Duncan Mackay ©ITG

When the 16th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships open at the Olympic Stadium in London this week it will represent the end of a long and torturous campaign by the British capital to stage the event.

Along the way, the journey has included a broken promise by a British Prime Minister. There were offers of shopping trips to Harrods by the British Sports Minister at the time.   

One London bid leader claimed he was the victim of forgery. Fears of legal action forced one bid to be dropped. There have been allegations of corruption (of course).

Having been there every step of the way of all five bids, it has been an amazing trip. At times, I have felt more like I had a bit part in a John le Carré novel than a journalist covering the process to host an event that claims to be the third biggest on the sports calendar.

London launched a bid in 1996 for the 2001 IAAF World Championships. The campaign coincided with the announcement by the Sports Council - now Sport England - that Wembley had been chosen as the country’s new National Stadium with the ability to host major athletics events.

A row over funding meant it soon became obvious that a bid for those Championships was unrealistic and it was dropped, allowing the event to be awarded to Edmonton in Canada.

In 1998 another bid was launched, this time for the 2003 World Championships. Doubts continued to persist over the future of the new Wembley Stadium, brought to the fore with the appointment early the next year of new Sports Minister Kate Hoey.

London will host the 2017 IAAF World Championships from this week after a string of failed attempts ©Getty Images
London will host the 2017 IAAF World Championships from this week after a string of failed attempts ©Getty Images

She criticised the plans for the redevelopment of the famous old Stadium and claimed they would be unsuitable for an Olympic bid. She wanted a permanent running track rather than a removable platform. The British Olympic Association backed her stance. Twickenham, the home of English rugby, was mooted as a possible venue for the 2003 World Championships.

Things were further complicated in November 1999 by the sudden death of IAAF President Primo Nebiolo, the Italian autocrat under whose leadership the World Championships had been launched in 1983.

His successor, Senegal’s Lamine Diack, had been in office only two days when he announced that the British Government had withdrawn its bid via an official letter and the Championships would be awarded to its only rival, Paris.

Myself and a group of other journalists were sipping champagne in a reception in the Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo at the time when we were hauled out by Bill Glad, the leader of London’s campaign. "No such letter exists," Glad told us. "If it does, it's a forgery."

We set off to find UK Athletics chief executive David Moorcroft, attending a different reception in the same hotel. He refused to officially confirm that London's bid had been withdrawn but admitted it was on life-support. "We are still officially in for 2003 but the reality is more likely we will be pitching for 2005," he told the group of journalists. "I think it's too risky to go for 2003."

The following month Hoey’s boss, the then Culture Secretary Chris Smith, ordered that Wembley be built as a stadium able only to host football and rugby. 

As part of the deal, it was agreed that the Football Association would give back £20 million ($26 million/€22 million) of the £120 million ($157 million/€134 million) they had received from the National Lottery to fund the rebuilding of Wembley. This money was to be used to help build a new dedicated athletics facility at Lee Valley in the London Borough of Enfield.

It was this facility - known as Picketts Lock and officially launched at the cost of £87 million ($114 million/€97 million) in March 2000 - that helped clinch London the 2005 World Championships. A high-level delegation, led by Smith and Moorcroft, travelled to the IAAF's headquarters in Monte Carlo the month after funding for the new stadium was confirmed to present the bid.

A proposed new stadium at Picketts Lock never came to pass ©UK Athletics
A proposed new stadium at Picketts Lock never came to pass ©UK Athletics

Diack announced following the decision that he was "particularly satisfied that the London bid now means that a major stadium will now be designed specifically for athletics".

It soon became apparent, though, that the cost of building a new athletics stadium in Picketts Lock would cost much more than first estimated and that the transport links to the area were so poor it would be almost inaccessible for major events.

The British Government, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, launched a review conducted by businessman Patrick Carter. He concluded that building the stadium at Picketts Lock would cost at least £120 million. In October 2001, Blair withdrew the funding from the Government, despite having only a few weeks earlier written to Diack to reassure him about his support for the 2005 World Championships.

Diack flew into Heathrow Airport for an emergency meeting with the new Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Sports Minister Richard Caborn. Jowell and Caborn's solution was for the event to be moved to Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield.

A furious Diack took me into one corner afterwards and made it clear he was not happy. "I am very disappointed because we had an agreement to stage the Championships in London," the IAAF President told me. "An attempt to move it is a bitter disappointment. I feel personally let down."

He grabbed me by the shoulder. "I don't understand what is going on in this country," he shouted. "I think if the political will is there you can build anything if you want to. This does not look good for British sport. This is not the first time that we have been given a change of plan for London. First, we talked about Wembley, then Twickenham, then Picketts Lock.

"If they cannot stage it in London, then Sheffield will have to bid like everyone else."

A ham-fisted attempt by Caborn to persuade Diack to accept Sheffield - the constituency where he was a Member of Parliament - only made things worse. The Minister allegedly offered to provide scholarships for African athletes and arrange shopping trips to Harrods in London for the partners of IAAF officials in return for staging the Championships in the North of England.

Sheffield did not bid officially. The Championships were instead re-allocated to Helsinki, hosts of the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983.

Now IAAF President Sebastian Coe celebrates London being awarded the 2017 World Championships ©Getty Images
Now IAAF President Sebastian Coe celebrates London being awarded the 2017 World Championships ©Getty Images

The weather, incidentally, was so cold and wet at those Championships in the Finnish capital in 2005 that I returned home with pneumonia and spent several days in hospital. But that is another story…

Adrian Metcalfe, at the time chairman of UK Sport's major event group and who had been instrumental in London winning the right to stage the 2005 World Championships, predicted Blair’s decision to go back on his promise to support the event spelt the death-knell of plans for London to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"This decision will seriously dent any hopes of bringing the Olympics to London in the short to medium term," he told me. "The progress we have made as a nation becomes meaningless if our guarantees of the staging of events can be called into question."

Yet, remarkably, the same trio of Blair, Jowell and Caborn who had done so much to anger Diack did play a leading role in the campaign to persuade the International Olympic Committee to award London the 2012 Olympics. Among those who voted for the British capital was Diack.

The Olympic Stadium, built at a cost of £429 million ($563 million/€479 million), was always going to be an obvious venue to host the IAAF World Championships so it was no surprise in 2010 that the British Government and UK Athletics announced a bid for the 2015 edition.

History repeated itself a few months later, however, when the then Sports Minister Hugh Robertson had to withdraw the bid because of a legal dispute over who would be the Stadium's tenants after London 2012. Robertson and UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner announced confidently, though, they would bid for 2017.

If London thought they were going to get an easy ride, though, they were mistaken. The decision of Doha to also bid meant it was always going to be a tough race. It needed the intervention of Sebastian Coe, chairman of London 2012 at the time, at the crucial IAAF meeting in Monte Carlo in November 2011 to get London’s bid over the line.

Since then, it has emerged that Doha's bid for the 2017 and 2019 World Championships - which they were awarded - is now under investigation by the IAAF Ethics Commission and French prosecutors.

The Guardian had revealed in December 2014 an email in which Papa Massata Diack, the son of the by now disgraced IAAF President Lamine, had apparently asked for $5 million (£3.8 million/€4.2 million) from Qatar at a time when it was bidding for the 2017 World Championships and the Olympics.

Diack, now wanted by Interpol as part of a French criminal investigation into corruption in athletics that has also arrested his father, denied sending the email.

The 2017 World Championships are likely to be the last major event featuring Usain Bolt ©Getty Images
The 2017 World Championships are likely to be the last major event featuring Usain Bolt ©Getty Images

In January 2016, Warner told BBC’s Sportsweek programme he had been told by a senior IAAF official that "brown envelopes" were being handed out in a hotel suite on the eve of the 2017 decision. The Qatar Athletics Federation has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Warner has since suggested that if it emerges the Doha bid was not open, it could lobby for a return of the $7.2 million (£5.4 million/€6.1 million) that the London 2017 bid had to promise in prize money to match the amount Qatar had proposed.

This drama and scandal will probably be pushed to one side during the 10-day Championships to be held in a Stadium whose costs have risen to £701 million ($920 million/€783 million) following its refit to accommodate its new permanent tenant, Premier League football club West Ham United.

There were more than one million applications for the 700,000 tickets available to the public. The event is set to be the highlight of the British sporting summer.

The focus will be on what is expected to be the last appearance in a major event by Jamaica's eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt. 

As old names depart, new ones are sure to emerge. In fact, it is entirely possible, that some of them may not even have been born when London first began bidding to stage the IAAF World Championships.

What started as "2001: A World Championships Odyssey" has turned into something of an epic journey of its own.