Brussels Diamond League: "We avoided a catastrophe"

The die has been cast: the new football stadium at the edge of Brussels will not have a track around the pitch. This means that the prestigious Ivo Van Damme Memorial, one of the world's top athletics events and part of the Diamond League circuit, will have to work out a solution by 2020. One of the options is to build a new athletics temple, although it's still too early to confirm this. Wilfried Meert is happy that "a catastrophe has been avoided" for the Brussels Diamond League meeting as things could have been worse.

The King Boudewijn Stadium, located at the Heizel site in western Brussels, will normally be demolished in 2020 to make room for new real estate projects. By 2020, a new giant, modern stadium will be erected just west of Brussels, only a stone's throw away from the present Boudewijn Stadium along the Brussels Outer Orbital Road. This will allow Belgium to boost its candidacy as one of the hosting countries for the 2020 European Football Championships, that will be held in 13 different countries.

Track implied extra cost

All this was given thumbs up, also because Belgium's football infrastructure is old and worn-out. However, there was a small problem. Apart from (most of Belgium's) international football games, the Boudewijn Stadium also hosts the prestigious Memorial meeting.

The plan was to have the Memorial make the switch to the new football stadium, but building a track around the pitch had various disadvantages. Football fans would be further away from the action on the pitch, and there was also the extra cost. Investors were not keen on the idea of a track. In fact, it was virtually impossible to make the budget fit if a track should be included.

A solution has now been found. The stadium will be built without the athletics track, but at the same time the Memorial can keep its place in the Boudewijn Stadium until 2020; after that a new venue will be ready for Belgium's Diamond League meeting. A new athletics stadium could be erected for that purpose; although it is not completely impossible that the present Boudewijn Stadium gets a facelift in order to let the Memorial stay on after all.

"Important for Belgium's international image"

The plans for a new football stadium can now enter a new phase. "The building of a national stadium that meets UEFA standards is of crucial importance for the economic development and the international image of Belgium", the Brussels PM Rudi Vervoort was quoted as saying.

The project new has the support of both private investors and most of the different federal, regional and local authorities.

The new stadium will have a capacity of 60,000 but will not have a roof. One of the remaining problems is the capacity of parking spots, as the building will be erected on Parking C, one of the giant parking lots attached to the Heizel site. It is expected that one of Belgium's top clubs, Anderlecht, will move to the new stadium when this is ready. Anderlecht would have to pay a substantial sum to rent it, which could make the whole project profitable.

"We avoided a catastrophe"

At this morning's press conference, there were nothing but smiling faces. Memorial organiser Wilfried Meert is happy that "his" meeting can stay on in the present location until 2020. "This gives us time to work something out," he explained. He is happy that the track at the Heizel Stadium can be kept for the moment. "It's one of the fastest tracks in the world." A worst-case scenario has been avoided: "An immediate transfer would have been a catastrophe for us", Meert told the VRT.

There is the official intention of working out plans for a new athletics stadium. "The aim is to locate this in Brussels. A working group has to find out what the best location is, and who knows, the present Boudewijn Stadium is one of the options." However, as the situation now, there is no cash to renovate the Heizel site and bring it up to modern standards. "However, 7 years is a long time", Meert told the VRT.

Mr Meert is disappointed that the new stadium will not include a track. "However, you have to take into account the economic situation. It was simply too expensive. I can live with the solution that has now been worked out. It could have been worse."