The prospect of the Anniversary Games taking place at the London Stadium in July is in further doubt after West Ham indicated they could force UK Athletics to reschedule its flagship event if the Premier League season is extended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new head of UKA, Joanna Coates, has called on West Ham to waive their tenancy rights if there is a fixture clash, and the London Legacy Development Corporation urged the club to compromise. But West Ham have responded strongly to suggestions they could have to play matches in front of retracted stands and an athletics track.
The Anniversary Games, UKA’s most lucrative event, is due to take place on 4-5 July but West Ham are legally entitled to insist that E20, the stadium’s owner, move or postpone other events if they clash with their matches.
West Ham are the stadium’s principal tenants and have said they have written confirmation that E20 will respect the terms of their contract, which states their matches have overriding priority. They believe the agreement remains in place until the end of the 2019-20 season and added that they were determined “not to compromise when it comes to playing our fixtures”.
However, it is also understood the contract states that West Ham have to show “an element of reasonableness” to accommodate other events. UKA’s belief is that the contract says athletics must take place at the stadium and, with the sporting calendar thrown into chaos, that West Ham will have to compromise. The dispute could be difficult to resolve given that insiders have admitted that the Premier League side are ultimately entitled to point out they have primacy of use.
West Ham said: “E20 CEO Lyn Garner wrote to West Ham United on 29 March and confirmed that all our competitive matches take precedence over other activity at the stadium and that E20 is in discussions with UKA, as they recognise that the Concessionary Agreement contractually obliges E20 to move or postpone other events at the stadium to ensure our matches to go ahead.
“We want to reassure our supporters that, as and when the Premier League resume the season, the London Stadium will be configured for football matches and not inappropriately set up for an athletics meeting or a concert.
“Our contract with the stadium requires E20 to provide the stadium configured for football if the season is extended. It also requires them to work with UK Athletics and others to reschedule their meetings so that there is no clash with West Ham’s fixtures.”
UKA is unlikely to make a decision on whether to stage the Anniversary Games for at least another six weeks – with one insider saying they would wait until after a European Athletics meeting in early May, which will look at the feasibility of holding the European Championships in Paris in August. If the Anniversary Games goes ahead it would provide UKA with a healthy financial windfall at a time of deep uncertainty.
A concern for West Ham is whether the work required to convert the stadium from football to athletics would interfere with their matches. It is estimated that the conversion would take seven to 10 days and would be done by around 200 workers. Decisions are yet to be taken over two other events at the stadium: Major League Baseball on 13-14 June and a Green Day concert on 26 June.
An LLDC spokesman said: “These are unprecedented circumstances and we will work closely with all those holding events. Whilst West Ham do have a priority use for football there is also a clear obligation to work collaboratively to avoid date conflicts and, if necessary, play their games with the seating and track set up for athletics.”