even one that is talked about in Coventry, is right for our national stadium. I am only Chairman of the Wembley National Stadium project; and whilst Birmingham very kindly invited me to visit and view their site and look at their scheme (which is very commendable, despite the problems perhaps around planning which still need to be overcome), my responsibility as far as the national stadium is concerned is confined purely and simply to the Wembley project because it is that I am the Chairman of. I have not been involved, other than one meeting on 14 July, with Patrick Carter in the ongoing debate into the review of the national stadium project either.

  139. Do you think that it is possible to bring together all the competing interests of athletics and football and actually provide on one side a facility which would serve all on the Wembley site specifically?
  (Sir Rodney Walker) If you could ever get to a point where everyone was pointing in the same direction at the same time, I am sure a solution could be found that would satisfy football and may provide an opportunity by one means or another to incorporate athletics on a once-only basis into a new Wembley Stadium.

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