ATHLETES in Sheffield are beginning to prepare for life beyond Don Valley Stadium, despite Jessica Ennis’s appeal for it to be spared demolition.
Although no final decisions have been taken over the future of the stadium built for the 1991 World Student Games, the thoughts of local clubs are turning to a return to nearby Woodbourn Road.
Hallamshire Harriers, of which Seb Coe is a life member, believe there could be benefits for the grassroots if Woodbourn Road became the home again of Sheffield athletics. But it will press for improvements to the facilities if the fate of Don Valley is sealed at the council’s budget meeting on March 4.
Chairman Mike Theobold said many athletes saw the closure of Woodbourn Road as a sad day, and the move to Don Valley was met with mixed feelings.
“As a multi-facility stadium we found ourselves on some occasions prevented from using the track due to other more commercially viable events taking place. Whilst appreciating the need to maximise revenue from this facility it did squeeze us from the track often at short notice. Also we had to host our home Northern League meeting in Doncaster.”
Mr Theobold said that the loss of any sporting venue in the city was “a matter of shame and regret. Should Woodbourn Road stadium be reopened and given some investment athletes in the city could have their own home, being able to structure and organise meetings and training. Although recognising this would prevent top class meets coming to Sheffield, it is a fact that the city has not hosted top flight athletics for many years.
“Many comments have been made about the ‘Olympic legacy’, but a legacy does not have to manifest itself in either bigger or more facilities. It could mean more volunteers, more coaches and better use of resources. If athletics in Sheffield gets a dedicated stadium, we can move forward positively developing the sport at grassroot level.”
Hallamshire Harriers, which have about 300 members, says a barrier to its expansion is a shortage of volunteers for coaching and administration.
Meanwhile, the City of Sheffield Athletics Club wants to see the council keep Don Valley open, but says it makes sense to have a contingency plan in Woodbourn Road, which has the same footprint for track and field as its illustrious neighbour where Olympic champion Jessica Ennis was discovered.
She said: “To see it demolished would be a massive, massive disappointment.
“We’ve achieved so much as a country in the London Olympics, so to lose some great facilities sends out the wrong message, really. I understand budgets and costs, but I think we need to find a way to keep it.”
The council says it costs £700,000 a year to subsidise Don Valley, and it needs £1.6m of repairs. Attempts are being made to see if it there remains a viable use as a sports stadium, but the indications are that the athletics track would still have to be ripped up.