Athletics fans would fill stadium after 2012: Coe

London: Athletics fans would easily fill London`s main Olympic stadium after the 2012 Games, Sebastian Coe said on Wednesday as he defended plans to keep the running track in place despite doubts over the sport`s ability to attract big crowds.

The stadium is expected to be converted from an 80,000-seater during the Games to a 60,000 capacity after the Olympics but critics have said athletics is not a strong enough sport to fill it.

Olympic organising committee chief Coe told the London Assembly the sceptics were wrong.

"There is no lack of demand for top class track and field in this country," he said.

Crystal Palace often holds the biggest athletics events in Britain. The capacity there is about 16,000 but Coe said organisers could probably sell five times that number of tickets.

He added that between 50,000 and 70,000 fans typically attended international athletics events in European cities like Paris and Brussels.

"If we have a larger venue we would fill that venue, there is no question about that," said Coe.

"Let`s not run away with the idea that track and field is a sport that is not supported -- it is a very popular sport."

Maintaining a track would not only fulfill a pledge made during London`s successful bid to host the Games, it should also strengthen the city`s attempt to stage the 2017 world athletics championships.

It has however restricted the search for a `legacy tenant` and raised fears the stadium could lie empty for much of the time. Running costs are estimated to be about five million pounds (7.8 million dollars) a year.

Last week a deal to allow second-tier soccer club West Ham United to move in to the venue collapsed over a legal wrangle with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur and third-tier team Leyton Orient.

"I think it was the right decision to cut through the potential for ongoing legal challenge and, worse than that, ongoing legal challenge that was taxpayer-fuelled," Coe said.

He added that athletics would be at the heart of the stadium`s legacy but it would not be "uniquely track and field".

"I do think it is very important we maintain that commitment to an Olympic legacy and to a mix of tenancies in there," he said.

West Ham could still end up renting the facility under a new plan to keep the stadium in public ownership.

Bureau Report

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