by Liam McConville
I implore you to think back to last year’s glorious summer. It was a time of national euphoria, an unashamed British bonanza where with the help of some hugely talented athletes (and generous lottery funding); Team GB reached the dizzying heights of third in the medal table. ‘Super Saturday’ in the Olympic stadium was the greatest night of British athletics in living memory. In the space of an hour, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Jessica Ennis recorded their golden moments. It was an electrifying, breath-taking evening that was just a snapshot of the success enjoyed over the Olympics and Paralympics.
Ennis was the poster girl of the games; she fulfilled her potential by becoming the best all-round female athlete in the world. It was a staggering accomplishment that rightly saw the plaudits rain down upon Ennis and her coach Toni Minichiello. The talk in the aftermath was how to reward Ennis beyond the customary golden post-box and inevitable honour bestowed on her from the Palace. One mooted idea was re-naming the Don Valley Stadium (where Ennis does plenty of her training) after the athlete. It would have been a fitting gesture as the heptathlete has remained fiercely loyal to her home city of Sheffield. Support for this was vocal from many, although Sheffield City Council remained suspiciously quiet on the idea at the time.
Fast-forward to last Friday, where after a lengthy and heated meeting, Sheffield City Council have announced their latest budget cuts. As was expected the decision has been made to close the iconic Don Valley Stadium, this came alongside closing the Stocksbridge Leisure Centre. The moves were met with howls of derision and disbelief, with Ennis herself making clear her own disappointment. The stadium opened in 1991 for the World Student Games but has of late begun to show its age. It has been losing money for years, and with this in mind the council has made the move to send in the bulldozers and redevelop the smaller Woodburn Road Athletics Stadium instead.
The blind optimism and excitement of the Olympics seems a lifetime away now, the grim realities of austerity and debt hang over Britain. This is just another in the wave of tough decisions affecting the country. The bigger questions of legacy are sure to be asked over and over again and rightfully so. Here is the place where Ennis was discovered, a site where countless budding young athletes continue to train every week, soon it will be demolished like it was never there in the first place.
Think of the inspiration on offer from what has been described as sport’s greatest year. It’s is as if it was for nothing, a momentary antidote to years of school playing fields being sold off and a rise in childhood obesity. This is a time to invest in sport not send it to the knacker’s yard, a chance to increase participation, perhaps now it will be yet another opportunity missed.
It must be a difficult time to be a local councillor at the moment, I for one wouldn’t want to be a member of the judge and jury, who have to make impossible decisions about jobs and budgets. However surely this is a poor move that sends out completely the wrong message. It’s a slap in the face to those trying to become the next Ennis, and an embarrassment for Lord Coe and the legacy brigade.
Ironically, one of the last major events at the stadium was a passionate home crowd cheering on Ennis in her finest hour. Now come September the Don Valley will be gone, a pile of rubble in place of the former hub of Sheffield athletics. The glorious summer of athletics is long gone, now comes the cruel winter of biting cuts and harsh realities.
Check out Liam’s ace blog here – http://www.mcconvillerants.blogspot.co.uk/