Fears that Meadowbank redevelopment spells end for athletics in Capital

Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh. Picture; Jane Barlow
Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh. Picture; Jane Barlow
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EDINBURGH Athletic Club has raised fears a £41 million revamp of Meadowbank Stadium could prove the “nail in the coffin” for its future.

The club – which trained Olympic champion Allan Wells and Commonwealth Games medallist Lynsey Sharp, among others – blasted the proposed facilities as not “fit for the purpose of staging competition events, even at the lower levels”.

Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh

Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh

And one of its longest-serving coaches told the Evening News: “[The council] are kind of kicking us in the face.”

City leaders want to replace the existing stadium with a “modern, accessible, high quality sports complex” – with artist’s impressions showing a striking design coated in metal aluminium. But EAC insist the plans will reduce their indoor space and push athletics out of the main stadium to make way for a 3G football pitch.

Allan Wells, who scooped gold in the 100 metres at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, accused the council of not “looking towards the future”.

The 64-year-old said: “It just doesn’t make sense. For me, they are looking at the carrot in front of their noses and not looking further ahead at what they should be doing.

“I do think it’s going to devalue the ability of these kids that are coming through to try out different sports.

“It would be sad if Scottish athletics lost the ability to have a full-size stadium with all the facilities that go along with it. [Meadowbank] has got tremendous history. It’s probably known world-wide.

“If they could modernise it in the right way, I think it would be a really good boost for Edinburgh. It’s very sad.”

Long-serving coach Bill Walker, who trained Wells in the run up to his 1980 Olympic triumph, said city leaders were “more interested in getting a football pitch in the middle of the arena” than providing for athletics. He said: “It’s not really fit for purpose. The indoor area is going to be smaller than what we have now. All the big promises are not really coming to fruition.”

He said EAC was uniquely successful in producing athletes for the Commonwealth Games and Olympics, but was now being ignored.

He added: “It makes you feel like, ‘Why bother?’ We’ve got 35 coaches giving up their time. They’re kind of kicking us in the face. They are just not interested. They’re only interested in what makes money.

“There’s a waiting list of 50 kids all wanting to join the club. Reducing the size of the facilities just means we can’t take more kids in. We are supposed to be a capital city. Aberdeen has better facilities.”

An email from EAC to members and their families last week raised a number of issues with the council’s proposals for the site, which are currently out for consultation.

It insists the installation of a 3G pitch in the centre of the arena will lead to long throwing events being “consigned to a throwing area outside the seated stadium and out of view of spectators in the seated stand”.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Leisure’s plans to use the pitch for five-a-side football could push athletes out and restrict training times, it argues.

And an indoor area pegged for sprint tracks and jumping will be too small, posing a “major health and safety” risk if events take place simultaneously.

The email adds: “The current indoor area does not have sufficient space now to accommodate the number of young athletes wishing to train there. Reducing the area as per the outline plans will only exacerbate this issue.”

Concerns are also raised over a lack of car parking spaces and the removal of large old trees.

The email finishes: “These proposals as they stand mean that the athletics facilities will not be fit for the purpose of staging competition events, even at the lower levels.

“Subsequently this could be a ‘nail in the coffin’ of one of Scotland’s most successful sports clubs run by volunteers [and] engaging hundreds of children and adults alike in a healthy pursuit, in-keeping with [the] council’s policy of combating obesity.”

Willy Grieve, whose daughter competes in the under 13s sprint and long jump, dismissed the council’s plans as “rubbish”.

The 50-year-old added: “If it goes ahead as planned, just under 600 athletes at Edinburgh Athletic Club will have no training facilities whatsoever. It will do away with athletics in Edinburgh.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s sports leader, said: “There is no denying the current venue is no longer fit for purpose and the site needs to be transformed.

“The indicative designs for the new Meadowbank Stadium and Sports Centre are for a venue fit for the 21st Century.

“We want to provide a mix of facilities for a wide range of users with the limited amount of space and funding we have available.”

“The council will continue consulting with athletics groups directly about their precise needs.”