4:00am Friday 7th February 2014
By James Franklin
IT WAS supposed to be the springboard for hundreds of youngsters in Hampshire to get involved in sport.
But just over a year after the London Olympic Games, members of one of the south’s most prestigious athletics clubs have been left asking, ‘Where is the Olympic legacy?’
Southampton Athletics Club has been home to a string of Olympic athletes and has almost 700 members, yet bosses have described their facilities – which haven’t been upgraded for 30 years – as “a disgrace”.
And they say their efforts to train the next generation of athletes to succeed the likes of Todd Bennett, Kriss Akabusi and Roger Black are under threat unless something is done.
They have launched the Back the Track campaign in a bid to raise more than £200,000 to provide new facilities at the site at Southampton Sports Centre.
And they are already being backed by one gold medal-winning Olympic star.
Darren Campbell was part of the British relay team which won gold at the Athens Games in 2004, and was a close friend of club stalwart and Olympic silver medallist Todd Bennett, who died of cancer last year aged just 51.
Club bosses showed him round the dilapidated facilities this week, and afterwards he said: “I just think they are really poor – this was always my fear when the Olympic legacy was spoken about.
“Young people have been inspired and it’s a shame when you come to the club and it doesn’t have the most basic of facilities.”
The club is currently run from a portable cabin without running water or toilets, with water coming from a nearby standpipe.
Fungi are growing inside the cabin, while the club’s stand is falling to pieces with spectators regularly putting their feet through the fragile wooden floorboards.
There are no showers and its changing room facilities have been described as “non-existent” while the toilets are dilapidated and inaccessible from the track.
Club chiefs say many athletes and coaches now choose to go to Winchester and District Athletic Club instead.
Mary Axtell, one of the club’s vice-presidents, said: “The track itself is in a good position, but for a city like Southampton to have facilities like this is disgraceful.”
And Todd Bennett’s widow, Vanessa, said: “We have been campaigning for facility improvement for many years, but we now believe the situation is critical.”
“We cannot continue to exist at the present level, based at the sports centre: already some of our groups have moved their training venues and we are losing athletes to better-equipped clubs in the south.
“Very soon, we shall have to hold our home fixtures at other tracks outside the city.”
And with the city council unable to help financially, club bosses are launching a fundraising bid to Sport England and other organisations.
They have already drawn up plans to convert the existing toilet block into a new clubhouse with viewing area, toilets, changing rooms, kitchen, medical room and offices.
New stands would be built along the south side of the track while one existing portable cabin at the site would be repainted and used as scorer or announcer rooms.
In the long-term, club bosses also want a new indoor gym.
They have put an estimate of £200,000 on the figure needed.
Both the city council and Active Nation, which manages the sports centre, have said they will support the campaign.
The Back the Track campaign will be officially launched at a meeting at The View bar and bistro at the sports centre on Monday at 7.30pm.
To back the campaign, email club chairman Richie Pearson at email@example.com
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