Hammers Eye Olympic Stadium

Its future in English soccer’s Premier League is beginning to look uncertain, but it’s looking more likely that West Ham United’s future home will be at London’s Olympic Stadium.

A year ago The Hammers’ very existence looked in doubt as the Icelandic banks that owned most of the club ran out of money while their national economy collapsed.

But new club chairman David Sullivan has confirmed his interest in moving to the stadium now being readied for the 2012 Olympics. Sullivan is the former Birmingham City chief who bought 50 percent of the East London club in the middle of January.

There was a press tour of the £520 million ($778 million) building March 26. It’s part of a £9.2 billion ($13.8 billion) development that includes the Olympic pool and aquatics centre, a 6,000-seat handball arena, 20,000-seat field hockey centre, 12,000-seat arena for basketball preliminaries and handball final, and 6,000-seat velodrome.

Olympic officials began the process for deciding what will happen to the Olympic Stadium March 23. West Ham – teetering on the edge of the Premier League’s relegation zone and at least £110 million ($164.4 million) in debt – has been confirmed as showing an interest.

The final decision on the stadium’s future doesn’t need to be made until the end of March 2011.

The 80,000-capacity stadium, which will host athletics events and the opening and closing ceremonies in 2012, is designed to be downsized after the Olympics to a 25,000-seat arena.

The problem with West Ham’s interest may hang on the Olympic organizers’ promise that the venue will always primarily be used for track and field sports.

“I don’t think running tracks work, particularly behind the goal,” Sullivan told the Daily Telegraph when he took over the club. “The customers are so far back it doesn’t work.

“We don’t want to buy the Olympic Stadium, we want to rent it. The government promised to keep it alive for 30 years, and it’s going to cost them more to keep it alive. With us it’s going to cost them nothing – we would pay all the running costs,” he said.

Sullivan has a fixed-price option to buy Icelandic bank Straumur’s remaining 50 percent stake at any time in the next four years.

There may be room for compromise over the future use of the stadium but it would need to be reached before next March.

West Ham wants to move in immediately after the Olympics. It appears officials have accepted that at least the venue’s short-term future hangs on soccer being played there. It’s been included as part of England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup.

Another problem may be that bringing in soccer could require a stadium capacity greater than 25,000, particularly as Sullivan and partner David Gold would want to see a revived West Ham – historically a well-supported club – pulling gates nearer the 40,000 mark.

West Ham and Newham Council made a joint statement March 23 saying they are working together on a joint bid to occupy the stadium.