7:00am Thursday 21st March 2013
By Lauren May
The sale of a public sports hall to a private school by the council has left an Olympic medallist desperately searching for a new home for his judo school.
Ray Stevens, who won silver at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, set up his judo club six years ago at the Oberon Pavilion, but he now faces being homeless after Merton Council sold the facility to the independent Hall School in Wimbledon.
Despite Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of Merton Council, promising Mr Stevens his club would not be left homeless, an alternative has yet to be found.
The club, that attracts about 400 adults and children and is run five days a week at the Oberon, also offers lessons to disabled and disadvantaged children.
Mr Stevens attacked the decision arguing it went against the principle of the 2012 Olympic legacy.
He said: “They want to keep that continuation and Olympic legacy going.
“It was a fantastic Olympic Games, but I feel quite angry about this ‘legacy’ because I am on the receiving end of what legacy?
“Parents come in and say [about their children] ‘it is so great he’s so much more positive now or they are starting to lose weight’.
“We are doing something really good for the community and there is no help or thanks at all.”
Timothy Hobbs, headmaster at Hall School, said he understood that all existing users had already been accommodated at other sporting facilities.
He said: “Many of our parents, past and present, have benefited from the outstanding coaching provided by Ray Stevens.
“We have not discounted the possibility of Mr Stevens continuing to use the Oberon Fields and have shown him other school facilities that might be more suitable for his judo club.
“At this stage, we are still negotiating with Mr Stevens.”
The sale by the council will help pay for the renovation of the Royal Sun Alliance Ground in Fairlawn, Raynes Park for the benefit of Raynes Park High school students – a premises Mr Stevens says would be too small for his club.
Coun Alambritis, leader of Merton Council, said: “I am desperately trying to help Ray.
“He has still got a bit of time although the fields have been sold.
“I have put him in touch with a number of organisations, but Ray wants to stay in a particular location and needs to be able to leave mats at the premises overnight so he has been very particular – which is no bad thing because he is passionate about what he does, but he is worried time is running out.
“I want to reassure him that I will redouble my efforts to find him a premises.”
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