By Duncan Mackay


November 24 - The debate over the future of the Olympic Stadium being built for the 2012 Games is set to explode again if, as expected, it is included on Thursday among four grounds in London to be used if England are awarded the 2018 World Cup.


Last minute negotiations are currently going on to decide which grounds will join Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur's proposed new 56,000-capacity stadium with Arsenal's Emirates and the Olympic Stadium the clear front-runners.


London United, the body organising which of the capital's stadiums should be part of the World Cup bid, are keen to include the Stadium in the hope that it will maintain its capacity of 80,000 after it has staged the Olympics and Paralympics, which would make it the second largest arena in England after Wembley.


Should England host the 2018 World Cup, Wembley would be used for the opening match and final but London United have been searching for up to three other grounds that are suitable to be put forward before the deadline is reached on Thursday (November 26).


There are 16 cities, including London, across England that are hoping to be included in the World Cup bid.


England 2018 are due to announce their final selection of cities and stadiums next month ahead of the final submission to world governing body FIFA in May.


A final decision on what to do with the Olympic Stadium may not even be made before England finds out whether it has been awarded the 2018 or 2022 World Cup at a meeting in December 2010.


Sebastian Coe, the chairman of London 2012 of a member of the England bid team, insists that the legacy use of the stadium will be chiefly athletics, with the Games capacity of 80,000 being scaled back to around 25,000 seats.


In July Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell ruled out the Olympic Stadium being used for the 2018 World Cup, however the newly-formed Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), set-up by London City Hall and the Government and responsible for planning post-Games use of the venues, has not ruled out the idea of it being retained at its larger capacity.  


The search, however, is still on to find an anchor tenant for the Stadium with Tottenham having already ruled it out and decided to pursue their own plans.


West Ham United had several discussions with London 2012 about moving into the Stadium after the Games but insisted that the track should be ripped up.


London United are understood to be prepared for a running track to remain but the OPLC are under pressure to find a tenant to help pay for the maintenance and security of sites after the Games.


Keeping the Stadium as an 80,000-seat arena between 2012 and 2018 could cost the taxpayer up to £30 million a year in annual running costs if someone is not willing to take it over.


Other possible uses for the stadium that have been put forward have included as a venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup - which England have already been awarded - and a home for Twenty20 cricket.


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