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November 16th, 2006

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08:52 pm - Olympic idea
The Olympic Games will be held London in 2012; I am looking forward to it already. (There's a nice piece by John Inverdale about the possible idea of reusing the Olympic Village that will be built for London to host the Chess Olympiad. Seems sensible to me.) We read that the anticipated cost of staging the Olympic games has gone up by almost 50% in about 18 months (Sir Steve Redgrave: "Whoops") and there is a great deal of thought about what might happen to the main Olympic Stadium itself after the games.

It is apparently a condition of the Olympic hosting that the stadium remains first and foremost an athletics (specifically, "track and field") facility. As much as it would be wonderful for Britain to have a "spare" 80,000-capacity athletics stadium, it seems unlikely that it could be filled near capacity for hosting an athletics competition more than two or three times a year at the most optimistic; even two athletics events plus lots of concerts will apparently not cut the mustard. The stadium will be built with an 80,000 capacity, but apparently 55,000 of those seats are expected to be temporary and the permanent capacity is set to be 25,000. Frankly, an athletics event drawing 25,000 spectators is doing well in the UK these days - Crystal Palace has to go some to hold 22,000, the mighty Gateshead International Stadium holds about 12,000 and so forth.

Therefore there has been some discussion that the stadium might be bought, or at least used, by some organisation that is likely to fill it frequently. Premiership football teams have been mentioned as obvious choices - but the requirement that it remain a 25,000-capacity athletics stadium is so inflexible that no Premiership club wants to be in a 25,000 capacity stadium with a running track separating the fans from the pitch. Local Leyton Orient have thrown their hat into the ring, but that's probably more Barry Hearn cheekily getting his 2p in than anything else. (Yet it would make a certain sort of sense...!)

That said, I have had a cunning plan. I think the best possible use for the Olympic Stadium would be for a London franchise in the USA's Major Soccer League.

The Major Soccer League is not currently considered, on a global scale, to be a truly major, er, soccer league. It is known that stars from more established leagues will often go there in the twilight of their career to get a couple more relatively well-paid seasons at a slightly lower level of competition. Nevertheless, if people are prepared to fly around the US to follow an association football team, it's not such a big stretch to imagine that they might fly to the UK for a match. It would certainly raise the MSL's profile very considerably.

There are shades of the old Atlantic League proposal to cream off the crop of the (e.g.) Scottish, Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian and Portuguese leagues to create an unusually top-to-bottom consistently talented league. To take one popular measure of Europe-wide football prowess, the Premiership has 13 teams rated at over 960 points by one scoring system, Spain's Primera Division has 15 such teams and both the German Bundesliga and Italy's Serie A has 9. A counterpart Atlantic League from those five countries would likewise have 9 similarly highly-rated teams.

However, the Atlantic League proposal was always said to be opposed by UEFA, who are highly keen on their traditional domestic leagues. The advantage of a London team (or, less plausibly, one or more Scottish teams...) in the MSL would be that UEFA would surely have no jurisdiction in the competition and it would be down to CONCACAF, who might well be more interested in creative and original solutions for publicity purposes.

There is precedent here in that the MLS is due to expand from being a purely domestic league to an international one in 2007 anyway with the introduction of a Toronto FC team to the previously US-only league. The MSL has restrictions on roster nationalities, but is prepared to bend them for the benefit of this non-domestic team. Might this be repeated for non-domestic teams from other countries? Canada first, possibly Mexico second, then eventually the world?

The MLS would also be a more suitable host than an English league side by virtue of the expected attendance; even if the stadium were to be restricted to a 25,000 capacity, the MLS's current average attendance is around 15,000. It seems likely that more veteran British players would be likely to move to the MLS if they didn't have to leave the country to do so; it would also seem likely that there are 25,000 existing football fans in London who would be prepared not only to support a team in the existing English league structure but also a unified London team, especially if there were some known names in the squad. Perhaps people who will follow England against other countries but do not have a current domestic alignment might also be interested in following an English team against overseas teams?

There is precedent here, in the old World League of American Football, which similarly featured a London team against ersatz American opposition. The London franchise was highly successful for the two years of the WLAF's operation, though admittedly it could not be sustained in the NFL Europe era. (Speaking of NFL Europe, this story about the league's future suggests that expansion of the league is eventually intended, but only as far as eight teams - of which seven seem likely to be based in Germany. H'm! The interesting development there is the plan to license local investors. If this is likely, perhaps this might inspire further expansion in the future should further local investors be found. Might there be even one suitable local investor in London for a suitable London NFL Europe team? Hey, there could be a nice stadium going unused from 2012 onwards...)
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(11 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 16th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC)
Speaking of chess, which you were a bit, what's your opinion on Toiletgate?
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 02:49 am (UTC)
In zero words and one grunt: ughghghghghgh.

Topalov and his manager might possibly, just conceivably, have been onto something with regard to the "number of bathroom breaks" issue. However, they (principally Topalov's manager) acted in such a manner that it was impossible to take the complaint seriously in any way and they built up such tremendous badwill against themselves that they just built up public opinion against themselves. When that one situation is all that the general public knows of the match, it is a bad time for chess. FIDE could have handled the situation a lot more firmly to avoid the bad press getting out, and the whole situation with the appeals panel non-specifically looked bad, though a sufficiently crackpot manager would have gone ahead and done it anyway.

I think this built up a lot of support for Kramnik in reaction to the Topalov stupidity, after many years when Kramnik's apparent willingness not to push the reunification forward, and his relatively modest results in tournaments, had weakened his standing in the public eye.

Chess was the real loser, at the end of the day, at this level. Brian.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 07:24 am (UTC)
I bet you're looking forward to it, you don't have to fork out the extra fucking council tax to pay for it.

[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
The impact on council tax is meant only to be an extra £20 per year, isn't it? (Of course, it'll all depend on banding.) How the actual tax burden pans out remains to be seen but I'm sure Ken will be keen to make sure as little of the Olympic bill falls on him as possible... so he can take responsibility for funding, and taxing for, whatever else he likes ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 09:40 am (UTC)
it would also seem likely that there are 25,000 existing football fans in London who would be prepared not only to support a team in the existing English league structure but also a unified London team

Hmm, I doubt that myself (speaking as an exiled London football fan.) They'll stretch to support England because their own club's players are involved, but I don't think many people at all would be prepared to care about a confected London team that wa sitting alongside the existing club structure.

(There is also the practical point that the FA, which regulates and in some sense licenses all football in this country, would squish the suggestion like a particularly unpleasant bug. But it's more fun to ignore that for the purposes of the thought-experiment.)

It seems to me that this insistence on the running-track staying is going to make the thing a white elephant, unless they're hoping to really light a fire under people's interest in athletics during the intervening time.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC)
don't think many people at all would be prepared to care about a confected London team that wa sitting alongside the existing club structure.

Perhaps there is an audience who like England games but find the current club structure, and the tribalism, a positive downside? Perhaps this might be more suitable for parents to take their children to? Perhaps there might even be some mileage in being deliberately patriotic, bordering on jingoistic, in the marketing.

There is also the practical point that the FA, which regulates and in some sense licenses all football in this country, would squish the suggestion like a particularly unpleasant bug.

No, no! The fun thing about this proposal is that the putative London franchise could happily tell the FA and UEFA to get knotted, quite possibly with each other, for jurisidction by the United States Soccer Federation and COMECON, who might supply the refereeing, the licensing and so forth. The cross-federation participation of Toronto FC sets a precedent here and the FA would be rather toothless - the only sanctions they could offer would be stopping the team and its principles from participating in FA competitions, and the enterprise would presumably be of most interest to old stagers like (e.g.) Sheringham, Ince, ..., Paul Gascoigne, even, who are never going to play for the England team again. If the FA were to say "take part in the MLS and you can never take part in a FA competition even after you stop participating in it" then there would be a very tasty little restraint-of-trade case to be had.

The position that FIFA might take on this would be very interesting, but if COMECON were to be strongly in favour then I doubt that FIFA would feel very comfortable about coming down on UEFA's side.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 07:56 pm (UTC)
Additionally, I do not think it is necessarily a foregone conclusion that the establishment might not already consider this an interesting proposition. A Chelsea feeder team, Roman Abramovich and the 2012 Olympic Stadium... surely there's mischief to be made there?
Date:November 17th, 2006 09:54 am (UTC)
It is apparently a condition of the Olympic hosting that the stadium remains first and foremost an athletics (specifically, "track and field") facility.

Whilst technically true, I'm not entirely sure what sanctions would be available against an NOC that reneged on their promise a fortnight after the end of the Paralympics. Far as I know, 22 years on, the LA Memorial Thing-That-I-Daren't-Even-Try-To-Spell is no longer present in any capacity at all. That's not insuperable.

For comparison, I didn't become aware of the main Olympic Stadium in Athens serving any other purpose than being AEK's home ground, as of May this year - in fact, much of the complex seems to stand idle much of the time. Remarks about the "North Athens primary schools swimming gala" weren't made entirely in jest.

TBH, I'm pretty sure London will find an existing football tenant - and in our sporting landscape, that's the only sensible usage.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
At this point, it's rather handy to love, and live with, someone who was in Atlanta at the time of the '96 Games, and who has quite a good grasp of what the Atlanta facilities were and what has happened to them now. :-)

How about the UK hosting the 2012 World Puzzle Championship inside the Millennium Dome the O2?
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 10:45 am (UTC)
And there was me looking forward to getting out of London before the mayhem gets into full swing. We'll see.

I'm not really a football fan, but given the history and rivalry of the many London clubs I can't imagine many fans being interested in some new-fangled made-up team for a league in a country where they can't even call the game by its proper name. ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
I really wouldn't mind living in London up to, and including, 2012, but it would take an unpredictable and unexpected (if not completely outrageous) turn of events for it to happen. Some things are out of people's control, but it's definitely not part of the plan.

You know and I know that soccer is merely an abbreviation of association, as opposed to rugby, football, but I fear that far too few are aware of the etymology.

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