Funding must be found to overhaul Meadowbank Stadium before the Commonwealth Games or risk losing the window of opportunity altogether, a leading MSP has warned.
Lothian Greens MSP Alison Johnstone, who is a qualified UK athletics coach and former runner, labelled the Capital’s athletics facilities as “very tired” and said a commitment to improve Meadowbank was needed by 2014. She voiced her support for Olympic sprinter Lynsey Sharp, who yesterday slammed Edinburgh’s training facilities after being told she could not train at Meadowbank for health and safety reasons.
Stadium management shut the 400m outdoor track on Tuesday, claiming severe frost and ice had made it unusable. The decision prompted Ms Sharp to vent her frustration on Twitter. The 22-year-old claimed she had been told the groundsman was on holiday and slammed the Capital’s facilities as being “a million miles behind Glasgow”.
Ms Johnstone said it was not good enough for frost to force closures at Meadowbank.
She said: “When I first became involved in athletics, you would go to Meadowbank and watch world-class athletes perform. Michael Johnson actually ran 19.85 seconds on Meadowbank. There is absolutely no way in its current condition that Meadowbank would attract a meeting of that quality and personally I think that’s very, very sad for the Capital city.
“It’s undoubted with the necessary investment in Glasgow for its Commonwealth Games that Edinburgh is going to lag behind. But I think it really is high time Edinburgh started to develop some sort of strategic plan.”
“You can go down there sometimes and there are weeds growing on the unused bleacher seating. It just has a bit of an air of neglect.” Plans to build a new £25 million facility at Sighthill to replace Meadowbank fell through four years ago. Edinburgh City Council have since spent £1.4m on funding repairs and maintenance at the stadium.
Ms Johnstone said indoor athletics facilities at Grangemouth and Pitreavie were now better than those in Edinburgh.
She attacked the decision by venue managers Edinburgh Leisure to hold events like antique fairs at the facility, claiming they had their priorities wrong.
Midlothian marathon runner Freya Murray-Ross said she had experienced similar difficulties with accessing the track at Meadowbank, describing the latest situation as “health and safety gone mad”.
Scottish sprint legend Allan Wells encouraged Edinburgh Leisure to do everything they could to help Ms Sharp, but added: “If she wants to use the track in the condition it’s in, then so be it, but she has to take the responsibility if anything happens.”
The track at Meadowbank was re-opened at 11am yesterday after being treated with salt. Edinburgh Leisure director of operations Graeme Gardiner defended the closure, saying: “To claim that these procedures were not followed due to any specific member of staff being on annual leave is completely untrue. Our staff then offered Lynsey use of the indoor concourse, one of the main indoor halls or the gym to continue her training and maintained ongoing dialogue with her throughout the day to inform her of any changes to conditions.”
Council leisure leader Richard Lewis said: “We are, of course, aware of the condition of Meadowbank, which after all was built over 40 years ago, and the pressing need for its future to be decided.”