Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Coach criticises stadium closure

Jessica Ennis' trainer Toni Minichiello says the closure of Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium shows 'the short-sightedness of us as a nation'

Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis' coach has said the closure of the stadium where she trains shows the "short-sightedness of us a nation" and called for a major rethink of how sport in Britain is organised and funded.

Tony Minichiello said Sheffield City Council's decision to demolish the Don Valley Stadium in a bid to cut £50 million from its budget was a retrograde step that sends out the wrong message about our commitment to sport.

But he added that it was unrealistic to expect local authorities to fund leisure facilities such as the £29 million venue in Sheffield without greater support from national government.

"It's incredibly disappointing that the Don Valley Stadium has been closed," said Mr Minichiello. "It's disappointing for athletics in the city. But I understand the position the council has been put in by central government, which is demanding it makes these huge cuts. Facilities need to be supported by central government and local government combined."

He said a top-down rethink is required to capitalise on the surge in interest major sporting events such as the London Olympics provide and to ensure sport plays a bigger role in people's lives, adding: "There really needs to be an overhaul where we look at the health agenda, we look at education and we look at sport and how these things overlap."

Labour-run Sheffield City Council said the £700,000 it spent subsidising Don Valley Stadium in 2012/13 is unsustainable as the facility is running at a loss. The council said it subsidises every visit by more than £5 and the property requires major repair and maintenance work totalling around £1.6 million, which it simply cannot foot the bill for.

Mr Minichiello, who used the arena to coach Ennis to gold in the heptathlon at London 2012, said he has spoken to the Olympian about the closure since the decision was made on Friday and said Ennis, who was training at the arena this morning, was "very sad". He said he and Ennis will continue to use the stadium until it shuts as they train for the 2013 World Championships in Moscow in August and they are looking at several alternative venues.

The 25,000-seat arena, which was a temporary home to Rotherham United FC for four seasons and has hosted gigs by Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and the Spice Girls, was built as the centrepiece of a £147 million construction programme when Sheffield hosted the 1991 World Student Games.

The funding of the games has fuelled 20 years of controversy in Sheffield that continues today. Many still criticise the Labour councillors of the time for landing the city with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt that is still being paid off at around £20 million a year and will not be cleared until 2024.

Others have argued the games kick-started a move to make Sheffield one of most important centres for sport in the UK and left the city with world-class facilities, including the Ponds Forge swimming centre.

https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/(Sheffield City Council)

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