LONDON – Critics howl of a betrayal of Olympic proportions. Politicians, sports leaders and athletes vent their views daily in newspapers and on radio, television and Twitter. Organizers duck to stay out of the crossfire.
Even before the main stadium for the 2012 London Games has been completed, it is provoking an increasingly fierce debate over what should happen to the showpiece venue after the Olympic flame has been extinguished and the five-ring festival has left town.
At stake is the fate of the $853 million, 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition in 2012.
Stoking the most controversy is a proposal by the Tottenham soccer team — one of two potential tenants — to tear down the stadium after the games and rebuild another arena on the site without a running track.
The issue cuts to the heart of Olympic organizers' pledges to leave a lasting legacy — and no white elephants — from Britain's biggest peacetime project.
"Our credibility is on the line," said Craig Reedie, Britain's executive board member on the International Olympic Committee.
The towering stadium is nearing completion in the Olympic Park, a 500-acre site carved out of a run-down industrial area in east London and turned into the flagship complex for the games. The arena is scheduled to be finished this summer.
When London was awarded the Olympics in Singapore in 2005, the bid team — led by running great Sebastian Coe — promised the IOC the stadium would leave a post-games future for his sport.
"The stadium will be a purpose-built home for athletics for generations to come," former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell told the IOC at the time.
The pledge was considered a key element in London's victory over Paris, which had an existing main stadium with a track.
London's original plans called for the stadium to be scaled down after 2012 to a 25,000-seat venue that would be used mainly for track and field.
Since then, however, soccer clubs came forward to bid for the stadium. The future of the stadium and other venues was left in the hands of a new body, the Olympic Park Legacy Company. The agency, whose chief executive is former Philadelphia deputy mayor Andrew Altman, narrowed the stadium search to two Premier League clubs — West Ham and Tottenham.
The legacy company has a board meeting next Friday, when it could announce its preferred bidder, which would then need ratification by two government departments and the mayor's office. The legacy body said Thursday it hasn't ruled out the possibility of rejecting both football bids and reviving the original 25,000-seat athletics stadium option.
West Ham proposes converting the stadium into a 60,000-capacity venue for soccer, track and field, concerts, and community use in partnership with local Newham Council.
West Ham's case hasn't been helped by its results on the field this year. The Hammers are last in the Premier League and facing relegation from the top division next season, raising questions about their prospects of filling a big stadium in the future.
Tottenham, bidding together with American sports and entertainment giant AEG, would take down the stadium and put up a 60,000-seat arena, contending that a track is not compatible with soccer and its $400 million plan makes more commercial sense. To compensate for removing the track, the club has offered to rebuild the crumbling facilities at the Crystal Palace complex in South London.
Tottenham's bid could be hindered by plans unveiled Thursday by second-tier club Crystal Palace to move to the nearby Crystal Palace center from its current home at Selhurst Park.
Tottenham also has the option of building a new stadium at its traditional White Hart Lane home. Some Spurs fans have protested against a move to the Olympic site 5½ miles away.
The rhetoric has heated up in recent days as a decision approaches. The debate has been mainly one-sided, with critics at home and abroad lining up to attack the Tottenham plan.
Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said Britain's sports reputation will be ruined if it takes away the track.
"You can consider you are dead. You are finished," Diack told the BBC on Thursday. "They will have made a big lie to us during their presentation (in Singapore). A big lie. And after that it is a betrayal."
Track and field's biggest star — Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt — weighed in on Twitter.
"London needs to keep the track in the Olympic Stadium after 2012," said the Olympic champion and world record-holder in the 100 and 200 meters. "It would be good to run there after. Keep the track."
Reedie, the IOC member who was a key figure in London's winning bid and the former chairman of the British Olympic Association, said ripping up the track would be "regrettable in the extreme."
"The only correct long-term usage is to have a stadium which can be used as the center of future bids for major sports events, probably concentrating on what is the Olympic Games' leading sport," Reedie told The Associated Press.
One of the few officials coming out publicly in favor of Tottenham's bid was Simon Clegg, who was chief executive of the BOA at the time of London's Olympic campaign and currently holds the same position with Ipswich soccer club.
"I am very clear that it is not compatible to have football and track and field athletics in the same stadium in this country," he said. "Football fans in this country want to be as close to the action as possible.
"It's madness to suggest we should keep a track just on the basis we may get an athletics world championships or European championships say once every 15 to 20 years."
While most soccer stadiums in England do not have running tracks, there are examples in other European countries where the two do mix. The Stade de France outside Paris has hosted the world athletics championships as well as World Cup and Champions League finals. In Italy, Roma and Lazio share the Olympic stadium used for the 1960 Games.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said he won't intervene, but made his preference clear.
"As outsiders," Rogge said, "we would favor a solution where there would be a track legacy — that goes without saying."